“It didn’t feel real in some sense,” Crawford said during a Wednesday video call with reporters after participating in his first practice with the Nets. “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. I thank all the people that supported me, and 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 kind of have to face that reality as well.”
With Vince Carter officially announcing his retirement last month, Crawford, 40, became the league’s oldest player by signing with the Nets.
Crawford most recently played with the Phoenix Suns in the 2018-19 season, posting a 51-point game off the bench in the final game of the regular season that April. He said he was confident that he would get a contract last summer, but it never materialized, forcing him to come to grips with the possibility that his career might be over.
“To be honest with you, I went through a range of emotions,” Crawford said. “I was frustrated at the beginning. I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what happened. I was like, ‘Well, 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, like, ‘Hey, go play,’ I was able to still show I can play at a high level, so I didn’t understand it.
“But at that point, I just took it the other way. I was like, ‘If God said your last game is a 51-point game off the bench, then that’s a heckuva exit.’ So I try 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.”
With the Nets playing without Kevin Durant (Achilles), Kyrie Irving (shoulder), Spencer Dinwiddie (COVID-19), DeAndre Jordan (COVID-19) and Taurean Prince (COVID-19), the organization decided to give Crawford a chance to get some minutes and serve as a veteran presence for a group in transition as it prepares to compete in the bubble.
Crawford said his wife and son urged him to take advantage of the opportunity and continue his career. He said his love for the game never wavered, and he kept in shape while waiting for the phone to ring.
“When you’re in love with it, you’re willing to do anything it takes,” Crawford said.
Interim Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said he is happy to have Crawford in the fold and hopeful that Crawford can impart some words of wisdom to the young team.
“We’ll use his ability to understand what we’re in, give some calm to some of the younger guys on the staff and also be able to produce,” Vaughn said of Crawford. “What’s that going to look like on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis? I think only time will tell. My only thoughts conveyed to him was we have to have an extreme, honest relationship, and when he’s feeling it or not feeling it, that communication has to be there. So we’ll be very smart how we use him, but his ability just to play the game of basketball and provide opportunities for shots for himself and others, it’s definitely going to be needed because he can create his own shot.”
Crawford joined veteran guard Tyler Johnson, who also participated in his first Nets practice Wednesday, in a push to help the injury-ravaged team stay competitive in the bubble. The Nets enter seeding games at the end of the month with a half-game lead over the Orlando Magic for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
For Crawford, the chance to be part of an NBA team again is what matters the most. He acknowledged that he “detached” himself from some hope that he would be able to rejoin a team in the bubble after the phone didn’t ring when teams started searching for players to fill their rosters after players opted out of returning.
Crawford said he was appreciative of all the support he received from players throughout the league, both past and present, after the Nets signed him.
“It meant so much,” Crawford said of the outpouring of love on social media. “Obviously, having your peers’ respect is everything. I learned that a long time ago: that some people see you one way, some people see you another way, but having your peers’ respect is what’s really important. So for all those guys to tweet that and support it, it made me feel really good — thankful for it, humbled by it and really, really blessed.”