The Salvatore Side of the Story: Latrell Sprewell's Timeout

This is the second installment in a series based on a recent interview with NBA referee Bennett Salvatore. Go back to the first post for more on Salvatore.

In May 2000, the Knicks beat the Heat in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs, and the City of Miami freaked out, because the key play came down to a disputed timeout that the Knicks either did, or did not, call.

The referee who made the call was Bennett Salvatore.

Here's the way the Associated Press told it at the time:

Getting the winning points from Patrick Ewing with 1:20 left and the benefit of an official's call with 2.1 seconds left, the Knicks knocked the Heat out of the playoffs 83-82 Sunday in Game 7 of their second-round series to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana.

So upset were the Heat with the way the ending went down -- they felt an official had awarded the Knicks a timeout when no one had asked for one -- that Jamal Mashburn chased the referees as they ran off the court while Miami's coaches yelled that they had been robbed.

Referee Bennett Salvatore said Sprewell had called a timeout, although Sprewell admitted he hadn't. Chris Childs said it was he who had called time out from several feet away, while Sprewell thought it was Marcus Camby who called it.

''They had three officials in their pocket,'' Mashburn said.

When I met with Bennett Salvatore in the NBA's offices last Friday, I brought along a copy of the AP article excerpted above. I handed it across the table to him, and asked for his thoughts.

Then something funny happened. At first it didn't strike me as funny -- who hasn't seen somebody pull a pair of reading glasses out of their pocket?

But Bennett Salvatore is a referee, the butt of a hundred "put your glasses on" jokes a season.

He paused, glasses in hand, acknowledging the humor. "Now," he said, "I have to put my glasses on, and I'm going to get killed."

He then punches up his voice several decibels, Joe Pesci style, and bellows to an imagined audience of hecklers: "IT'S ONLY FOR READING!"

Then he picks the paper off the table, and begins to read. An instant later -- long before he could have read much, if anything, he drops the paper, and declares "I remember this play as though it were yesterday."

On this one, he does not waver nor does he hesitate.

"There were three people that called timeout at that particular moment. There were three people in blue jerseys that called timeout in that moment, and that was confirmed by my partners. Obviously, I picked the wrong person that called timeout," he says. "But I knew that the person next to me wearing the uniform was blue, and I granted the correct timeout, and I was wrong in the person, on the team that called it. I was right in the team that called it."

I ask if timeouts are normally assigned to a particular player -- does it matter who called it? "You usually, if you can, and you should, assign it to an individual player -- or today it could also be a coach," he explains. "I gave it to Latrell, but I don't remember if it was Allan Houston, Charlie Ward ... I was wrong in the assignment of it. I was not wrong in the team I granted it to."

"Before we even allowed the timeout," he continues, "I checked with my partners to make sure I was correct in who I heard it from. And in fact, if you look at the overhead, you'll see two Knick players calling timeout."

The overhead? I assume there's video footage from an overhead camera that's part of referees video review.

The overhead.

This, right here, is the kind of evidence that the NBA already has, and I think fans should have, too. Yes, sometimes it'll make the league look bad. But all in all, I am quite certain, it will make the league look good, and it will infuse all conversation about referees with a lot more reality.

In the meantime, that Jamal Mashburn quote is, I'm sure, making it hard for a lot of people in Miami to take Bennett Salvatore's word for it.