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LeBron James considers himself “a historian of the game,” and takes pride not just in dominating his own era of NBA basketball but in schooling himself about who and what has come before.
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Just a few days ago, for example, James spent an off-night in Chicago watching a 1997 playoff game between Utah and Houston on NBA TV, eager to understand the how’s and why’s of John Stockton’s 3-pointer that sent the Jazz to their first NBA Finals.
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So the impact of newly retired NBA referee Joey Crawford’s 39-year career wasn’t lost on the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys star.
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“To see him reffing Finals games in the early ’90s and then have him ref some of my Finals games in 2011, 2012 — his tenure and what he was able to accomplish over that long period of time — I think is remarkable,” James said of Crawford, who was honored Sunday at halftime of the Bucks-76ers game in his native Philadelphia.
“Joey was a man of his own out there. He didn’t follow nobody. He reffed how he wanted to ref, he had his antics the way he wanted to have his antics. But every coach, every player respected what he brought to the game. Best wishes to him in his retirement for sure.”
GameTime: Joey Crawford Retires
The GameTime crew looks back on the legendary career of NBA referee Joey Crawford following his retirement announcement.
Crawford, 64, announced in the fall that 2015-16 would be his final NBA season. But when his right knee didn’t sufficiently respond to surgery and rehab, it turned out that he had worked his final game without realizing it. Crawford spoke to NBA.com in March about his career and his future, and the 76ers made plans for Sunday’s ceremony to celebrate Crawford’s work in his hometown, a city not just with rich in its basketball tradition of great players but of great game officials, too.
Some of the NBA’s best-known referees have had Philadelphia roots, including Earl Strom, Jake O’Donnell, Steve Javie, Jack Nies, Mark Wunderlich and Mike Callahan. Crawford’s father “Shag” and brother Jerry were longtime MLB umpires. Then there’s Joey, who worked deep into the new-millennial, social-media age and arguably is sports’ most recognizable ref or umpire.
He also was known, across 2,561 regular-season games and 374 more in the playoffs (including 50 Finals appearances), as one of sports’ toughest.
“‘Ain’t gonna be no shenanigans,'” James said, when asked what he thought whenever he realized Crawford would be working his game. “‘No horseplay tonight. We’d better be about all professional business, because he ain’t messin’ around.'”
James added: “Any ref that I can go up and talk to, man-to-man, I have respect. Just like every player’s different, every ref is different. You can’t go at one ref the way you go at another, just like I can’t lead Kyrie [Irving] how I lead Tristan [Thompson]. They’re two different guys. I’m a 13-year veteran, so you learn that over the years. But Joey’s well-respected by every player.”
Crawford on Joining Replay Center
Joey Crawford joins GameTime to talk about transitioning from a NBA referee to joining the replay center.
Once news broke of Crawford’s retirement — he still has been pulling shifts in the league’s Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J. — and as the event in Philadelphia neared, a number of players, coaches and colleague spoke about the man’s work and his personality, both of which will be absent from arenas and NBA telecasts. Here are some of them:
Kobe Bryant, Lakers star whose exit has synched up with Crawford’s: “Another Philly guy! He would never, ever B.S. you. If he felt like he made the right call, he’d tell you. If he felt like he missed it, he’d tell you he missed it. If he thought you were out there whinin’ like a baby, he’d tell you you were whinin’ like a baby.
“So I always had the utmost amount of respect for Joey and the intensity that he brought. I know he prepared extremely well before games. And I love him.”
Lakers veteran Metta World Peace: “One day I’ll get some coffee with him and give him a lot of [grief]. It was great to deal with him for all those years. There were times I’d get upset because they’d miss calls. But I tried not to think about it. You want to forget about the refs for the most part when you’re playing. But when you get a chance to B.S. with the refs, you can have some fun with it. Joey had a short fuse but it was never a concern of mine. Of course he tossed me, many times. But he’s great, other than that. Anybody who’s gone is gonna be missed — Joey’s one of ’em, Kobe’s one of ’em.”
Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, who had plenty of disagreements with Crawford over the years: “He’s always been one of the great ones at what he do — I’ve always appreciated the great ones at their craft. I felt like I was treated fair. He’d talk to me and explain things when he didn’t have to, where other refs might have an ego or something. A no-nonsense kind of guy. There will never be another Joey Crawford, because he built that reputation, he built who he is.
