Jamal Crawford, once nicknamed Benjamin Button by Michael Jordan, shares career highlights and his favorite memories of MJ and Kobe. Jamal spent his childhood growing up in Los Angeles and Seattle with basketball as a constant in his life.
“I’ve had a basketball in my hands ever since I was two-years-old. When I was a kid, my one carry-on on the plane would be a basketball. I went to sleep with it in the bed with me. I took it every single place I went,” Jamal said. “I would mimic moves I would see on TV from Dr. J or Isiah or Magic or Jordan and just try to do it now, go outside the backyard. I loved it because it was something you could do with people or by yourself. I spent so many hours by myself just dribbling or shooting and practicing those moments.”
Jamal began playing on basketball and football teams when he was eight-years-old.
“Basketball was the one. It was a totally different joy. It just is still to this day,” Jamal said.
As a teen, Jamal spent time at the library replaying tapes of Iverson’s crossover and studying the moves of Tim Hardaway and Isiah Thomas. Jamal went on to play basketball for the University of Michigan and declared for the 2000 NBA Draft and was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers but then traded to the Chicago Bulls on Draft night.
As a rookie, Jamal’s father told him that Michael Jordan was interested in his game. Then he received a call from Michael’s personal trainer, Tim Grover. Soon, Jamal found himself in an early-morning practice with the Bulls legend.
“I go to Chicago, my rookie year. Tim Grover called me at six-thirty in the morning. I get downtown at the gym, seven in the gym. It’s myself, Tim, and MJ. I’ll never forget this, MJ is doing defensive slide drills. He’s almost forty-years-old and at the time, he’s coming back. He’s working at the gym, just us three,” Jamal said.
Jamal said he got a behind-the-scenes look at MJ’s competitive nature and admired his composure on and off the court.
“I think the other part is how he handled things as far as like the fame part of it, obviously, we know how famous he is, but had a balance at all times…He never let his guard down,” Jamal said. “I would leave [the gym] at a certain point like ten or eleven. He would still be there until 4:00 in the morning and do it all over again. I’ve never seen him sleep. It was unbelievable.”
Michael’s single-minded determination and dedication to the game is part of what makes him a basketball legend. He and Kobe are often described as the greatest players to have ever played in the NBA. Jamal competed with and against both MJ and Kobe.
“It’s eerie how similar they were, from the way they approach things to their mentality, to their skill level, to the work ethic. Not only wanting to beat you but demoralize you on the court. A lot of people have been compared to MJ over the years. But to me, Kobe was the one who actually went and chased it head-on and embraced it. I think MJ loved that about him,” Jamal said. “Kobe was this generation’s Michael Jordan. Kobe was the best player I ever played against, period. He put that fear in you, in your arena, in everything, just like MJ. They were like kindred spirits. People that didn’t get to play against Michael, they played against Michael through Kobe.”
After his stint with the Bulls, Jamal played for the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, and signed with the Brooklyn Nets in 2020 to play in the NBA bubble. He is currently unsigned, but is confident an NBA team will come calling for his services soon. He believes that unsigned veterans and G-League players could provide a valuable pool during this current unique season and help prevent game cancellations due to COVID-19 issues.
“I think the Clippers was the best team I was ever on,” said Jamal. “I think that was our chance to win a championship. It was probably the most fun. It was unbelievable when you had Blake and D.J. and Chris and JJ shooting threes and me trying to do my thing as well, just all those different personalities blend together. It was just an exciting time.”
In addition to his NBA career, Jamal runs the Crawsover League, formerly the Seattle Pro-Am. As a young basketball player, Jamal participated in the Seattle Pro-Am and, with the Crawsover League, hopes to encourage young players to pursue their hoop dreams.
“What I do is I go in the community and ask the kids who they want to see, whether it be Kevin Durant or Chris Paul or Blake Griffin…it is free for everybody. Kids who have never seen these pro players, their favorite players in person, are talking to them, interacting with them, smiling at them, having some type of exchange is everything to them to keep the motivation going. That’s why the Crawsover is so important until we get the Sonics back. “
Hear Jamal share more memories of Kobe and talk about his recent period of free agency.