Alyssa Naimoli

Jamal Crawford, guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, recently sat down with Michael Rapaport to talk NBA greats, like Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson, how basketball has changed and more on the newest episode of the I AM RAPAPORT podcast.

The Clippers, seeded fourth in the West, currently find themselves down 1-0 in their first-round series with the Utah Jazz. After losing game one on a last-second shot, the Clippers look to tie up the series tonight before heading on to Utah. The series is far from over.

With his Clippers locked in a tough playoff matchup, Crawford thinks back on a career that’s now in its 17th season. He’s been in the NBA nearly as long as a few of the younger players have been alive. And his NBA ‘firsts,’ like his “first time playing Sprewell, first time playing Kobe, first time playing [Allan] Iverson’ show the scope of how the game has changed.

“The first time you see me at the Garden is the first time I played [Latrell] Sprewell,” said Crawford. “I remember, the Knicks would be on one end, and you’d be on the other, in the preseason, and Sprewell says, I can hear him yelling out: ‘Okay, I’m reloaded.'”

Crawford was ‘feeling nervous’ the first time he played Sprewell, an idol of his.

“I remember I tried to hit [Sprewell] with a crossover. I think I might have hit him and then missed the shot just from being nervous. Like, ‘Oh, he went for that, I may have pulled that off.’”

Crawford’s best moment playing against an NBA great came in his third year when his team defeated the Lakers for the first time. He “got [his] first double-double” playing “against Kobe and Shaq right behind him.”

“Kobe didn’t talk like that but he was so serious. You felt it. He wanted to rip your heart out,” said Crawford.  “You felt that.  He wanted to embarrass you in a whole different way.  He wanted to take your heart and literally hand it back to you, like, ‘this is yours, in my hand.’ That was Kobe.”

Crawford believes that having always been a huge NBA fan made all these first experiences that much more meaningful. He would be nervous approaching his idols, realizing that “they’re gonna embarrass [him] in front of everybody” and he’d “have to go back home and hear about [it].”

“Being such a fan of the game, collecting trading cards … traveling on the plane with my basketball, dribbling my ball through movie theaters and the mall,” said Crawford. “I’ve never done a basketball drill in my life. To this day. It’s all imagination, it’s all just having the ball with me.”

When Crawford originally joined the league, the style of play was different, and his role as a point guard was more about “point guards being point guards and giving the guys the ball.” Now, “you want point guards to be scorers” and “you want it to be position-less basketball with guys [who can] play multiple positions.”

With position-less basketball, Crawford still emphasizes the importance of playing defense or “looking like you’re playing defense” in the game. Kids learning basketball often shy away from defense, sometimes for fear of embarrassment, but Crawford doesn’t agree.

“If you’ve played basketball long enough, you’ve gotten dunked on, you’ve gotten crossed over, you’ve missed dunks; that’s just part of the game,” said Crawford. “You’re not playing basketball until that happens. If you’re playing defense, you’re going to get crossed over. It happens. Get over it.”

Regardless, Crawford knows that the game of basketball will continue to evolve, the same way it has since he joined the league: “The game keeps evolving, the balls just gonna keep bouncing, the game will continue to evolve.”

The Los Angeles Clippers host the Utah Jazz for Game 2 of the team’s first-round playoff matchup on April 18 at 10:30 p.m. ET.