This week however, we recognize a former neighborhood basketball player who starred several years ago at the high school and college levels, but who at the professional level, hampered my injuries, hasn’t played in a game since March 3rd, 2007. Why is that player still this week’s Athlete Of The Week, despite missing action for so long?
It’s not what he did on the court, but that he was honored last week for putting the Hofstra University basketball program back on the map nearly a decade ago. For that reason, this week’s selection is Craig “Speedy” Claxton.
The former star at both Christ The King High School (in Queens) and Hofstra, after an overdue wait, finally had his number “10” retired at the David S. Mack Sports Complex, in his hometown of Hempstead, NY, before 3,417 adoring and thankful fans, prior to Hofstra’s game with Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday.
Due to his lack of durability (but certainly not a shortage of talent or ability when healthy), it’s been a frustrating career for Claxton in the NBA. Now in his ninth year with his fifth different team as a pro, the 30-year old point guard has averaged a decent 9.3 points and 4.3 assists, while committing just 1.8 turnovers per game. But, he’s missed more regular season games (371) than regular season games in which he’s played (332), due to knee and hamstring injuries. Claxton was given the nickname “Speedy” long before his arrival at Hofstra, for an obvious reason. At just 5-foot-10, he often blew by defenders with an extremely quick first step and an ability to swiftly penetrate into the lane at will.
But, once a first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers, Claxton has been slowed since a bad knee injury which he suffered in his inaugural season in the NBA. “Ever since my rookie year when I tore my ACL, I never fully recovered all my physical gifts that I had, like my jumping ability,” said the ex-Hofstra guard who despite a shorter frame, was often on the receiving end of alley-oop dunks from his former Hofstra teammates.
The biggest highlight of Claxton’s NBA career thus far was the main role he played in helping to deliver an NBA championship for the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. Replacing struggling Spurs’ superstar Tony Parker in Game 6 of the 2003 NBA finals, Claxton scored 13 points while dishing out four assists to rally the Spurs from an eleven-point fourth-quarter deficit, to an NBA title-clinching victory. That game made other teams take notice and resulted in a big payoff for Claxton, who has since earned over $25 million with the Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Hornets, and his current team, the Atlanta Hawks.
However, even after a moment like that on the grandest of stages, at the highest level of basketball, Claxton ranked having his college number retired and leading Hofstra to the NCAA tournament above earning a ring with the Spurs.
“Winning a championship in the NBA was fantastic, but I don’t think a lot of people realize how special it was to get to the NCAA tournament from a mid-major. That was like the ultimate, ultimate experience. I don’t think anything will ever replace that,” said Claxton, who in the 1999-2000 season, averaged 22.8 points, 6.0 assists, 5.4, rebounds, and 3.3 steals per game in his senior year, to win a second straight America East Conference Player Of The Year Award, while leading Hofstra to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years.
After starring at Christ The King and signing his letter of intent to play at Hofstra, Claxton said “A lot of people thought I would jump ship,” Claxton said. “I almost actually did jump ship, but I believed in [former Hofstra coach Jay Wright, now at Villanova] and I decided to come.”
That decision paid off, as Claxton still ranks sixth in scoring (2,015 career points), and first in assists (660) and steals (288), all-time at Hofstra.
One more category that Claxton extended in his Hofstra career on Saturday was adding another very fond memory.
“Today was another great moment of my life,” Claxton said. “This place is like a family for me and it was great that they decided to do this for me. It’s a great honor. I almost shed a tear out there.”