<
>

Q&A: Joey Crawford, the ref who threw out Tim Duncan

Joey Crawford, who officiated his last NBA game on Nov. 5, reflects on his 39-year career on Friday. Ohm Youngmisuk/ESPN.com

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Joey Crawford's nearly four-decade career spans from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Michael Jordan to Stephen Curry.

He has officiated in 2,561 regular season games and 344 playoff games, including an amazing 50 NBA Finals games.

And yet many might remember Crawford, the often hot-headed official with the perennial grumpy look, as the guy who ejected Tim Duncan for laughing at him from the bench and drawing a suspension from then-commissioner David Stern in 2007. Others might recall Crawford for his sometimes ridiculously exaggerated physical theatrics when making a call that would go viral like this one.

But Crawford, 64, has already officiated his last game because of a troublesome knee and retires with the kind of career that many NBA referees dream about as his playoff and Finals totals are the most among active NBA officials.

Not bad for a Philadelphia kid who grew up with officiating in his blood. His brother, Jerry, is a veteran Major League Baseball umpire, as was his father Shag.

Crawford sat down Friday with ESPN, the Associated Press and USA Today to talk about his career, his biggest regrets and some of his greatest social media hits.

What has it been like for you since you let it be known earlier this year that this is your last in officiating?

Crawford: I get a little emotional about it. When I was 18 I started doing grade-school stuff and all of the sudden it stops and you are like, "Wow what do I do now?" And it's not as easy as I thought ... the whole 39 years, when you look back is off the charts. I mean, who dreams of being able to do what I have done for 39 years? It has just been a tremendous career. