Former Washington Wizards: Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford’s Chinese Adventure


With so much unbridled optimism surrounding the Washington Wizards, it’s important to remember where they came from. There was once a time where even this modest station in life – a team coming off a 44-win season and a second round playoff exit – seemed like an impossible, laughable pipe dream only imaginable by Ted Leonsis himself.

No two players better exemplified this era of Wizards history than Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford. Talented, erratic, and ultimately destined to fall far short of their potential, Blatche and Crawford represented everything the Washington Wizards were. We may not like it, but Dray and Craw were, are, and forever shall be of the Wizards, irreplaceable and truly unique in this franchise’s history.

After winning a few games in spring 2011, Ted Leonsis announced that John Wall, Blatche and Crawford had become a new Big Three. That blog post has now been deleted, and so have Blatche and Crawford’s NBA careers. Much like how otters hold hands to ensure that they never drift away from each other, the two former Wizards ventured into the next frontier together: the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association! There is very little either “flying” or “tigerish” about these two men, but the CBA has become a home for some of the NBA’s more colorful exiles: Stephon Marbury, Ron Artest/Metta World Peace/The Panda’s Friend, J.R. Smith, Steve Francis, and even our beloved and beatified Gilbert Arenas have sought to ball in the Far East.

Andray Blatche’s fascination with Asian basketball is already known. In May, he became a naturalized citizen of the Philippines, despite being born and raised in Syracuse, New York – he averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup that summer. By default, Dray is probably the greatest Filipino basketball player of all time, making his decision to expand his roots in that region of the world understandable. And Craw? He just goes where the Steez takes him.

The Flying Tigers are based in Ürümqi, a city of more than three million in northwest China. “Xinjiang” is the name of the autonomous region in which Ürümqi is located, and it’s the largest autonomous region in China – a rugged land sandwiched between Mongolia and Kazakhstan and populated predominantly by Muslim Uyghurs. Jordan Crawford now owns a three-story mansion there, because he’s Jordan Crawford.

CBA teams are only allowed to have two imported players at any one time – last year, Xinjiang employed former Wizards Lester Hudson and James Singleton. Les and Big Game James got the Flying Tigers to the 2014 CBA Finals, but their dreams were shattered in six games by Chinese cultural icon Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks. The Flying Tigers are a CBA playoff staple, and they hoped that Blatche and Crawford would be the ones to get them all the way.

But the CBA is a funny league. There’s no doubt that the quality of Chinese basketball has improved tremendously over the years, but third-tier players still put up ridiculous numbers. This is a league where old friend Chris Singleton, disappointing at best in the NBA, is averaging 23 points and 13 rebounds alongside Toney Douglas for the Jiangsu Dragons. This is a league where old friend Yi Jianlian – one of the greatest players in the history of China, later found bricking midrange jumpers in a half-full Verizon Center as a bored crowd halfheartedly groaned “Yiiiiiiiiii” – is averaging 26.5 points and 8.5 rebounds for the powerhouse Guangdong Southern Tigers. This is a league where Lester Hudson, who averaged 1.6 points per game in 11 career appearances with the Wizards, is putting up a cool 30-7-7 a night for the Liaoning Flying Leopards. (I hope the Flying Tigers vs. the Flying Leopards are the CBA’s answer to the Iron Bowl.)

And for his part, Andray Blatche is getting the job done. Dray has carried Xinjiang so far this season with 32 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists per night, and he has the Flying Tigers at 11-5 and fifth in the league. (Lester Hudson’s Flying Leopards are 17-0.) But while 7 Day Dray has been a smashing success so far, Jordan Crawford’s experience has been slightly different.

Shortly after the season began, Crawford started to become affected by a swollen eye – and though he ended up averaging nearly 30 points a game and breaking Polyphemus’ single-game cyclops scoring record set during the Trojan War, the pain became too much and he has returned to the US to seek treatment. In his absence, Xinjiang has signed another tragic NBA disappointment, Sebastian Telfair. Will Jordan Crawford ever return to Xinjiang? Someone’s gotta use that mansion in Ürümqi.

It seems cruelly apropos. Jordan Crawford comes to a new team, gets off to a great start, but it’s all sabotaged by something weird. A swollen eye? That, my friends, is #SoWizards. Blatche and Crawford have always had the talent to play in the NBA – Blatche was a valued rotation player on a playoff team just last year – but it’s everything not having to do with talent that has ushered them out of the league.

Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford are not bad guys. I’ve actually always been a big fan of Craw. But those two men carry the stink of the one of the most dysfunctional teams in the history of the NBA on them, and they’re just trying to make sure it doesn’t follow them to their graves. It might be too late for Jordan Crawford – he’s still contracted to Xinjiang, but it’s unclear when he will return – but maybe Dray can make it out.

Maybe Andray Blatche becomes a superstar in China. Maybe he turns the Flying Tigers into an unparalleled dynasty. Maybe he gets the Philippines an Olympic medal. And maybe he returns to the NBA on the back of an actual, literal flying tiger, using the wisdom and skill he learned in the Far East to redeem his tainted legacy. And it was written that then Dray wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.

Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford are the Wizards, and everything we’ve ever been. And that’s why we need to root for them. Go get ’em, guys.

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