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Newly retired longtime NBA referee Dick Bavetta reveals his three favorite crowds

Here's proof Dick Bavetta once called a foul against the Lakers. (AP Photo)
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Here's proof Dick Bavetta once called a foul against the Lakers. (AP Photo)

Members of each NBA fanbase have surely cited Dick Bavetta's bias against their team, and the recently retired referee's take on the league's top crowds adds fuel to the fire for all but three cities.

In a parting interview with NBA.com after his 39 years of service, Bavetta named Boston, Los Angeles and New York as the association's best crowds, describing them as "avid, knowledgeable basketball fans."

Bavetta's ties to those three cities is woven throughout the interview, starting with his Brooklyn roots, continuing through his first NBA game (Celtics at Knicks) and his most memorable game (Dr. J choking Larry Bird), and featuring his favorite spectator (Jack Nicholson), the most challenging coach (Bill Fitch) and the players whose games he wished he'd refereed (Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West).

Bavetta's opinion should come as no surprise, since the Lakers and Celtics share roughly half of the league's championship trophies, and New York City has long been a basketball hotbed. But a few other NBA cities might have a legitimate beef based on attendance statistics.

Only nine teams have sold more than 80 percent of their tickets every season since 2000, and the Celitcs, Knicks and Lakers are among them. The others: Bulls, Jazz, Magic, Raptors, Spurs and Suns. (For what it's worth, notice the Clippers and Nets are not on the list.)

In the mid-2000s, when Isiah Thomas was running the Knicks into the ground, New Yorkers filled Madison Square Garden to at least 97.5 percent capacity each year. Same can be said for Lakers fans, although they never filled the Staples Center to 100 percent capacity despite five title seasons since 2000. The Celtics sold just 82.4 percent of their tickets in the last of six straight lottery seasons in 2000-01, but fans filled the Boston Garden to 90 percent capacity in the two lean years prior to Kevin Garnett's arrival and purchased almost 97 percent of the team's tickets in the first year of the post-Paul Pierce era. Not bad, especially since New York and L.A. are the two largest media markets and Boston ranks seventh.

Outside of an abysmal 2001-02 season, the Bulls have sold 90 percent or more of their tickets each year since 2000, including six sellout seasons. Considering the number of NBA players the Windy City has produced, including a handful of Hall of Famers in Bavetta's tenure, Chicagoans might take umbrage. Consistently great in the 21st century, the Spurs have sold at least 97 percent of their tickets in each of the past 15 years, and osmosis alone from Gregg Popovich breeds avid, knowledgeable basketball fans in San Antonio. Heck, fans in every city could rattle off reasons why they deserve consideration, and most can justify why they didn't crack Bavetta's list while New York, L.A. and Boston did. Especially Jazz fans.

For instance, Tim Hardaway dubbed him "Knick Bavetta" after his Heat lost Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference semifinals, and Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Kings and Lakers — a game that Bavetta officiated — was kind of a big deal. Tim Donaghy fanned those flames, even if the disgraced referee's larger claim against his former colleague was proven to be unequivocally false.

But keep in mind fans in Bavetta's favorite crowds have cried foul, too — as Bill Simmons once did about Game 4 of Celtics-Nets in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals — and few people have watched more NBA basketball than Dick Bavetta over the past four decades.

In other words, he's entitled to this one last controversial call.

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