"I still can't believe it,'' said Crawford, whose 17 points off the bench helped drive the Hawks to a 102-96 comeback victory Monday against the depleted Celtics. "My second-to-last year in New York, we were trying to get 22 wins by the All-Star break -- and we have [more than that] that now. It's just a totally different position to be in.''
Crawford is the longest-serving player in the NBA without playoff experience, and in three months that is going to change. He has emerged in his 10th season as a Sixth Man Award candidate for the Hawks (24-13 through Tuesday), who not only hold a 3-0 record over the Celtics but also stand just 1½ games behind Southeast Division leader Orlando.
Since picking up Crawford in an offseason salary dump by Warriors coach
Last year, Atlanta's sixth man was
"He's playing hungry because he has not been in the playoffs,'' Woodson said, "and there's nothing wrong with that.''
Crawford had made a career of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He went to Michigan after the Fab Five and was suspended twice during his single college season, for accepting money from a friend and for applying to enter the draft as a senior at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle after signing to play with the Wolverines. He was picked No. 8 in a 2000 draft-night deal that sent him to Chicago, where for four years he practically disappeared in the black hole of
During those nine years, in which his teams never won more than 33 games, it became easy to dismiss Crawford as a talented but hollow 15.2-point-per-game scorer whose creative abilities had little or no impact. What kept him going was the support of terrific players -- Jordan, Thomas and
A naturally shy person, he might have receded and vanished. Instead, he emerged as one of the nation's top high school players after moving back to Seattle. Crawford is recognized today as one of the most charitable players in the NBA.
"I'd rather see somebody else be happy than me, honest I would,'' he said. "That means everything. That's the greatest gift you can have as a person is to see somebody else happy or to help somebody else, especially kids.''
A lot of people in the league are pulling for him now.
"This guy never complains about anything,'' said Hawks vice president
Winning was the great mystery, and throughout the preseason, Crawford worried about ruining a good thing. He was wary of acting like a black hole until Woodson ordered him to score aggressively after Crawford went 1-for-3 in the Hawks' opening-night win over the Wizards.
"He is very unselfish,'' Hawks forward
While Crawford bore some responsibility for the losses of his career, this year is proving that it wasn't all his fault, that he can contribute to a winning program. In turn, his arrival and success cast perspective on the Hawks' renaissance: To think that this long-sorry franchise is now a refuge for losing (but not lost) souls like him.
"It's different from what I'm used to,'' Crawford said. "When you're on losing teams, you don't talk quite as much, and I think a big part of it is communication. When you care about somebody off the court, you'll do anything for him on the court, and that's evident here.''