PHOENIX (AP) — Jae Crowder got a birthday present like none other: He is playing in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Crowder turned 31 on Tuesday, the day that his Phoenix Suns open the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. He will be the first player in NBA history to play Game 1 of the title series on his birthday.
It's believed that only 10 other players have appeared in a finals game that was scheduled on their birthdays: Jack Nichols had it happen three times, with the Washington Capitols in 1949 and the Boston Celtics in 1957 and 1958 all having finals games on April 9.
Sam Perkins, Bruce Bowen, Earl Lloyd and Udonis Haslem all appeared in finals games on their birthdays twice. The others: Calvin Murphy, Dave Gambee, Michael Doleac, Kerry Kittles and Med Park.
“Happy birthday to (at)CJC9BOSS,” read a tweet Tuesday from the basketball program at Marquette, Crowder’s alma mater. “Congrats on another tremendous season and thank you for all you have done for (at)MarquetteU.”The tweet did not wish Crowder luck in the NBA Finals, however. Remember: Marquette is in Milwaukee.
But later Tuesday, Marquette sent out another tweet — wishing Crowder luck."Great people in Milwaukee. I hold great relationships with a few people in Milwaukee to this day," Crowder said. "Like I said, it's a special place to me. ... It's always love."
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich had both Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer and Phoenix coach Monty Williams on his staffs with the Spurs over the years.
Budenholzer was an assistant in San Antonio for nearly two decades, part of four NBA championships with the Spurs. Williams has actually been with Popovich in three different capacities: He played for him in San Antonio, then was a coaching intern there, and returned to the Spurs as the vice president of basketball operations.
"He's like, ‘You have to figure it out on your own,'" Budenholzer said. "I feel fortunate to have been through the finals before as an assistant coach and watch great players and great coaches manage and work through it."
Popovich lauded both Budenholzer and Williams, saying they didn't need any pre-Finals pep talks.
"Bud stopped needing me a long time ago," Popovich said. "And I learned as much or more from him than he did from me, so I try not to get involved. Those guys know their teams very well and the last thing they need is a butt-in-ski with advice, so I stay away from that."
Besides playing for rings, the Larry O'Brien Trophy, a banner and a parade, the Bucks and Suns also have about $1,244,031 in cash at stake.
That's the difference between the winners' and losers' share of the NBA playoff pool following the finals.
The Suns are already assured of receiving $4,155,253; that will grow to $5,399,284 if they win the NBA championship. The Bucks have claimed $4,050,146; they'll end up with a total of $5,294,177 if they win the title.
The NBA's playoff pool this season was $20,821,479. The league's 16 playoff teams all get a piece of that money, at least $310,745 apiece.
GAME 1 REFS
The referees assigned for Game 1 of the NBA Finals: Marc Davis, Josh Tiven and Pat Fraher.
The NBA said it is Davis' 15th finals game, the second-most among the crew assigned to this year's series behind Scott Foster's 20.
Sean Wright, James Williams and Courtney Kirkland will work finals games as referees for the first time. Also assigned to the finals this year: Foster, Tony Brothers, James Capers, Kane Fitzgerald, John Goble, David Guthrie, Zach Zarba and Eric Lewis.