BOSTON — Jonathan Rinehart, the Utah Jazz’s vice president of communications, noticed something peculiar while walking through the team’s sales office a couple of months ago.
A pair of old basketball shoes — LA Gear high tops, to be precise — were sitting on top of a cabinet in salesman Kevin Pigg’s office.
“I noticed they were signed by Corey Crowder, which just sort of caught my eye,” Rinehart said. “It just seemed a little odd. You don’t really see those (LA Gear shoes) very often anymore.”
About six weeks later, those shoes — the kind Karl Malone wore and tried to make popular some 25 years ago — found a much better home.
Corey Crowder’s professional basketball career began with the Utah Jazz before he became a globetrotter, playing hoops for a living in diverse places such as Italy, Spain, France, Israel, South Dakota, Connecticut, Florida and San Antonio.
The 6-foot-5 small forward only played in 51 games for the Jazz his rookie season out of Kentucky Wesleyan, averaging 2.2 points and 0.8 rebounds.
That short time in a 15-year career left a lasting legacy for the former Jazzman and his family, including his 25-year-old son, Celtics small forward Jae Crowder.
That fact quickly became evident to Rinehart when he had a chance to offer the younger Crowder an incredible gift from his father’s playing days in Utah.
Pigg was in the process of switching offices when the Jazz PR executive happened to see the shoes that were about to be displaced from their longtime home atop the cabinet.
Rinehart wasn’t sure whether the shoes were to be donated, relocated or tossed, but he had a better idea for them. He mentioned to Pigg that Crowder’s son played for Boston and was going to be in Utah a bit later in the season.
“I bet he might be interested in the shoes,” Rinehart told Pigg, a Jazz corporate sponsorships account executive. “He was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds great.’”
The game was still more than a month away, so Rinehart didn’t think any more of it over the next several weeks.
On the day the Celtics were to play the Jazz just over a week ago, Rinehart walked into the Jazz PR office and noticed that Crowder’s shoes were sitting on his chair.
To Pigg’s credit, he had marked the date (Feb. 19) in his calendar and brought them down for the special delivery.
Rinehart wasn’t certain what type of relationship the Crowders had, so he approached his PR counterpart with the Celtics, Jeff Twiss, and told him the he had a pair of shoes that Jae Crowder’s dad had worn in a game with the Jazz and had later autographed.
Twiss then introduced Rinehart to Jae Crowder, who was in Vivint Arena for a morning shootaround ahead of the Celtics-Jazz game.
“He’s got something you may be interested in,” Twiss told his team’s Crowder.
Rinehart began giving Jae a history lesson about Corey Crowder’s tenure with the Jazz, saying he played in Utah in the early 1990s.
Jae Crowder quickly chimed in, “1991-92.”
The proud son knew the path of his father’s basketball footsteps.
Rinehart then began explaining that he had come across a pair of his old man’s game-worn sneakers and started to ask
“I’ve got to have those!” Crowder exclaimed.
Later that morning, the two-and-a-half-decade-old shoes had been reunited with the Crowder family.
After that morning's shootaround, Jae Crowder took a photo of the shoes and posted it on his Instagram account (@bossmann99). He included a message of gratitude to the Jazz PR team for giving him shoes from his “POPS.” He added hashtags: #CLASSIC #20YRSLATER #MEMORIESOFALIFETIME.
“That's monumental and that's something that I'll cherish forever,” Jae Crowder told media, including MassLive.come and BasketballInsiders.com, before the Celtics took on the Jazz in a pregame interview before Utah's 111-93 win. “I'm forever grateful for that."
Right after receiving the shoes, Pops got an emotional phone call.
Corey Crowder couldn’t believe that the Jazz still had a pair of his shoes lying around the building where he and some guys named Stockton and Malone won a Midwest Division championship together.
"He said he was tearing up over the phone," Jae Crowder told reporters. "It was just something that came out of nowhere for us. And for him to still have his shoes 20 years later is unbelievable.”
Instead of on some salesman’s cabinet — or who knows where? — the high tops will be enjoyed by the Crowder family for years to come.
“I'll take care of that,” Jae Crowder said, “and put them in a glass box for him, and have that for a long time."
Even before this fun shoes story, Utah was a special spot for the Crowders. During the phone call, Corey, who maintains a good friendship with his Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan, told Jae, “I love being here. It’s one of my homes.”
The younger Crowder was only a 1-year-old that season, so he doesn’t have any memories other than stories from his dad — and, now, a sweet pair of autographed LA Gear high tops.
“It’s great to see him (my dad) reflect back on his days here,” Jae Crowder said.
While Rinehart did his usual postgame check-up on the visitors to make sure the PR team had everything it needed, Jae Crowder went out of his way to track him down. Rinehart wasn’t with Twiss when Crowder received his dad’s shoes.
“He just told me how much it meant to him and his dad to have those,” Rinehart said, “and how appreciative he was.”
Rinehart smiled thinking about the “happenstance” circumstances that led to a son getting a pair of his dad’s old Jazz shoes.
This wasn’t a PR stunt, by the way. Rinehart simply wanted to pass along a family treasure. It was Jae Crowder who went public with the neat story.
“It’s one of those sort of feel-good things,” Rinehart said. “I’m glad it meant so much to him. I’m glad they ended up in his hands.”
Jae Crowder, the former Marquette player who’s having a breakout NBA year with the Celtics, also received a touching and fitting compliment from one of his dad’s former teammates, Norwegian basketball player Torgeir Bryn, on his Instagram post.
Bryn called Corey Crowder a “class act” and a great player and teammate. He also included this fitting message to Jae Crowder: “You have (definitely) filled your father(’s) shoes.”
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz, who've suffered consecutive disappointing setbacks to the Spurs and Nets, begin a four-game Eastern swing tonight against the Boston Celtics. ... This will be the first time former Butler coach Brad Stevens, now the head coach of the Celtics, will play the Jazz with two of his old Bulldog players, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, on the team together. The trade for Mack hadn't been finalized yet when Utah beat Boston at home by 18 points a week ago Friday. ... Boston has won 10 straight at home. ... Tipoff is at 5:30 p.m. MST.
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