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Injury ends ref Crawford's farewell season early

A meniscus tear in his right knee has officially ended the veteran referee's 39-year career as an NBA official

POSTED: Mar 10, 2016 12:16 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Joey Crawford will not officiate another game in 2015-16, his farewell season, due to a right knee injury.

Unlike another NBA fixture with Philadelphia roots, Joey Crawford's farewell tour this season hasn't gone so well.

In fact, Crawford, the league's senior official and one of the most recognizable and controversial referees in NBA history, has worked his last game.

Sidelined since November by recurring pain and arthritis in his right knee and recovering since surgery Dec. 4 on a meniscus tear in that knee, Crawford had hoped to return March 1 for what was left of his 39th and final NBA season and postseason. But his knee has not responded well enough to rehabilitation to allow that. So there's zero chance he and Kobe Bryant will work their final games together.

I was lucky. For 35 years or so it was only like, a calf [strain] here or there. But the last two years, my 38th and 39th, it just broke down on me. What're ya gonna do? You just move on.

– Veteran NBA referee Joey Crawford

"You turn the page, y'know, and you think, 'It's somebody else's turn,' " Crawford told NBA.com in a phone interview Wednesday. "But you still miss it. You miss the people.

"I'm just lucky that a lot of the refs, they'll call me up. I don't know if they do it because they feel sorry for me, but they'll say, 'Can you break down a quarter for me here or a quarter there?

"I was lucky. For 35 years or so it was only like, a calf [strain] here or there. But the last two years, my 38th and 39th, it just broke down on me. What're ya gonna do? You just move on."

Crawford, 64, worked 2,561 regular-season games, second all-time to 2015 Hall of Fame inductee Dick Bavetta (2,635). No one refereed more NBA playoff games than Crawford's 374 and his 50 Finals appearances rank him second behind Mendy Rudolph, another Hall of Famer.

Reaching the NBA in 1977 at age 26, Crawford over four decades earned a reputation as a cantankerous yet technically proficient referee with an occasional hair-trigger for calling technical fouls. Raised in a family of sports officials -- his father Shag Crawford worked more than 3,100 games as an MLB umpire for 20 seasons and brother Jerry topped that by lasting 25 in the National and American Leagues -- Crawford brought an authoritarian edge to his job.

Twice he ran afoul of NBA policies: In 1998, Crawford was one of eight referees charged with falsifying tax returns to hide undeclared income from downgraded airline tickets. He pled guilty and resigned in July but, when reinstated months later, missed no games thanks to the 1999 post-lockout schedule.

Beyond the Paint: Joey Crawford

Joey Crawford is one of the most recognizable non NBA player who whose 38 year NBA referee career is coming to an end, find out what makes him tick.

In April 2007, Crawford was suspended from the playoffs by NBA commissioner David Stern after a run-in with San Antonio's Tim Duncan. Crawford had given the Spurs star two technical fouls for, he claimed, laughing at him from the bench. Duncan said Crawford asked him if he wanted to fight. Having previously consulted with a sports psychologist, Crawford stepped up his work with Dr. Joel Fish and credits the incident for turning around his career and life outlook.

"I was very, very arrogant," Crawford said of his early NBA years. "I had to constantly be told, 'You need to do a little personality overhaul, Joe.' The Duncan thing? That was my fault. I can say this, I was a lot better my last 10 years than I was my first 29 years."

Never one to be intimidated

As feisty as he was and, when provoked, for all the jawing he did with players and coaches, Crawford will be missed by those with whom he worked the closest. Fans might notice a little less personality in the referees' ranks, too, with Crawford following Bavetta into retirement.

"Joey has been such an integral part of the league," Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told the Portland Tribune earlier this season. "He is held in such high regard as one of the best officials in the league today, if not in the history of the game."

Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers told the Tribune's Kerry Eggers: "People can say what they want about Joey, but he's the best in big games because he's not intimidated. What I've loved about him, you know what you're getting. He's consistent in how he calls it, and he's not scared to make the big call on the road. As a coach, you want that guy in a big game."

Joey Crawford Leaves Game

NBA referee Joey Crawford had to leave the Mavericks and Clippers game in the second quarter after injuring right his knee.

Rivers was the one who helped Crawford limp to the Clippers' bench when he first injured himself during a Dallas-L.A. game on Jan. 10, 2015. Instead of having surgery immediately, Crawford relied on rest and treatment to return in time for the playoffs and worked Game 4 of the Finals in Cleveland last June.