“I remember in Boston we had a laugh — him, myself and Paul Pierce. He made a mistake, we kind of looked and the three of us all had a laugh. Obviously you’ve seen the video of him and Timmy [Duncan], but Joey’s always compassionate, I’ve always respected him, I’ve always felt I had respect coming back from him. I wish him the best, man.”
Longtime ref Bennett Salvatore, now a referee development/performance advisor: “I worked with him for so long, so many games. I’ve never met a guy with more passion for what he does, in basketball or out of basketball. He watched every game. When he’s home, he’s a basketball junkie. I think it’s a love for the game and it’s to be better at his job. He’s one of those people who, after 39 years, continues to work to get better every day.
“When we were young — Joey, I think, had five years in the league more than me — they used to pair us together in the 2-man system. Joey was the hot-tempered guy and I was more the medium-range guy, and honest to God, we used to fight our ways out of stadiums every night. We’d have five, six technical every night, and we’d just look at each other afterward and laugh.
“He’s the most recognizable sports official who’s out there — I kid him all the time, that might not be a good thing. He could be friendly with you without being your friend. If you crossed that professional line, he would immediately reprimand you in whatever manner was appropriate. I think that’s why he gained the ultimate respect by the players and the coaches. Joey was always fair — he didn’t care who, what, where or when. All he saw was the four corners of the court, the players, the ball and the basket. That was it. Everything else was by the rulebook.”
Joey Crawford: Top 5 NBA Moments
It’s time to say goodbye to Joey Crawford, but not before The Starters count down the Top 5 Moments from his illustrious career.
Lakers and former Pacers center Roy Hibbert: “We were playing the Lakers in L.A. and I remember he made a blocking call, and he skipped down the court going like this. I thought that was hilarious. But he’s probably one of the refs who let you go back and forth. He had a fuse for, like, how much he’d let you do it. But you respected him. And he could take a joke from time to time. He’s a nice guy.
“He’d always come to the bench at that first whistle, first horn — you had to get out there. He was serious about that stuff. One time that I thought was funny, Gerald Green — my former teammate — was in Phoenix and we were jawing back and forth, playfully. And he gave us both double techs. We walked up to him and said, ‘We’re just messin’ around. We’re former teammates.’ And he was like, ‘I don’t know who’s teammates and who’s not teammates.’ We thought that was funny. I’ll give him a hug when I see him.”
Former L.A. star-turned-coach Byron Scott: “I loved Joey Crawford as a referee. He’d done it for so many years. Wasn’t biased. Didn’t care if you were at home or on the road. And he was one of the most honest referees. There were a couple of times I felt he missed calls, and the next game he reffed us, he would tell me I was absolutely right.
“Back in our ’80s days, we were playing and Joey was reffing, and James Worthy was having a pretty bad game for James. And he was all over Joey: ‘That’s a foul! That’s a foul!’ Just going crazy on Joey. We’re going to the bench and James is still yelling at him. Joey comes over to our bench, spreads guys out of the way and walks up to James and says, ‘Don’t blame me because you’re having a bad [bleeping] night!’ That was perfect Joey Crawford — James looked at him and said, ‘You’re right.’ ”
Kendall Gill, 15-year NBA wing-turned-broadcaster in Chicago who keeps on his smartphone a video clip of a timeout exchange he had with Crawford: “I was telling him I was one of the league leaders in steals, historically. And that I didn’t foul the guy like he said. And he was like, ‘Are you really? I knew you were a good player but I didn’t know you were historical.’
“Whenever I had a game where he was working, we would always pose for a picture together. Because in my rookie [trading] card, Joey was in that shot and he knew it. So he’d be like, ‘Hey Kendall, let’s pose.’ seahawks jersey cheap I knew he respected all the players but if you got out of line, just like your father, he would quickly put you back in line.
“When you saw Joey Crawford, you knew that was a big game, because he was, like, at the top of the food chain as far as refs were concerned. You’ve got a lot of great refs in the league but if you think ‘NBA ref,’ Joey Crawford is the one who comes to mind.”
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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