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To many of you, this is welcome news. Those of you that think he had it out for your favorite team. Those of you that only paid attention to his yearly bouts of showmanship, preserved for the archives forever.
Things like this:
And, OK, yeah, this:
And there’s also a compilation …
… perhaps it was more than “yearly.”
The NBA season is rather long, though, and for all these goofy, viral moments, there were hundreds of others that featured Joey Crawford acting as one of the NBA’s very best referees. And, as he struggles to recover from a torn right meniscus suffered during a Mavericks/Clippers game 14 months ago (Crawford declined surgery and gutted through the pain), Crawford has decided to pack it in.
"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.
Crawford is perhaps best known for his embarrassing back-and-forth with San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan during a late-season Spurs/Mavericks contest in 2007, a nationally-televised affair between the two best teams in the league. The one-sided fight and eventual Duncan ejection forced then-commissioner David Stern to make the televised rounds to admonish Crawford, who was suspended for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.
According to Crawford, as he spoke with Aschburner, the event changed him:
"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."
That’s saying something. Because Crawford was one heck of a referee for those first 29 years.
The son and brother of Major League Baseball umpires, Crawford was a postseason and Finals fixture, sparing no feelings amongst both the NBA’s downtrodden and elite with his whistle. Since the late 1980s the NBA has done well to shake up the league’s refereeing ranks, adding a third ref to games, holding whistle-blowers accountable, and creating elaborate grading systems.
This is to say – there’s a reason Joey Crawford lasted so long, and it had nothing to do with tenure. He remains respected league-wide, and for good reason. For all the occasional histrionics, the man called a fair game and was not afraid to hash things out with players post-call. That sort of back and forth has been in short supply in recent times, as the NBA aims to create the perfectly-called game. For better or worse.
Not only is it unfortunate that Crawford can’t go out as he saw fit, but that the league will be bereft one of its best behind the whistle.
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