2021 NBA Finals – How Jae Crowder Became the NBA’s First Player


PERSON WHO knows Jae Crowder was surprised when he punctuated the Phoenix Suns’ first-round victory over the Los Angeles Lakers by dancing salsa in the general direction of LeBron James.

“I loved it,” said Corey Crowder, father of Jae, who played for the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs before a long career in Europe.

“It was hilarious,” said Isaiah Thomas, Crowder’s teammate and three-season Rubbish rival with the Boston Celtics. “Jae doesn’t take anything away from anyone.”

That’s how a junior college journeyman who started his NBA career as a deep reserve with the Dallas Mavericks becomes the plug-and-play role player every winning team wants. This has helped the league evolve in directions that favor players with the size and versatility of Crowder – a group that includes PJ Tucker, who joined the NBA with the Suns after several years in Europe and is now starting for the Milwaukee Bucks. .

Winning followed Crowder: from Marquette, where he played for two seasons; to those Boston teams; and now in the back-to-back finals with the Miami Heat – who never quite recovered from their loss – and the Suns.

Through it all, Crowder has never been intimidated or hit by a star. At the start of Crowder’s third season, Crowder and Mike Procopio, then Mavs player development coach, were training in the Mavs training gym the day before a home game against the Lakers. Kobe Bryant had scheduled time in the same gym after Crowder and took an early walk.

Prior to landing in Dallas, Procopio had been Bryant’s personal video coach. Bryant caught Procopio’s attention and attempted to strike up a conversation, Procopio and Crowder recalled. Crowder, who was and is a huge Bryant fan, stopped Procopio nonetheless: it was Crowder’s slot machine, and he didn’t care who was visiting. Adding a few chosen words, Crowder suggested that Procopio get back to work.

“That’s what makes Jae Jae,” Procopio said. “He has complete confidence – and a competitive chip on his shoulder that makes the iceberg that sank the Titanic look like a snowflake.”

A favorite habit of Crowder among his friends is that he sends text messages in capital letters – always on your face, even when you can’t see his face.

Crowder’s inner circle knew he would remember the end of the Lakers ‘Game 3 victory, when James backed him up again and again in front of the Lakers bench as LA reserves mimicked James’ moves in time. real.

“I felt so bad for my son,” Corey Crowder said. “But you take your punches and put it in your head. Jae has a really good memory. At some point the roles change.”

Crowd remembers her dad bouncing back into professional leagues to make a good living, and understands how his own career could have gone that way – the G League and Europe – instead of two long-term NBA contracts worth around $ 64 million.

The Suns’ willingness to guarantee Crowder three full seasons at nearly $ 10 million each was a big reason he picked them. Crowder’s Utah teammate Ricky Rubio called Crowder to recruit him for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rubio and Crowder said. The Mavs were interested in a reunion, although they did not make any firm offers, sources said. The Heat wanted him to return, but on a shorter contract, sources said.

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