It was April 9, 2019 when Jamal Crawford finished off his season with a 51-point effort, giving him the highest scoring average for a month he’d ever had in his 19-year career. And he went home and he waited for word of where he would resume his career.
But the call never came, at least not until after the NBA season was shut down by the coronavirus and brought back in a bubble in Orlando, where the Nets, in desperate need of healthy bodies, called.
Why it took this long to get the call, the 40-year-old Crawford is unsure. And if he will be on a roster next season remains an unknown. But for now, Crawford is just happy to be back on the court, where he finally was Wednesday with his quarantine over.
“To be honest with you, it didn’t feel real in some sense,” Crawford said of the call that finally came. “I was going to sleep that night, and I woke up like, ‘Did this really happen, or was I dreaming?’ Did the Nets really call and I really signed a contract with them or agreed to a contract, and it was real. I thank God and I thank all the people that supported me.
“It’s a blessing. It really is, because I’ve been on the outside for a year and once it gets to a certain point, you’re not sure that call’s going to happen and you have to face that reality as well. For me, I was trying to find a balance and go through it in my mind. So this call coming was a blessing and I’m really, really happy about it.”
The Nets are the ninth team for Crawford, who turned 40 nine days after the season was suspended. He has familiarity with much of the roster, but those friends — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan — are all home, outside of the bubble watching while Crawford joins a pieced-together group of players.
He arrived at practice Wednesday, along with Tyler Johnson, who also cleared quarantine in time to participate Wednesday. But Michael Beasley has left Orlando after testing positive for COVID-19 and the Nets are waiting out the quarantine for Lance Thomas.
No one on the Nets bubble roster, either the veteran additions or the players who made it here, have a statistical record like Crawford. But he is intent on just finding a way to fit in.
“I went through a range of emotions,” he said. “I was frustrated at the beginning. I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what happened. Character-wise, I just won Teammate of the Year, so I think that part’s solid, as far as being in the locker room.
"Obviously I had a different role as far as leadership last year, but when the time came, ‘Hey, go play,’ I was able to still show I could play at a high level, so I didn’t understand it. From that point, I took it the other way. I was like, you know, if God said your last game is a 51-point game off the bench, that’s a heck of an exit, so I tried to find the peace within that and I got a chance to spend time with my family, but I’m so happy to be back.
“For me, I followed some of it, but I kind of had to detach myself because the phone wasn’t ringing immediately when I knew there would be a season, so I was trying to look at the schedule; ‘Oh, I’ll watch the games when they come,’ excited to watch basketball. But when the phone rang and I was like, wow, I’ll sacrifice whatever it takes. I’m seeing a lot on social media with different people. I’m just happy to be here, and I know what I’m here for. Everything else is secondary. I’m here with my teammates to play basketball and compete, and that’s what I’m excited about.”
He did have to consider what others have — whether it was safe to step into uniform again right now when the efforts to contain the virus have failed outside of the campus the NBA has put together at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and even inside with two players at least reported by the league to test positive after arriving.
“Well I talked it over with my family,” Crawford said. “My wife was like, you have to go do this. My son felt the same way. Obviously the NBA took all the proper measures and protocols and have been unbelievable. Even the quarantining part the last six days have been hard, but it’s something you have to do, and for me I said I’m willing to take the chance because I feel like they’ve got all the bases covered. Nothing’s 100 percent. We can stay as close to that as possible and keep players safety first. For me, it was a no-brainer, an opportunity to play on a team that’s in the playoff hunt, a team that is trying to look to improve with vets out. I feel like for me it would be a great situation and I was honored that I got the call.”