NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: What was it like guarding Kobe Bryant?

20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions on Game 3, defending Kobe Bryant, his top-5 teams all time and more.

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

How do the Nuggets steal back momentum in Miami?

– from Charles in Los Angeles

The Nuggets have to play faster. When they get stops and can run a fast break, they get easier buckets. That’s when their chemistry shines and the ball finds its way to the open man. They’re at their best when they’re able to dictate the pace.

Do you think that the Heat’s hot 3-point shooting in Game 2 was a result of something they changed or just luck? Is that going to continue into Game 3?

– from Paige in Utah

I wouldn’t say it was luck. Their shooters have been making shots all playoffs. It’s more shocking to see them have an off-shooting night like they did during Game 1. So I think how they shot in Game 2 is how they’ll continue to shoot throughout the Finals.

It’s been said that Erik Spoelstra is a top-five coach. Any thoughts on that?

– from William in Hollywood, FL

If we’re talking all-time top five, then I would have to think about it. As for current coaches, top five is too large of a group. He’s easily top-five coaches in the league right now.

What was the hardest playoff game you’ve ever played?

– from Grant in Jonesborough, TN

It was either Game 6 or Game 7 of the first-round series against the Spurs in 2015. Game 7 was especially difficult because I had to play a lot more point guard after Chris Paul suffered an injury early in the game. Then he came back to hit the game-winning shot!

What was it like guarding Kobe Bryant?

– from Tearsyn in Temple, TX

Oh my goodness!  It was literally a nightmare. Certain guys you know are going to score points and be great. Other guys will have you losing sleep. Kobe was both. He would try to embarrass you every single second and he put a level of fear in every player and team. The part that was maybe the scariest about him was that he didn’t care if he was shooting 1-for-20 up to the point. In his mind, he was hot. So you were never able to relax and say he’s going to stop shooting. He was actually going to shoot more because he was going to find a way to will his team to a win.

He didn’t acknowledge me on the court until I was with the Knicks during my seventh season. It was at The Garden and the Lakers were winning by 25 in the first half. Then I scored 30 of my 31 points in the second half to bring us back. He ended with 39, I think. After the game, he acknowledged me and said, “Good game, my brother.” He was a machine.

Do you think the NBA should add a 4-point line?

– from Daniel in Miami

No. There are certain aspects of the game that you shouldn’t change. I understand the game evolves, but if you add the 4-point line, then I think you would see a lot of people trying to shoot that shot instead of trying to make the right play.

What model/design of shoes is your favorite to wear while hooping and why?

– from Joey in Singapore

I loved the KD 13s I wore during the bubble because they were really narrow. But any shoes with Move insoles in them make it feel like walking on air.

How old were you when you performed your first dunk?

– from Maxo in Montenegro

Wow, my first official dunk came when I was 15. I thought I could get it for a long time. I was trying to catch lobs because that does a lot of the work … you just have to catch it and dunk it. But my first dunk came in the summer of my freshman year and it was a left-hand tip dunk. I was looking at the ball and was like, “Let me jump and try to get it.” I jumped, dunked it, and was so shocked. And it wasn’t a big moment for everyone else like it was for me. I couldn’t believe my first dunk was a left-hand tip dunk in a game.

In the 2016-2017 season, you played all 82 games and won the Sixth Man of the Year. What was the mentality that allowed you to maintain availability both physically and mentally?

– from Jackson in Tuscon, AZ

The availability part was because the training staff with the Clippers was one of the best in the league (and I played for a lot of teams). So they helped me stay available. Obviously, luck is a factor as well. I also changed my diet, which helped a lot.

Winning Sixth Man that year was never part of the plan because we added Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and Paul Pierce in the offseason. So we were going to have a lot of talent on the bench with me. But it started to happen in December after Blake Griffin got hurt. I remember Doc [Rivers] was like, “All right, we need you just to go score now. We need you to get buckets.” From that point on, I was really aggressive on offense and powered my way into the award conversation. I think I clinched it when I scored 30 points in Utah and hit the game-winning shot. When I hit it, I said, “Yeah, I’m winning Sixth Man for sure.”

Do you think you unlocked your full potential while playing in the NBA?

– from Aarush in Texas

No, I don’t think I did. My skill set and personality worked against me. What I mean by that is when I first came to the league, I was a point guard. At that time, you were a position. It wasn’t positionless basketball. Once they moved me to shooting guard because the Bulls drafted smaller guards (Jay Williams, Kirk Hinrich), I scored a lot. Then they were like, “Oh, you’re a two-guard,” and I fell in love with scoring. But my major regret is I didn’t stay a point guard my whole career because anybody who knows me knows I like passing even more than scoring (shhh, don’t tell anybody). It brings me so much joy to pass.

