Memo to the Basketball Gods: Stop sticking pins in your Jamal Crawford doll. However he may have offended you—What, did he take Michael Jordan's name in vain? Leave a sneaker mark on the NBA logo?—surely you've punished the unfortunate shooting guard enough. It's time to remove the playoff hex.
And don't act as if you don't know what this is about. Not once in his nine years with the Bulls, Knicks and Warriors have you Higher Powers of Hoops allowed Crawford into a postseason game without a ticket. When Golden State put the finishing touches on its 29--53 record last week, yet another one of his idle springs commenced. "You would think after all this time, I would have gotten at least one chance," Crawford says. "It's weird, right?"
It's more than weird; it borders on historic. Crawford, 29, has played in 597 games without a playoff appearance, the longest current streak and the sixth-longest in league history. At least he's not close to Tom Van Arsdale's record 929 games (yet). Crawford thinks he's just had a run of rotten luck, but you know better. This is the NBA, where 16 of the 30 teams qualify for the postseason—it's about as hard as getting called for jury duty. Sometimes it seems the six-month regular season exists just to eliminate the Clippers.
No, a dry spell like this can only be the work of you Deities of the Dribble. Is it really too much to ask for you to end it? Crawford just wants a playoff experience—good or bad. Let him feel the pressure of a Game 7 or even the desperation of being down three games to one. "Guys tell me that being in the playoffs is like walking on air," he says. "They say it's unbelievable, that your aches and pains from the season don't even hurt anymore. When you're in the playoffs, it's all you think about. I just want to know what that's like."
Crawford truly has no idea that there are larger forces at work. Every year he keeps his calendar clear from mid-April to late June, although by February it's usually obvious that he'll have no postseason engagements. Even opponents try to keep his spirits up. "We were in Dallas to play the Mavericks, and [assistant coach] Darrell Armstrong told me their guys decided I was the best player never to make an All-Star Game or the playoffs," Crawford says. "I said, 'Thanks, I guess.'"
If you're going to try to make the case that Crawford is the cause of this, don't bother. Sure, he launches the occasional ill-advised 25-footer and sometimes plays less than inspired defense, but who in the NBA doesn't? His résumé clearly shows that his failure to pass through the postseason gates is due to powers beyond his control (and we're not just talking about Isiah Thomas's coaching in New York). Crawford averaged 19.7 points for the Warriors this season, and he's one of only four players in history to score at least 50 in a game for three different teams. The others? Wilt Chamberlain, Bernard King and Moses Malone. The guy can play.
So why do you Rulers of the Rim torture him while less worthy targets enjoy the playoff spotlight? Stephon Marbury was a pain in the posterior to the Knicks for years, yet you're allowing him to make a title run with the Celtics. The stone-handed Chris Dudley had a career scoring average of 3.8 points, but you ushered him into the playoffs in 12 of his 16 years. Last season you not only stood by while Boston rousted the retired P.J. Brown from his hammock in February, but you even let him earn a championship ring.
Crawford deserves a chance. He has never ripped his teammates or coaches, never tried to pout his way into being traded, never embarrassed his organization with off-the-court scandals. At the moment, he's dealing with a coach, Don Nelson, who benched him down the stretch in favor of younger players and has threatened to deal him if he doesn't opt out of the last two years and $20 million on his contract. Don't expect Crawford to cave—not that it would matter if he did. As long as you have it in for him, it makes no difference where he plays, does it?
Attending postseason games as a spectator is, understandably, not Crawford's favorite pastime; until last Saturday he hadn't been to one since his rookie season. That day he drove three hours from his home in Seattle to Portland to see Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy, a protégé, make his playoff debut—for which he waited all of two years. The city, giddy over the Blazers' first postseason since 2003, reminded Crawford at every turn of what he was there for and, at the same time, what he was missing. Restaurants touted their playoff lunch specials, sandwich-board signs in front of bars invited customers in to watch the games on gigantic flat-screen TVs, and a banner outside the Rose Garden read, WELCOME TO THE 2009 NBA PLAYOFFS. Crawford was like a man allergic to sweets who gets locked in a bakery. "I'm playing through you," he told Roy.
"It's frustrating, watching, because you want to be in that position yourself," Crawford says. "But I can handle it if it means supporting a friend." On second thought, Basketball Gods, don't worry about lifting the hex. Crawford is strong enough to break it on his own.
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"Players tell me that being in the playoffs is like walking on air," says Jamal Crawford. "They say it's unbelievable. I just want to know what that's like."
ILLUSTRATION BY KAGAN MCLEOD