LOS ANGELES — Allen Crabbe’s rise to the NBA was made possible by his smooth jump shot, but his professional career has been defined by his exquisite timing — for better and worse.
The 26-year-old wing struggled to find minutes in his first two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, but a modest breakout in his third season set him up perfectly for 2016’s infamous spending spree. With the salary cap rising from $70 million to $94 million that summer, free agent role players were suddenly compensated like stars. Despite ho-hum averages of 10.3 points and 2.7 rebounds, Crabbe received a stunning four-year, $75 million contract. Even after he moved into a starting role for the Brooklyn Nets in 2017, Crabbe has been a regular on lists of the “worst contracts” and “most untradeable” players composed by the NBA’s unforgiving blogosphere.
Similar discourse has led other 2016 free agents to fire back at critics or to disappear from public view, but the mild-mannered University of California product hasn’t succumbed to cynicism or withdrawal. Instead, Crabbe put his newfound wealth to work with a major philanthropic donation, gifting hundreds of thousands of dollars to Frederick K.C. Price III Christian Schools in inner-city Los Angeles last summer.
“Something like that [contract] can definitely change up your life,” Crabbe said Wednesday as the Price Schools honored his “mid-six-figures” donation. “My first two years in the NBA weren’t always glitz and glamour. I wondered if I was going to be out of the NBA. My family preached to me, through the hardship and tough times, that God always has your back. The money has been a blessing, not just for me but because of the impact I’ve been able to have. This is a family commitment.”
Crabbe’s grandfather is Apostle Frederick K.C. Price, a well-known black televangelist who founded the Crenshaw Christian Center in 1973 and has written numerous faith-based books. His aunt is Angela Evans, the megachurch’s CEO, and his uncle is Fred Price Jr., the church’s pastor. He grew up listening to weekly sermons at the FaithDome, CCC’s 10,000-seat stadium-like church on Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles, and he attended Price Schools next door from preschool through high school. His grandparents and aunt founded the fully accredited Christian school in 1986, and his mother, Cheryl Price, sits on the school’s board.
As the star of Price’s basketball team, Crabbe won state player of the year honors and led the tiny school, with an enrollment of 170, to a division four state title. Inside the Billy Blanks Youth Activity Center, named for the Tae Bo founder and CCC member, are numerous tributes and banners recognizing Crabbe’s accomplishments. And after a ceremony this week, the facility’s basketball court is now officially “Allen L. Crabbe III Court.”
Price Schools pulled out all the stops to show its gratitude: The school’s band and cheerleaders performed, a video of his highlights rolled on a big screen, and Crabbe was introduced as a “Knight in shining armor” — a play on the name of the school’s mascot. Michael Lynch, Price’s former high school coach and Crabbe’s godfather, said that Crabbe’s game was so advanced that he forced his way onto the varsity team in ninth grade. “He could always shoot,” Lynch said. “That was his gift. He had the same motion he has right now in middle school.”
Evans fought back tears as she detailed the school’s stellar graduation rate and recounted her nephew’s impromptu generosity. “It was going to be curtains,” Evans said, describing a June 2018 meeting when she informed board members that the school’s future was threatened by an insurmountable budget shortfall. As the grim proceedings continued, Crabbe’s mother reached out to him by text message.
“There’s no way we can go out like this,” Cheryl Price remembered thinking. “I had nothing to lose. I told Allen that your money is your money, and that no one can tell you what you should be doing with it. My son is an amazing young man. He said: ‘I’ll do it. I’ll step up.’ I thought my sister was going to start hyperventilating when she read his text messages to the board. Everybody cheered.”
The CCC’s goal is for Price Schools to become economically self-sufficient, a difficult challenge given local economic realities. Evans said that Price Schools, which has a staff of 35 teachers and is the only private Christian school in the area, recently raised tuition and must boost enrollment to reduce its financial reliance upon the CCC.
“If you had a 30-year-old in your house mooching off of you, you’d want them to have a plan,” Evans said. “We’ve got to get the school on its own feet. If I can maintain the 170 students we have and add another 80, we will break even, and I won’t be harassing my nephew.”
The school’s leaders recently produced a music video, starring its students, to further recruitment efforts, and they hope Crabbe’s gift will raise awareness of Price’s mission and potentially inspire other donors. While the $7,000 annual high school tuition represents a fraction of what other private schools in Los Angeles charge, Cheryl Price said that the school must overcome preconceptions about its Vermont Knolls location. The area, which was hit hard by the 1992 riots, remains one of L.A.’s poorest and highest-crime neighborhoods.
“Some people may have a misguided idea of the area and don’t want to come over here,” she said. “When you send your kids to school, you don’t want them to get shot at. At Price, you’ll get a great education, this is a safe property, and we’re strict on bullying.”
When it was Crabbe’s turn to take the mic, the soft-spoken Nets player admitted that he lacked his grandfather’s oratory skills and said he was “overwhelmed” by how many families had reached out to him. Although Crabbe has been limited by injuries for much of this season, his coach, Kenny Atkinson, and teammates D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Ed Davis showed up to support him before their Friday game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
After he thanked the crowd of hundreds over a loud ovation, Crabbe stood next to Kamari Stewart-Crowley, his 10-year-old nephew and a Price student, as a blue curtain was removed to reveal the court’s new insignia. “I’m going to do whatever I can to keep this thing going,” Crabbe said, suggesting this wouldn’t be a one-time donation. “It’s in my heart to give back.”
With Crabbe surrounded by his family and mobbed by children wearing T-shirts from his basketball camp, the $75 million payday, which had prompted so much derision, appeared in a totally different light.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” Crabbe said, citing a CCC sermon from his youth. “I come from a family with a legacy of touching lives around the world. My grandfather and uncle have done it the pastoral way. I want to do it the basketball way. It’s not okay for me to be an athlete and receive all that money without doing anything positive in the community. I want to be known as somebody who left his mark.”
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