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Overlooked in NBA, Jordan Crawford shoots for Chinese legacy

Jordan Crawford hopes to make a splash in China, leave a Stephon Marbury-like imprint and re-join the NBA.

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Jordan Crawford drove up the floor and knocked down a three-pointer from the left wing. He then sliced through defenders and kissed a running right-sided floater off the glass. Crawford also received a pass at center court and accelerated for a wide-open jam.

Relax, the NBA season hasn’t started. Crawford, however, put on a scoring clinic during a pre-season showcase in China.

“I had about 30,” Crawford said via text message.

In case it flew under your radar, Crawford, a former NBA veteran who turns 26 years old today and registered 268 appearances for the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, now suits up for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“They’re telling me to take over in crucial points of the game, but I’m not focused on just scoring,” Crawford said. “I really just want to win the championship. It’ll be easy averaging 30 points per game, but NBA teams will value me more if I win a championship, rather than put up big numbers every night and lose.”

The ultra-savvy scoring guard agreed to a five-month, $1.4 million deal and his season debut takes place on November 2, against the Sichuan Blue Whales and its star Ron Artest a.k.a. Metta World Peace a.k.a. The Panda’s Friend.

If there’s something to learn from Crawford’s thus far short-lived experience in Asia, it’s that he’s matured a great deal while making a lot of cash and breaking a bunch of ankles. Oh, he also lives in a castle.

“During the offseason I didn’t think I’d sign in China. I thought I would get a good deal in the NBA, but I was overlooked,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders from his three-story mansion in Urumqi, the largest city in China’s western interior.

It was only after speaking to his older brother Joe Crawford, a former Kentucky star, and a pair of Chinese league studs in former NBA players and California legends Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter, that the former Hawks draft pick opted to test his skills overseas.

“I knew some players who came over here from the NBA. I work out with Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter all the time, so I learned a lot from them. One thing I heard were stories of Stephon Marbury and his success in China,” Crawford said.

Crawford won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor last season with the Celtics, averaging 13.7 points and career-high of 5.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds before being traded to Golden State.

Despite taking a back-seat to the Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, his per minute stat-line with the Warriors was impressive. Crawford registered 8.1 points in 14 minutes of action including an electrifying 41 points in 41 minutes in a 116-112 victory over the Denver Nuggets. He saw limited game time during the playoff series versus the Los Angeles Clippers, including a DNP. Yet, the former Xavier alumnus provided a spark in Game 7, scoring 12 points in 12 minutes.

In China, the Xinjiang locker room constantly preaches championship. Former NBA big man Andray Blatche along with several domestic national-team talents have joined forces to go deep into the CBA Playoffs.

“Other than Dray (Andray) and myself, the team paid a lot of money for Chinese players,” Crawford said. “We have a few national-team guys and our captain played point guard in the previous Olympics.”

There is an ongoing misconception of the China league import rules. Crawford was kind enough to enlighten us and explain the new implemented regulations.

  1. Non-Chinese players can’t be on the hardwood simultaneously for all four quarters.
  2. Out of the first three quarters, non-Chinese athletes can only share the floor for two quarters.
  3. Throughout the fourth quarter, only one import player can be inserted into the game for each respected team. Thus, non-Chinese hoopers will alternate for each other down the stretch.

One of Crawford’s current Chinese backcourt rivals is two-time CBA ring holder and local modern-day idol Stephon Marbury. He shared some great insights on how China takes pride in the 37-year-old former NBA All-Star.

“(Marbury) is like a God out here,” Crawford said. “He has his own statue and stars in his own movie – ‘I Am Marbury.’ He’s also trying to be the coach for the Chinese national-team. I want to accomplish something crazy out here as well.”

Playing in China offers NBAers the ability to return to the league once the season has ended. It’s something Crawford hopes to complete around March.

“I’d like to join a playoff team and become part of an organization that would take a chance on me,” Crawford said. “Whichever NBA team I go to will land a Chinese fan base so it’s a marketing strategy as well. I’m not in China just to get back into the NBA, though. This isn’t a one-and-done thing. I want to build a brand and help the next Chinese generation transform into the best possible era. I’m open to coming back to China next season too if that’s how things play out.”

Crawford opened up further with Basketball Insiders in this Q&A:

How long did you mull over signing in China?

Crawford: “It took about a month once the contract talks started. I learned what my NBA market value was and my agent and I agreed that it wasn’t consistent with my abilities or the contributions I made on the NBA teams I played for. So ultimately, the decision to go overseas was based on the math.”

Which NBA teams offered deals?

Crawford: “Teams wanted to wait till training camp. There were talks of one-season veteran minimum deals. My history with the Washington Wizards concerned a lot of teams. I was traded to D.C. during my rookie season and I was very passionate about playing professional basketball. I worked very hard to show everyone from the coaches to the players to fans that I wanted to win and I could help our team win even when other players were injured or didn’t believe they could win. Some of the decisions that were made and how I expressed my frustration with those decisions led to a big misunderstanding in D.C. and I ended up with a bad reputation, but I’m working to change that.”

Which NBA organization had serious interest in you?

Crawford: “The Sacramento Kings wanted me, but I wasn’t comfortable accepting the backup role there. I’m a hard worker who loves the game and I felt I had something more to offer than what they were looking for from me at the time.”

What were your offseason expectations?

Crawford: “I went into the summer shooting for a multi-year contract with a team that could see me as a part of their future. I thought I demonstrated that I could help an NBA team make a big impact in the league. I don’t just want to BE in the NBA. I love what I do and I’m always ready to compete hard to give my team the win. If you ask NBA players about me, you’ll get the same answer. My resume speaks for itself.”

Describe practices with Xinjiang.

Crawford: “We practice twice a day, but it’s not that hard. Practices are around an hour and a half. In the first session we’d come in at 09:00 AM, put up a lot of shots and go through a couple of plays. During the second practice from 15:30-17:00 PM, we play a lot of five-on-five or four-on-four. We really hoop for the most part.”

How do you fit in talent-wise?

“Oh man. I’ve been pulling a lot of crazy moves in practice. No disrespect but the players here are not exposed to the same level of talent Americans bring on a day-to-day level. Overall, we have some good players and the season is two weeks away so it’s getting serious.”

David Pick has extensively covered European basketball and American players abroad since 2010. His work can be found at Eurobasket.com and ONE.co.il. Follow him on Twitter @iamdpick

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