SAN DIEGO – Finally united on the same team after all these years, new Timberwolves teammates Jamal Crawford and Aaron Brooks share many things, with their Seattle roots, family ties and lengthy NBA careers among them.
But if you want to move from beyond mere coincidence into the serendipitous, try this: They share the same names.
“Crazy story,” Crawford said. “His first name is Aaron, my first name is Aaron. My middle name is Jamal. His middle name is Jamal.”
The mother of Crawford’s first son is Brooks’ first cousin, and the two have played against each other in Seattle pickup games forever while both players wondered if they’d ever play together some fine day.
That time finally has come now the Wolves signed each to a free-agent contract before training camp opened Saturday in San Diego.
“I grew up watching him,” Brooks said. “That’s not a lie.”
They are five years apart in age: A 6-7 shooting guard who has been named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year three times, Crawford is 37. A 6-foot point guard who was named Most Improved Player in 2010, Brooks is 32.
“He’s telling you how old I am,” Crawford said. “That’s all that is.”
Still, Brooks remembers them playing one-on-one when Brooks was in grade school and Crawford was on his way to stardom at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School.
“I watched him all through high school,” Brooks said. “I watched him dribble up the court backward when I was like seven. I fell in love with his game … It was a big gap [in age], but he was one guy you always looked up to. He was just a gym junkie, and he loves the game. There’s definitely a little bit of his game in mine. Our games are similar. He’s a taller version, I think.”
Crawford went on to play one season at the University of Michigan and now 18 NBA seasons in which he won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Before that, he admits he was a high-school show off who impressed a young kid.
“I was very flashy then, I’ve really toned it down,” Crawford said. “For sure, I was trying to embarrass everybody. I’d dribble backward up the court, then went I got there, I touched the ground, threw it over my neck, shot a three and turned around before it went in.
“We have video of it. It’s not on YouTube, but we have video.”
After playing for 18 coaches in his 18 NBA seasons, Crawford is with Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau for the first time. He tends to frown upon such things in his establishment.
“I wouldn’t dare, I wouldn’t dare try it now,” Crawford said. “Thibs gives a lot of freedom offensively to everybody, but play the right way. That’s what it’s all about.”
Crawford is playing for his sixth NBA team, Brooks for his seventh in 10 NBA seasons. They each have played for the Bulls, but did so a decade apart.
“When he was in Houston, I was in Chicago, New York,” Crawford said. “When he was in Chicago, I was in L.A. We were never even really close to crossing paths. When I’m under contract, he was a free agent or vice versa. So there never was a time when we were really close to playing with each other.”
They often will comprise the backcourt on what Thibodeau intends will be a vastly improved second unit. The Wolves signed Crawford in July because of his vast experience and instant-offense production after the team’s reserves struggled to score so often last season. They signed Brooks just hours before players convened for media day last week for his perimeter shooting and because Thibodeau coached him for a season in Chicago and likes the way he played.
Brooks said the two guards haven’t had time to develop any chemistry together yet, despite such a long-standing relationship.
“I was always playing against him, even when we played pickup in Seattle,” Brooks said. “But we’ll figure it out.”
They do, after all, share the same hometown and history with each, not to mention the same first and middle names, no matter the long odds about that.
“I guess he would be the old Aaron Jamal, so I’m little Jamal,” Brooks said. “The two of us playing together, this is not a dream come true, but it’s definitely one of the highlights.”