Crawford repents, just in time for Duncan

Column by Buck Harvey

I saw Joey Crawford off the court a few years ago, after the incident, and I told him he looked like he’d stayed in shape.

“I run,” he said with a smile, and then he scooted sideways across the room like a crab. That’s how NBA officials always seem to move.

Crawford’s sense of humor is one reason the media has always enjoyed him. Another is that he’s been a top-five ref who runs a fast game.

He added another layer to that last week. Crawford didn’t simply admit he was wrong in 2007. He went beyond that, calling it one of his biggest regrets, and that might come into play soon when Crawford shows up to work a Spurs game.

Tim Duncan, after all, might finally see Crawford as just another ref running like a crab.

Crawford isn’t just another ref, of course. He’s worked a record number of postseason games, and he’s done so with control that few of his peers have. The surprise Saturday is that he wasn’t assigned Game 7 between the Lakers and Nuggets.

But there’s been a sense the past few years that Crawford came with baggage when he worked a Spurs game. His actions in 2007 created that, and his suspension did little to ease suspicions.

Who knows? Maybe that made Crawford even angrier?

He’s been assigned five Spurs playoff games since 2007, and Duncan has done well in many of them. He finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds to eliminate Shaquille O’Neal and the Suns in 2008, for example.

Still, the Spurs also lost the other four with him, and his non-call in 2008 against the Lakers added to the mistrust. When Derek Fisher came down on Brent Barry in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, wouldn’t that have been a foul with others?

Maybe, maybe not. But since Crawford was the closest, there were reasons to wonder.

But there are also reasons to wonder if this is mostly paranoia, because of what Crawford said in the New York Times last week. Asked if he had any regrets, the Times reported he didn’t hesitate.

Crawford offered two. One was the IRS investigation into league officials pocketing first-class fare money. The second was Duncan.

“The Duncan thing probably changed my life,” Crawford said. “It was just — you come to the realization that maybe the way you’ve been doing things is not the proper way and you have to regroup, not only on the court but off the court.”

That’s strong, and it’s this self-evaluation that likely saved his career. Jake O’Donnell, an official who Crawford called “a legend” in the same Times article, was previously pulled down by a similar spat with Clyde Drexler.

As for what had built up between Crawford and Duncan: There were signs of it in 2006, too, during the Spurs-Mavericks series.

The Spurs have winced since when they’ve seen Crawford show to work one of their games. And asked how long that took to go away, one staffer said Saturday with a touch of humor, “Who says it’s gone away?”

One truth about officials and teams, these things run deep. The Clippers, for example, aren’t going to forget a mediocre ref named Marc Davis; he called a technical foul Friday on Reggie Evans for something as harmless as Duncan once clapping on the bench.

Evans had dared to high-five Blake Griffin.

If Crawford had done the same to the Spurs, all wounds would be open today. But he hasn’t. Time has passed, and he didn’t work the Memphis series last season. He never saw the Jazz this spring, and last week he announced 2007 “changed my life.”

That doesn’t mean Crawford won’t miss a call. But everything he said suggests it will be professional, not personal.

And for the one that needed to hear that the most, Duncan should feel free now. He can complain to Crawford as he would to anyone.
Twitter: @Buck_SA


Game 1: @Spurs, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., TNT

Game 2: @Spurs, Thursday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 3: @Clippers or Grizzlies, Saturday, 2:30 pm., ABC

Game 4: @Clippers or Grizzlies, Sunday, 9:30 p.m. or 7 p.m., TNT

*Game 5: @Spurs, May 22 (Tuesday), TNT

*Game 6: @Clippers or Grizzlies, May 24 (Thursday), ESPN

*Game 7: @Spurs, May 27 (Sunday), TNT

* if necessary

Leave a Reply