SEATTLE — A historic day at the CrawsOver Pro-Am featuring more NBA talent than has been on a court in Seattle since the league’s last preseason visit ended early due to court conditions, but not before what organizer Jamal Crawford called an “unbelievable, one of one” experience.
Although several of the league’s biggest stars have played in the CrawsOver since games moved to its current home (Royal Brougham Pavilion on the campus of Seattle Pacific University), including Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, hype for the pro-am has never reached the heights it did Saturday.
The excitement began Friday, when Crawford and LeBron James tweeted that the four-time MVP would return to Seattle for the first time since his last road game against the Sonics in January 2007, more than 15 years ago.
James was joined by fellow All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Dejounte Murray, as well as this year’s top two draft picks (Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren, though Holmgren left in the game’s opening moments with an apparent ankle injury), two other first-round picks (locals MarJon Beauchamp and Tari Eason) and three other NBA veterans: locals CJ Elleby and Isaiah Thomas and visitor Aaron Gordon.
With free attendance capped at less than 3,000, fans began camping out overnight Friday to assure their spot in line. Thousands remained outside after the gym reached capacity.
Luminaries in the crowd included Hall of Fame player and coach Lenny Wilkens, LA Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer, several former Seattle Seahawks (Cliff Avril, Marcus Trufant and K.J. Wright) and members of both the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics — who practiced elsewhere in the building earlier Saturday ahead of Game 2 of their WNBA playoff series on Sunday.
The crowd erupted when James entered the gym a little before the scheduled 6 p.m. time for the day’s final game featuring the NBA stars. Tipoff had to be delayed briefly after a throng of onlookers surrounded James on the court, with Crawford taking the microphone to plead with fans to restore order and the Seattle Police Department warning the whole event might be shut down.
Not long after the game began, condensation became an issue. On an unusually humid day for Seattle in the summer, the combination of a full crowd and the heat caused repeated wet spots on the court.
“Every time they dried it, it wasn’t getting any better,” said Beauchamp, whose slip while going up to finish midway through the second quarter sealed the decision to cancel the action with 5:47 remaining in the second quarter.
“You don’t get a day like this often, but it’s my job to protect everybody’s safety,” explained Crawford. “On the court, I couldn’t risk those guys taking a chance of getting hurt. It’s not worth that. It’s supposed to drive inspiration and give hope and they did that. The job was accomplished.”
While fans didn’t get a full game, the stars packed plenty of highlights into a quarter and a half of basketball. Tatum was the day’s standout, hitting a series of long 3-pointers early in the game, punctuating some of them with his signature blown kiss to the crowd.
Playing together, Tatum and James teamed up for the day’s top highlight, a high-arcing lob in transition that James finished with his left hand. James also punctuated the end of the first quarter with a powerful dunk.
As Crawford took the microphone again to announce the end of the game, he thanked the visiting stars for their participation.
“Obviously, everybody didn’t get in and everybody probably could never get in,” he said afterward. “We tried to do the best we can. We tried to provide an experience that we’ve never had before. I thought that overall it was great because I think it’s moments and memories that the kids will never forget.”
That was certainly the case for Beauchamp, who has played in the CrawsOver dating back to his days as a high school player in Seattle but never with competition like this.
“The experience was [once in] a lifetime,” Beauchamp said. “You’ll probably never see that again. It was cool to be out there in Seattle, all these great players. Dreamed of this.”