NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: Questions on the 2023 Hall of Fame class

What was it like to play against Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker? 20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions.

Jamal Crawford talks with Dwyane Wade after a game in 2018.

The NBA Mailbag is here to answer your questions throughout the 2023 offseason! Have a question for Jamal? Submit it at the bottom of this edition of the NBA Mailbag.

What did these Hall of Famers excel at that put them a level above everyone else?

– from Ahmad in Delano, CA

Their competitiveness is what jumps out at me, and there were specific moments for each player. With Wade, it was being down 0-2 to Dallas and leading Miami to the title. For Dirk, it was winning his first championship in 2011 without another All-Star on the roster. Pau went to the Lakers, showed how dominant he can be in big games and helped win two championships. With Tony, his maturity to guide that first championship group when he was a younger player and not lose himself in the process was very difficult and he accomplished it. They all had different moments where they stepped up above the competition, and that’s why they’re in the Hall of Fame.

Did you expect these players to become Hall of Famers when you were playing against them?

– from Michael in Oklahoma City, OK

Yes, I expected all of these players to become Hall of Famers. Each one of them was such a big part of their team’s success. They weren’t just getting stats and chasing numbers, they were the foundational pieces to championship seasons. So it’s no surprise they’re all entering the Hall of Fame this weekend.

How hard is it to defend a Hall of Famer?

– from Conor in Maine

First off, it’s hard to defend an All-Star let alone a Hall of Famer. These guys all had a superpower. Tony had his floater. Pau had his skillset and size. Dirk had his one-legged shot. Wade had his speed and size – that’s why they called him The Flash. These superpowers are what made them so difficult to guard and differentiated them from other players in the league.

What was it like to play against D-Wade?

– from Nate’le’ge in Chicago, IL

I always say D-Wade was the third-hardest player I ever guarded. It’s Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Dywane Wade. He was so hard to deal with because he could beat you in so many ways. He became a true combo guard where he was the lead guard as far as being the point guard where he had the ball every single possession, while also being the scoring guard who constantly put pressure on the defense.

Look back at Dwyane Wade's legendary 16-year NBA career.

When I scored a career-high 52 points, it was against him. But it only happened because of his greatness. I was so nervous and so fearful about what he was going to do in The Garden after winning the championship the previous season. He was walking on air at that point, and there’s no way I have the game I had if not for his inspiration and motivation.

How are athletic players like D-Wade prevented from getting to their spots?

– from Priyanuh in Kolkata, India

The only way to slow down a player like D-Wade is to show him a wall of multiple bodies. He’s never worried about the person covering him. It’s about the other four people supporting his defender. That’s what would slow him down just a little bit as he looks for the creases in the defense where he can make a play. In the end, that’s your best bet because no one guy is going to stop him alone.

What part of D-Wade’s game do you admire the most?

– from Martez in Temple, TX

He was willing to do whatever it took to win. A big block, a big defensive stop, a big shot, a big assist … he could do it all. Even his willingness to team up with LeBron and become the Robin to LeBron’s Batman showed his dedication to winning championships.

What was it like witnessing Dirk’s one-legged shot?

– from John in Chicago, IL

The point of release where Dirk naturally shoots is already unguardable. When he shot his signature fadeaway, it became a nightmare because it would mess up a defender’s rhythm. Most guys play defense expecting a player to take a dribble, a couple of steps and then pull up for the shot. With Dirk, he would size you up and shoot from an awkward point of release where all you can do is react. And by the time you react, the ball is going through the net.

Check out this mix highlighting Dirk Nowitzki's iconic one-legged jumper.

​​How was the energy like playing in Dallas during Dirk’s last home game and dropping 51 points during it?

– from Anulfo in Bronx, NY

You could feel the energy in the city from the moment you woke up. Dirk was the only thing people were talking about. If you walked down the block, everybody had on a Dirk jersey. So it was like we knew a movie was going to happen that day, and we were just props in the movie. It was cool to actually have a really good game because even though it was Dirk’s night, I’ll be a small, small cliff note within that. Dirk actually shouted me out in his speech after the game, which was special. And he gave me a signed jersey after the game!

Did you expect the Lakers to win a title after they added Pau Gasol?

– from Shannon in Los Angeles, CA

I expected their chances to win to improve greatly. But I can’t say I expected them to win because the Celtics’ vaunted defense was waiting for them in the East. And that’s who ended up slowing them down in the 2008 Finals before they won their back-to-back titles.

What made Pau such a perfect compliment to Kobe?

– from Andrew in Minneapolis, MN

Pau was very cerebral, and Kobe was a cerebral player. When you have that mindset along with an elite skill set, anything is possible. Kobe would say if you do what you do, I’ll protect you in other areas. So that helped both of them lean further into their strengths, and I think it helped provide a level of toughness to Pau that allowed him to play more aggressively. Beyond their similar mindsets, their skills were a perfect match especially when Kobe started using the pick-and-roll more. They were a deadly combo in the pick-and-roll.

