Jamal Crawford’s CrawsOver Pro-Am, headlined by LeBron James and Jayson Tatum, shut down mid-game due to humidity issues caused by the amount of people packed in Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Brougham Pavilion on Aug. 20, 2022.
The gym reached maximum capacity before many fans who had camped in a multi-block line to see the NBA superstars could even make it into the building.
Seattle has shown out when it comes to basketball, with sell-out crowds at the last two Seattle-hosted NBA preseason games in 2022 and 2018.
Rumors have circulated for the past couple of years of a potential SuperSonics return to Seattle. The “Guru” of Northwest high school basketball, Bill Elleby, thinks a homecoming would add excitement and pride to the city.
“It would mean so much to our city just to have that team back up here,” Elleby said. “We can honor all these great players that played for Seattle. It would help our economy and the most important thing is these kids can go watch these players and talk to them, touch them and be inspired.”
Dejounte Murray, Zach Lavine and Paolo Banchero headline a long list of impactful Seattle-born players in today’s NBA. Banchero became the newest face of Seattle basketball after he was drafted first overall in the 2022 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic.
“People weren’t too surprised to see a kid like Paolo go No. 1, coming from Seattle,” said Fred Brown Jr., son of Seattle SuperSonics legend “Downtown” Freddie Brown. “Seattle is a hotbed; it’s been a hotbed for a little bit now.”
Brown scouts for Seattle Basketball Services, a player-ranking website for Washington high school basketball players, was created by Elleby in 2013.
Elleby said that SBS was the first ranking service in the state and mentioned the goal is to promote Seattle basketball, giving kids the recognition they deserve and helping them get to college.
College coaches and scouts subscribe to SBS, where Elleby and Brown scout and rank players that colleges can then recruit.
“We’re the most underrated city in the country for basketball,” Elleby said. “We’re the best as far as per capita, per square foot, everything.”
Elleby was a Seattle high school basketball star in the ‘80s. During his senior season in 1988 playing for the Garfield Bulldogs, Elleby was named Naismith and USA Today MVP for Washington state. During this time, however, little was known about the Seattle basketball scene.
“When I was doing what I was doing, my Auntie had to call UCLA and they offered me. [The University of Southern California] came on their own but nobody knew about our talent up here, nobody was coming up here to recruit us,” Elleby said. “We had a lot of talent when I played, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s. There’s a lot of talent up here, and it’s always been like that.”
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Seattle-based hoopers started to draw more attention through their production in the NBA.
“Paolo is the pinnacle of it, but it started off with players like Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry,” Elleby said. “That kind of broke the floodgates open, then you started hearing ‘Seattle, Seattle.’”
Now, with social media, colleges are sometimes aware of kids before they even get to high school. Seattle Rotary and other AAU programs also help showcase young players on a national level.
“We have the best players up here. It’ll blow people’s minds, the talent that’s up here,” Elleby said.
Looking around the league today, Federal Way’s Jaden McDaniels and Rainier Beach’s Kevin Porter Jr., among others, play key roles for their teams. And throughout the years of high-level basketball play, Seattle has developed a bit of a style.
“It’s a real high-scoring mentality. Great shooters, great guards, great handles and finesse. We kind of trick you, lull you to sleep a little bit and pull-up for jumpers. We’re more run-and-gun basketball here in Seattle,” Elleby said.
While Seattle has primarily developed NBA-level guards and forwards, one center, Spencer Hawes, spent a 10-year career in the league after being drafted 10th overall to the Sacramento Kings in 2007.
Hawes graduated from Seattle Preparatory School in 2006, after winning a state championship. He was ranked fourth in the 2006 class and was a one-and-done at the University of Washington before declaring for the NBA draft.
Growing up in Queen Anne in the ‘90s, Hawes has seen Seattle produce talent throughout several decades. He and other local basketball legends have long worked with the youth.
“I think younger guys know that we’re approachable and want to help,” Hawes said. “I think that helps the momentum continue between the generations.”
He credits the 2005 class as being Seattle’s best, mentioning Seattle natives turned NBA players like Mitch Johnson, Terrence Williams, Jon Brockman, Micah Downs and his teammate at Prep, Martell Webster.
“Everyone is always like ‘What’s the secret? Why does Seattle put so many guys out?’ Well, come here for a winter and see what your options are.” Hawes said. “You can’t go to the beach, there’s no playing outside. You live in the gym.”
Hawes worked with Banchero since he was a sophomore at O’Dea and has known Jaylin Stewart, the state’s first-ranked prospect in the class of 2023, since he was a child, having played against his father, Lodrick Stewart, with Rainier Beach and USC.
The 2022 NBA draft featured three Seattle natives within the first 24 selections. Tari Eason and MarJon Beauchamp accompanied Banchero, being drafted at 17 and 24 respectively.
Brown has known Beauchamp since he was in diapers and is friends with his father. He said he’s always kept an eye on Beachamp throughout his journey to the league.
Brown and Elleby continue to scout Seattle’s talent and named a few players to watch out for at the next level. Stewart, Brooklyn Hicks and Mason Williams of the 2023 class, along with Zoom Diallo, Miles Goodman and Jacob Cofie of the 2024 class are the players both are most excited for.
“I’m not surprised what’s going on now for Seattle basketball,” Elleby said. “It’s something I envisioned and knew was going to happen eventually, so I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
For scenes from Jamal Crawford's CrawsOver Pro-Am held at Seattle Pacific University's Royal Brougham Pavilion, click here.
Andrew Foster (he/him) is a sports reporter at The Front. He enjoys listening to music, playing basketball and is working towards a degree in journalism.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.