Unleash the fury, Jamal

“You’re the problem. You used to be the toughest guy on this team. Now you’re trying to prop yourself up with the right woman or the right shrink or God knows what else. You want to be a major league pitcher? You have to find something in yourself that’s yours and nobody else’s. You had that once, Rick. And if I were you, I spend the rest of the night trying to find it again. Without it, you’re no good to me or the team.” – Jake Taylor, Major League II

What does pitching have to do with basketball? Well, not much. A movie about baseball usually doesn’t have much to do with basketball either. But this quote from Major League II has always resonated with me because of that line in the middle. “You have to find something in yourself that’s yours and nobody else’s. You had that once…”

This is how professional athletes seem to find their way into the jobs they inhabit. They have something in themselves that is theirs and nobody else’s. We can sit here and pretend that LeBron James has that Magic Johnson quality or that Kobe Bryant has the same DNA makeup as Michael Jordan. We can wonder why Dwight doesn’t play more like Shaq from a mental and physical standpoint. It’s just not a realistic comparison to draw upon because these guys have never gone through the same lots in life to get where they are. Different players and eras have paved the way for them to get to that certain moment in their development when they realize what it is within themselves that allows them to be great at what they want to do.

There is no set diagram of “if you follow these steps and this regimen, you’ll make X number of dollars as a professional athlete.” There is only the particular drive found in each individual that is unique to them and them only. It’s nothing that anybody else can find for that singular athlete. They can use motivation coming from many different forms, but the motivation has to be harnessed by that often cliché “special something” inside the athlete’s heart.

For all of his warts and shortcomings as a player, Jamal Crawford has always been among the elite creative scorers in the NBA. He’s rarely efficient in the classical sense. His scoring bursts break through the sound barrier like an obese pitcher of sweetened water with red dye #5 breaks through an innocent family’s living room wall. His jumpers, floaters and shots around the rim have no familiarity with the cadence of a 12-round prize fight. There are no jabs. There are no body shots. There are only flurries of hooks and uppercuts, waiting to break through and put you on the ground to leave you wondering what happened in the last 90 seconds.

Crawford isn’t a good defender by any means. He mentally lapses with the best of them, leaving shooters open on the perimeter and driving lanes with a welcome mat laid out in front of them. His passing is more than capable, but he’s often too slow to recognize the opportunities to create for others that are in front of him. He dribbles the air out of the ball, repetitively pounding the leather against the hardwood with an obsessive compulsive discretion. And yet, the over dribbling is always feathery to the touch and dancing about the court like fractions of light bouncing off of a disco ball.

Crawford’s ball-handling ability is too quick for anyone’s own good. It’s impossible to know what you’ve just seen him do; you just instantly know he’s entertained you as you’re attempting to process everything. He gives you an innate sense of enjoyment that doesn’t travel at the same speed of comprehension. The trigger on his shot release is effortless and cursory. Nothing seems polished; everything is seamless.

Jamal Crawford is one of the greatest offensive weapons of our generation. Well, he was before he lost that something inside him that was his and only his. He’s one of four players to ever score 50 points with three different teams. Maybe you’ve heard of Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain and Bernard King? They’ve also accomplished this feat. JC has the most 4-point plays in NBA history because he just knows how to adjust for contact when he’s 23 feet away from the hoop. Think about how obscure and yet perfectly tailored to Jamal Crawford these scoring records are. I can’t picture another player in the league with such accomplishments.

Over the last two years, Crawford has fallen sharply from his peak season in Atlanta. That year, he was the league’s best 6th Man — providing haymakers off the bench on the nightly. Now? There is no scoring groove. The shots don’t fall and the game has become too conservative by his standards. He appears to be adapting to the added pressure of playing on a hopeful contender like Portland by trying to fit his game to myths about playoff basketball. Don’t get sloppy with the ball. Don’t take chances with your scoring unless it’s a great shot. Play within the confines of your game.

Here’s the problem with that. Jamal Crawford’s game has never known any bounds. It’s not to say his ability and production have been limitless. He’s just never sacrificed his unique creativity with the ball in order to please the masses of hard-nosed fans. The Crawford I see attempting to run Nate McMillan’s adapted brand of basketball isn’t the Crawford I remember even two years ago. There are no chances being taken, unless you consider long jumpers to be a game of chance.

Jamal has to take his own self-imposed shackles off of his handle, off of his bounce, off of his freestyling nature in order to regain that special something that got him to this point in life. There was a reason the top players in the league were pining for his services during the lockout. His flair often comes with precious points that can demoralize an opponent and inspire an arena.

Portland needs that player badly. They are a really good team that is an elite wing scorer away from being treacherous in the spring.

I hope he finds that player he showed us not that long ago. Because nobody else can do it the way he does it.

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