Look back at the Top 10 Plays from Pau Gasol's career.

What was the most intense moment you have had with these Hall of Famers?

– from Eli in Jacksonville, FL

The most intense matchup was with Tony. After the Spurs won the 2014 championship, we played them in the 2015 playoffs. They were absolutely the toughest team I’ve ever played against in the NBA. They pushed us to the limit, but we pulled out the victory in the series.

What qualities helped Tony Parker become elite?

– from Mason in San Antonio, TX

He was driven to be great. From everything I heard about him, he was very coachable and an incredibly hard worker. When you have a strong work ethic and mentors like Pop, Manu, Tim and David to push you in the right direction, magic can happen. He had an incredible career and now gets treated like royalty in France after what he was able to accomplish in the NBA. That’s very cool.

Check out the top Finals performances from Tony Parker.

As a guard, how did you prepare to face elite bigs like Dirk and Pau?

– from Stewart in Miami, FL

I tried to stay as far away from them as possible. With 7-footers, if you try to attack them in the paint then they’ll just block you. So you had to work to create space and freedom. But even if they don’t block you, they will still force you to adjust your shot. It’s a constant battle to find space, especially in the paint.

From your perspective, did Dirk change the game?

– from Tracy in San Francisco, CA

He absolutely helped to change the game. I can’t think of a guy at that position who was as skilled and could stretch the floor like that, besides Larry Bird. So he definitely helped continue the tradition of changing the game and expanding what’s possible for big men.

As an opponent, what did you respect most about coach Popovich? Did you hear stories from former Spurs about his coaching style?

– from Jackson in El Paso, TX

What I respect most about coach Popovich, especially now that I’m a coach, is how he held every single player accountable. There were no big me’s and little you’s. He treated Tim Duncan like he did Tiago Splitter. He held everyone accountable, but showed them he loved them too. When you do that as a coach, the players will trust you and do anything for you because they know you truly care about them.

One story I heard was from LaMarcus Aldridge. He told me they would have team dinners and wouldn’t talk about basketball at all. They would talk about current events and things that are happening in the world. To me, that was so impressive because there is more to life than basketball and Pop has always been great at bringing that to the light.

What other players from your era are you excited to see join the Hall of Fame?

– from Jacob in Des Moines, IA

Great question, I’ve never been asked that. You have the obvious ones like Chris Paul, LeBron and Kevin Durant. But then also, I’m excited to see if a guy like Lou Williams can get a Hall of Fame nomination. Those are the type of players I’m looking forward to seeing if they get recognized.

Do you feel that you had a Hall of Fame career and what would it mean to you if you made the Hall of Fame?

– from Cooper in Queensland, Australia

To be honest, I don’t know if I had a Hall of Fame career, but I think I had a Hall of Fame effect. If I could just make the hallway and get nominated, that would be like making it for me.

Who is the best duo in NBA history?

– from Liam in Minnesota

Shaq & Kobe and Jordan & Pippen.

In your opinion, who are the best playoff performers in each decade starting in the 1980s and running through the 2020s?

– from Evan in Fort Worth, TX

Oh, wow. Let’s go with these groups:

  • 1980s: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas
  • 1990s: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon
  • 2000s: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan
  • 2010s: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard
  • 2020s: Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo

Who was the toughest guy you had to defend as a rookie?

– from Eli in Louisville, KY

I was playing point guard at the time, so I’ll go with Terrell Brandon. He was so patient and could always get to his spots, which was difficult to defend as a rookie.

How much did you grow from freshman to senior in high school?

– from Kyson in Utah

From freshman to senior, I grew three inches. The biggest jump came from 8th to 9th grade. I went from 5-9 to 6-2.

Who are you looking forward to watching in the upcoming season?

– from Ngata in Nuku’alofa, Tonga

I want to see if Denver can repeat. I think their style of play is sustainable, it’s just so hard to win back-to-back titles because you’re not surprising or sneaking up on anybody.

Did you ever get offered high-money deals to play overseas?

– from Miles in Birmingham, AL

Yes, I did. I got offered a ton of money to play overseas when the 2011 lockout happened.

Do you think the upcoming FIBA World Cup during the offseason benefits or harms a player in the NBA?

– from Chloe in Alabama

I think it benefits them. I’m never against a player playing basketball. That’s what we do. I know a lot of guys do a lot of offseason training, but at the end of the day, you’re going to play basketball. So if you can get your body used to that and still find time to take periods of rest within the summer, then I think that’s great.

How can I get recognition as a hooper even though I don’t have the money for EYBL because they’re far away and don’t go to a private school that strives in basketball?

– from Preston in Tampa, FL

Just be good at this point. The world is so small they’ll find you. My advice would be to continue to work on your game every single day as much as you possibly can. If you can do that, then you’ll have the best chance to reach your highest potential.

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