Veteran NBA Referee: Joey Crawford 'Right Up There' with Michael, Kobe, LeBron

David PickInternational Hoops InsiderMarch 11, 2016

Joey Crawford has stepped away from NBA officiating after 39 seasons.
Joey Crawford has stepped away from NBA officiating after 39 seasons.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Today's NBA prefers relative anonymity from its referees. The players are the draw, not the refs—and we all know it.

But legendary referee Joey Crawford, easily the most recognizable and polarizing official the league has ever known, grandfathered into a different NBA. 

"He is the last of that breed," fellow veteran NBA referee Danny Crawford told Bleacher Report. "The NBA wanted us to get away from the individual stuff, and he is the last of the old-school generation. He is one of a kind."

Crawford, who entered the league in 1977 at age 26, announced in January that the 2015-16 campaign would be his last. Unfortunately for Crawford, now 64, a knee injury has forced him to step away sooner than anticipated.

In the wake of his sudden retirement, Bleacher Report spoke at length with Danny Crawford, another prominent presence in the league's officiating circle, to discuss Joey's career.


Bleacher Report: When did you meet Joey Crawford?

Danny Crawford (Left), Joey Crawford (Middle) and Scott Foster (Right)
Danny Crawford (Left), Joey Crawford (Middle) and Scott Foster (Right)Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Danny Crawford: I was hired by the NBA for the 1985-86 season. It was our first time working together, but Joey Crawford was a legend while I started pursuing the NBA. Back then, NBA referees were superstars, and each one had his own individual style that brought attention—look at him then and now, his movements, interactions and facial expressions is the exact same. He was always Joey "Quick Trigger" Crawford.


B/R: What did you first think of Joey Crawford? 

DC: He was always about putting on a show. I watched him throwing guys out of games, and going off on them, but oh my God—off the court he is a jokester. Joey Crawford the person, not the referee, is the nicest and funniest man you'll meet. On the hardwood, though, get the hell out of his way because he is running the show.


B/R: Do you remember the first game you officiated together?

DC: Joey has been in the NBA for 39 years, and I've been 31 years, but we worked together no more than 10 games. I remember the game being much more physical then, and Joey was known to let the dudes play. As a young fella, I saw that was his shtick, but still wanted to ref like him. It took me one quarter to realize that I can't do it like him.

What Joey Crawford can do, Danny Crawford sure as hell can't. I was taking all the s--t, because I couldn't ref like him. I learned that getting involved in a game with him meant he is the leader, and I made sure to follow his lead. You don't want to call cheap fouls if he is letting the game evolve. Nowadays the NBA has more guidelines, but back then, it was advantage-disadvantage, and guys used to bang hard. I used to see things and say, "Holy crap," but he knew when to blow the whistle. I just watched like, "Whoa, baby."


B/R: When did you realize Joey Crawford had a larger-than-life personality?

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 03:  Referee Joey Crawford shares a lighter moment as he oversees the action between the Sacramento Kings and the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on November 3, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Kings defeated the Nuggets 110-105. NOTE TO
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

DC: He threw 3-4 players out of a game, and all hell is breaking loose—people are throwing stuff at him and on the court—the craziness doesn't go on if he isn't there. We worked a game in Denver. I called a tech on a coach, but all of a sudden, Joey came out of nowhere and throws the coach out of the game. Fans went off on him, but that's what people like about him; there is craziness around it.


B/R: What was the weirdest thing you've heard Joey Crawford say to a player or coach?

DC: Oh my goodness—I can't even tell you, because you can't write it. All I can say is, Joey would say stuff that Danny Crawford couldn't even think about saying, and it would work for him. Without getting into specifics, I can say he used whatever he had in his arsenal. Last year in the playoffs, he told (Cleveland Cavaliers Russian center) Timofey Mozgov to shut up, and he had a mic on.

But Joey didn't care; here is a 5'11" man, looking at a 7-footer dead in the eye and said, "Shuuuuuttt up." Oh, that's one of the nicer things he said. In meetings between referees, he would tell us to shut the f--k up. You can imagine it was one of his favorite lines.


B/R: What did players think of Joey Crawford?

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 17:  Referee Joey Crawford #17 talkes with Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder on court against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 17, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: Us
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

DC: Do not mess with that man. Players were told in advance to keep their mouths shut; don't even think about talking or looking at him. You couldn't show any emotions, no hand gestures or headshakes, because Joey had the quickest trigger in the league, and he would T you up in a second.


B/R: Did he have any enemies?

DC: No. We're involved in a very competitive environment, and during the course of the game, things are said and done, but Joey never carried anything off the floor. He loved working in all NBA arenas; he felt good when buildings were coming down on him, because he was giving the visiting teams a legit shot to win.


B/R: What did you think of the famed moment when Joey Crawford T'd up Tim Duncan for laughing on the bench?

DC: Oh, I wouldn't wanna touch that. If you asked Joey about it, he'd tell you that if he could, he would have done things differently. I know he regrets how that played out; it was something he wasn't proud of. He accepts the criticism; I guess some is fair, but some is unfair.


B/R: What about Joey Crawford allowed him to last as long as he did in the NBA?

DC: He is a lifer. Joey is the most passionate, talented, hard-working man you'd find. He comes from an officiating family; his father and brother were umpires in baseball. He gave the NBA 100 percent. He also has the most knowledge about NBA players; he is a junkie and knows everyone's name down to the 12th dude on the bench, plus he can tell you what college each player played for.


B/R: What did the referee community think of Joey?

DC: He was well-respected, because he gave his all to the profession. He'll be involved in basketball forever and will want to be buried with a ref shirt on.


B/R: Are there other referees who might be the next Joey Crawford?

DC: He is the last of that breed. The NBA wanted us to get away from the individual stuff, and he is the last of the old-school generation. He is one of a kind. 

He's a Hall of Famer. I would be shocked if he doesn't get inducted. When I start talking about the NBA greats—Michael, Kobe, LeBron—Joey is right up there, he is a superstar referee. He can host the Oscars, he is reckless in everything that he does and he is unique.


David Pick is a veteran pro basketball reporter covering overseas hoops and American players abroad since 2010. His work can also be found at Basketball Insiders. Follow him on Twitter at @IAmDPick.