What is your favorite move in your bag?

– from Sameeh in the UK

Behind-the-back is my favorite. But I have different variations and remixes of the move that I can use depending on the situation.

Who was the player who gave you the best crossover and did you ever cross them back?

– from Mat in Miami

Deron Williams in The Garden. He crossed me over so bad because he was a master of setting up ball screens and acting like he was going to come off the screen. But he rejected the screen, crossed me over and made the shot. And the New York crowd is honest, so they were loud even though I was on the home team.

I ended up getting him back later that quarter. And mine topped his … nobody remembers his. Love you, D-Will!

Jamal Crawford breaks down some of his greatest moves, including his shake-and-bake against Deron Williams. (Fast forward to 1:15 to see the play.)

Have you ever witnessed or done an ankle breaker that changed the whole dynamic of a game?

– from Arnaud in Belgium

There have been some great ones over the years. I think Allen Iverson’s stepover on Ty Lue in the 2001 Finals is the most memorable.

Who is the best international player you played 1-on-1 with?

– from Izak in Losinj, Croatia

Great question. I’ve never been asked this. I promise this answer isn’t just because you’re from Croatia. But when Toni Kukoc was with the Bulls, we played a lot of pickup during the summer and he was incredible. I never played him 1-on-1, though.

Hey Jamal, this is my fourth week in a row asking you a question! If you were to choose your top-five greatest all-time teams, who would they be?

– from Avish in Los Angeles, CA

The fourth time is the charm! Here are my top-five teams, in no particular order:

  • 1985-86 Boston Celtics
  • 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers
  • 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
  • 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers
  • 2016-17 Golden State Warriors

What is your all-time point guard starting five?

– from Ryan in Rhode Island

  • Magic Johnson
  • Isiah Thomas
  • Stephen Curry
  • Oscar Robertson
  • Jason Kidd

In your opinion, who is the greatest on-ball defender you’ve ever seen?

– from AJ in Virginia

Dennis Rodman.

What was your favorite season and why?

– from Kevin in West Bridgewater, MA

Great question. It was my first season with the New York Knicks because I was teaming up with Stephon Marbury, who was the first superstar I played with in their prime. Also, I felt the pressure of playing in New York. As they say, if you can make it in New York then you can make it anywhere. So the pressure was unlike any other place and I was ready for it.

What was your favorite experience during your years in Atlanta?

– from Ian in Atlanta

My favorite experience in Atlanta was just seeing people throughout the city who were so excited the team was doing well. We didn’t have a lot of people at the games (LOL), but the people who did come were loud and really into it. That was also the first time I truly became a sixth man. It was a really fun experience with the Hawks.

Are the Knicks being looked at as a top destination for top-tier players?

– from JJ in New York

I’m not sure they’re being looked at as a top destination right now. But they’re firmly in the conversation as an option with players like, “Hey, New York is building the right thing, so this could be fun.” A guy like Jalen Brunson is someone who other stars want to play with because they know he’s all about winning. And New York is one of the best cities in the world, so that helps as well.

How do you think Monty Williams will affect Detroit?

– from Maira in Michigan

He’ll do a good job resetting the culture and then expanding from there. He’s a proven coach and one of the best coaches in the league. He brings a sense of stability, so getting him is definitely a coup for the Pistons.

When growing up, how did you stay away from comparing yourself to other players and keep believing and trusting in yourself that you could make it to the next level?

– from Sonny in Florida

Growing up, I was so locked in on chasing my own dream. When I was eight years old, I never said I need to be better than such and such, or some guy in New York. I knew that guy was out there, but for me, I was just worried about what I could control and how much work I could put in. I felt like if I did enough work to own my “flow” then I felt I would be prepared to play against anybody.

What is the best conditioning drill to get into NBA shape?

– from Kenny in Inglewood, CA

The best conditioning is to play against top-level competition at all times. You can run a mile, do conditioning tests, sprints, seventeens – things of that nature – and they help. But the best way to get into basketball shape is to play actual basketball.

What was your favorite nickname? Crossover Crawford, J Crossover, LA’s Dance Instructor or Mr. And-1?

– from Taylor in Denver, CO

Out of all those … J Crossover, for sure. People call me that all over the world, which is pretty cool. My friend Dave Hudson came up with it. S/o DHud!

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