Longtime NBA referee Joey Crawford said Saturday that he's planning to retire following the conclusion of the 2015-16 NBA season.
Jack McCaffery of the Delaware County Daily Times passed along the news from the 64-year-old official, who's worked NBA games for nearly four decades. Crawford said he's still emotionally invested in the game but wants to get out before it's too late:
There's nothing to be sorry about. You know what happens? It's not that you lose your passion. I have that. That's insanity. But it just comes to the point where you say, "I don't want to make a fool out of myself." And it's been so good that I want to go out on a high note. I don't want to go out on a low note. I want to be in the NBA Finals, and I don't want to be reffing just for the sake of reffing.
Crawford, who's been sidelined during the early portion of the campaign while recovering from knee surgery, told McCaffery that he's hoping to return by March. He's also hoping his performance will warrant a return to the NBA Finals—he's already refereed 50 Finals games—and then he'll hang up his whistle for good.
"It has been a good run," he said.
The energetic referee has become one of the league's most recognizable figures during the latter stages of his career. He's never been afraid to showcase his emotions while making a call or getting into an argument with a coach or player.
Perhaps the most infamous example came in 2007, when he ejected San Antonio Spurs superstar Tim Duncan from a game for laughing on the bench. ESPN noted at the time that Crawford was suspended indefinitely, and it passed along comments from Duncan about the bizarre incident.
"He looked at me and said, 'Do you want to fight? Do you want to fight?'" Duncan said. "If he wants to fight, we can fight. I don't have any problem with him, but we can do it if he wants to. I have no reason why in the middle of a game he would yell at me, 'Do you want to fight?'"
Crawford told McCaffery he regretted the incident.
"It made me a better ref," Crawford said. "Thank God that David Stern brought me back. But I learned a lot from it."
Crawford's consistent assignments in the playoffs and Finals showed what the league thought of him. Crawford didn't survive 39 years at the sport's highest level without doing a good job, even if he rubbed some players, coaches and fans the wrong way at times.
Assuming Crawford's recovery continues on schedule, he'll be able to get about six weeks of action under his belt before the playoffs begin. And now that he's made it clear his career is coming to a close, it would be a surprise if he's not on the floor for at least one Finals game.