"I rehabbed like crazy and really worked hard through the summer to get back," Crawford said Wednesday. "It just went on me again in November. So I was rehabbing, rehabbing, rehabbing [post-surgery] and I finally said, 'This isn't going to work.' I'm lucky that there is a tiny bit of cartilage in there, but the 39 years took its toll.

"I would have been draggin' the leg, to be honest with you. And I didn't want to go out that way. It's been too good for too long. I didn't want to detract from the game or anything. It's hard enough, the job, vs. going out and worrying about my knee, because then you're going to miss plays. I'm not going to short-change the game. The game's been too good to me.

"So I called Bob [Delaney, NBA vice president of referee development and performance] and told him, 'I'm done.' "

Not quite, actually.

New career on horizon?

Crawford has been able to participate in the league's enhanced replay system this season, in which active referees have logged time in the Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J. On game nights, they work with the supervisors and technicians manning the video consoles to review plays and communicate with the on-court crew chief.

Crawford said he has worked seven or eight times at the center, with his proximity outside Philadelphia enabling him to fill in on short notice for refs who called in sick or got hung up by travel or weather issues. He is scheduled for a return stint March 25-26 and hopes to pull replay duty through this spring's playoffs.

"You really do feel involved," Crawford said. "I didn't think I was going to enjoy it. It is different, don't get me wrong. But I really enjoy it. It's a different kind of pressure. The people in there are helping one another and you have the people on the floor, so you have a lot of eyes. The whole key to it is getting it right. That's the beauty of the replay center."

When the NBA first began utilizing replays, enough of the "arrogant" Crawford remained to resent what he took to be "second-guessing." Over time, he said, he has come to value the accuracy is provides. It even would make him a better referee now, if he were headed back to the court.

"Oh yeah, the clear-path fouls and the flagrant fouls," said Crawford, who hopes the NBA considers him for a position with Delaney, Mark Wunderlich and others in its referee operations department. "You'll say to yourself, 'Wow, I missed that play.' It opens up your mind as an official. It really is a different perspective. And the guys you're in there with, some of them have told me it really has helped them when they go back down to the floor."

Might he figure a way to call a technical foul from Secaucus? "No," Crawford said, laughing. "But I might like to T up some of the refs."

Replay Center - Year 2

Find out what's new in the Replay Center in Secaucus, NJ and see a couple of the close calls made this season.

A man of character

With Crawford's retirement now official and his highlights/lowlights reel complete, links to heated YouTube clips or embarrassing GIF moments figure to swamp social media. Enough players, coaches and fans, and even mascots, camera operators and towel-boys have had brushes with the "notorious" Crawford to blanket a spectrum of opinions.

But there was an incident more than a decade ago that revealed a different side of the pugnacious ref's character from what most fans saw. During a game at United Center, Minnesota's Kevin Garnett got into some trash-talking from the court with Chicago's Tyson Chandler, who was in street clothes on the Bulls bench. In the heat of a profane back-and-forth, Garnett dropped the N-word on Chandler.

Crawford heard it. And did not hesitate.

"Joey came to our bench and said, 'Who said it? Who said it?' " recalled a Timberwolves player who was there. "He said, 'I don't like that word. I won't stand for it.' I think he has grandkids who are African-American. That speaks to his character. He wasn't rolling with that."

Joey Crawford Interview

Veteran referee Joey Crawford talks about how the Summer League is also a training ground for officials, and how the game is called today.

Said Crawford: "That was a number of years ago. If I remember correctly, Kevin was pretty good about it. I said to them, 'I have two black sons-in-law.' And now I have seven African-American grandchildren. I said, 'I'm offended by that.' Kevin was fabulous -- he did not tell me to go f--- myself, so that was an improvement."

That's Joey Crawford, too, one perhaps less familiar to NBA fans than the fellow hopping halfway down the court to sell a block/charge call, running into the paint to snatch the ball away from a free-throw shooter or dishing out technicals with dainty single-finger T signs (he once broke a finger emphatically using the traditional whole-hand version).

Folks who know him as the husband for 44 years to Mary, the father to Amy, Megan and Erin and the grandfather to nine children know a different man.

"I know I made enemies through the years -- I get that, that's the job," Crawford said. "They think you're an ogre or something. But in most cases, people have come up to me and said, 'Y'know, I really hate your guts. But I don't mind seeing you on the game.' "

A lot of those same people will be missing Joey Crawford on those games.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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