Where Are They Now? Haywoode Workman
By Conrad Brunner
Indianapolis, Feb. 17 - You could have a lot of fun with Haywoode Workman's name. In the locker room, they called him Woody. But at times, based on what was transpiring on the basketball court, names like Haywire, Hayweird or Woodwork came to mind. His playing style, to say the least, was not artistic. As an athlete, he wasn't an expensive, finely tuned sports car. He was a muddy pickup truck and his transmission had just one gear: overdrive.
That's how he got into the NBA after traveling through the CBA and Europe, and it's how he stayed in the league for eight seasons, four with the Pacers. He just kept coming back, splashing through the puddles, going off-road if the highway was blocked.
It appears he's on the way back again, but not as a player or assistant coach. That would be too obvious. Instead, Workman is trying to return to the NBA as an official.
"I wanted to try something different," Workman said. "A lot of guys are trying to be coaches. Not a lot of guys are trying to be officials."
In fact, just two NBA officials are former NBA players: Leon Wood and Bernie Fryer. Both had similar playing careers to Workman. Wood averaged 6.4 points in six seasons with six teams from 1984-91. Fryer averaged 6.2 points in two seasons with three teams from 1973-75. Workman averaged 5.5 points in eight seasons with five teams from 1989-2000.
A second-round pick of Atlanta in 1989, Workman played only briefly with the Hawks before becoming a vagabond. He spent the rest of that first season with the Topeka Sizzlers of the CBA, then hooked up with Washington for the 1990-91 season. After two seasons with Scavolini Pesaro in Italy, Workman signed with the Pacers in 1993. The team already had established veterans Pooh Richardson and Vern Fleming at the point, but it also had a new head coach, Larry Brown, who took a liking to Workman's relentless style. He wound up starting 52 games in what was the franchise's breakthrough season, ending with the first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Workman averaged 7.7 points and 6.2 assists that year but, after the acquisition of Mark Jackson in the summer of '94, his playing time dropped though he was still a valuable and popular reserve. Then in 1996 came a major knee injury - not only a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament, but major cartilage damage - that led to a premature end for his playing career. Though he made brief comebacks with Milwaukee and Toronto, his knee never fully recovered. In fact, he still walks with a limp.
Having paid his playing dues in full, Workman is now starting a new account as an official.
"That's kind of the reason I wanted to be an official," he said. "I see how some guys get into the league as coaches. Basically, you have to know someone. I don't know if I built that type of rapport with guys. As an official, I can stand on my own merit. I've been overseas, I came through the CBA, I paid my dues and played 13 years. Now I'm going back through the CBA reffing.
"The same way I came in before is the same way I'm going to come in this time: working. I don't want to have to rely on someone else to get me in. I can run to halfcourt, I can blow the whistle and I know what a foul is."
Workman was still entertaining the idea of an NBA comeback in the summer of 2001, working out in Bradenton, FL, with a handful of other players, when official Bob Delaney approached him with the idea. At the time, Workman wasn't sure. But after another year out of the game, he decided to give it a shot.
He took a job officiating games in the Los Angeles summer league, covering his own expenses in exchange for the experience. And he began to experience the on an entirely new level.
"Being an official and knowing the rules to that extent, you really appreciate the game a lot more," he said. "Now you know why he called that foul on you, or why that illegal defense was called or why they let you get away with certain things. So now you understand it, and it makes you appreciate it.
"Even as a player, I never was concerned with the referee because I had too much other stuff going on out there on the court that I had to worry about. I had nine other guys to keep and eye on, and I had Larry Brown in my ear. Being the 12th man on the team, you're trying to make the team and you're not worried about the officials."
Workman sent his new resume to the CBA. Though the league already had a fairly deep roster of experience officials, Deputy Commissioner and Supervisor of Officials Wade Morehead was intrigued. Workman was hired to work a limited schedule of between 15 and 20 games this season.
"After I sent them my resume, they asked one of the refs who had been out in L.A. what he thought of me and he said, 'He doesn't know jack, but he knows what a foul is,' " Workman said. "Basically, they had to teach me on the run. The mechanics of it, the way you administer calls, the things you say, it's all different."
In between CBA assignments, Workman - who lives in Tampa, FL, with his wife Nicole - officiates games around town as often as possible - varsity or junior varsity, boys or girls, it doesn't matter. He's just hungry to get on the court and learn. Though he is a former NBA player, he said he is rarely recognized.
"When I walk out onto the court, nobody knows," he said. "I was never that type of person that needed everybody to know me. It's good that they don't know me so they don't treat me any different."
At least he's famous in Tulsa, OK, where Workman was recently inducted into the Oral Roberts University athletic Hall of Fame. Most other places, though, he's just another official. Though he has years of experience as a player, he isn't sure it's necessarily beneficial to his new career.
"In certain situations, it helps but it can also hurt," he said. "For example, determining a charge is a hard one for me. When a guy flops, he usually did get hit, but was it really a charge? I know as a player I was trying to fake it, trying to get that call. So he might've touched me and I flopped, but did he get an advantage? Nope. So do you call the foul? As a player, you want to say, 'You didn't get hit. I don't see any blood. Get up.' But as an official, it's a foul and you've got to call it.
"You also want the game to have flow to it, so I'm learning that part, too. Being an ex-player, it's fun, because you know what you're looking for. Players are looking to see what they can get away with."
Morehead has been impressed by Workman's dedication and progress.
"To get someone who knows the pro game as much as Haywoode, it's just a matter of familiarity and getting put into situations where he's comfortable to make the calls," Morehead said. "From what I've evaluated, he has the disposition and understanding of the rules to make a fine official. It's just like going into coaching or anything else, it just takes time to make that transformation as a player."
Why do so few players make the transition?
"It's so darned rare," Morehead said. "I think players understand how difficult the job is and don't generally gravitate toward it. Haywoode's a good guy and a good person. As long as he continues to improve, shows a willingness to learn and gives me the availability I need, it's great having him in our league.
"He just needs to study the rules, know the rules and listen to the guys in our league that are experienced. Working a two-man crew in our game is as difficult as anything going on worldwide."
It's also a far different lifestyle than that to which Workman had become accustomed, even as a marginal player. The trips are long, lonely and cold. There are no luxury charter jets and the hotels aren't exactly five-star. You don't spend much time signing autographs or posing for pictures.
"Nobody's waiting on you after the game, that's for sure," Workman said with a laugh. "It is lonely, but for me, because I'm trying to learn, I don't have a nonchalant attitude.
"I want to learn."
What's in a name? With this guy, everything. He always has been a Workman.