THE ART OF THE CROSSOVER

Defenders who get crossed over by Jamal Crawford can blame the rain.

Crawford, who grew up playing on the damp streets of the Pacific Northwest, has been dribbling since he could barely hold a regulation basketball. By the time he was in fourth grade, his handles began to take form. And they got better as the weather got worse.

“I was probably 8-9 years old when I realized I could dribble the ball pretty good,” Crawford said. “The only practice is just having the ball, honestly. In Seattle it rains a lot so I used to go outside in the rain and dribble and it would slippery and you couldn’t really control the ball that well but I still tried to control it as best as possible.”

Now, Crawford controls the ball with the best of them in league history. His ball-handling expertise is typically the first thing that comes to mind when Crawford’s name is mentioned to a fellow player, media member or NBA fan.

More than his record number of 4-point plays or his 50-point games or his Sixth Man of the Year, Crawford’s crossover has defined his career. You can sense whenever he’s isolated on the perimeter, home or away, and the crowd starts getting jittery.

In Denver on Feb. 3, Crawford pulled youngster Quincy Miller away from the basket and danced with the ball, sizing him up before driving by him for a layup attempt. Crawford drew a foul, and the Nuggets fans let out a collective sigh knowing it could have been worse.

Crawford is fearless when it comes to taking on defenders in the perimeter. In two years with the Clippers, he’s gotten everyone from Ray Allen to Tony Allen, Lance Stephenson to Wesley Matthews. And that’s not accounting for the hundreds that came while he was a member of the Hawks, Blazers, Knicks, Warriors or Bulls.

For him, the crossover that first got his attention as a youngster was Tim Hardaway’s UTEP two-step.

“The first crossover that I can remember that kind of mesmerized me when I was watching was Tim Hardaway’s UTEP two-step,” Crawford said. “The people I watched growing up that had the best ball-handling skills were Isiah Thomas. I think he’s the best ball-handler ever. And Allen Iverson, his left-to-right [crossover], the one that got [Michael] Jordan, got everybody.”

Crawford has incorporated a number of those moves into his arsenal as well as some that are all his own. They were perfected on the hardwood, but started by dodging rain drops.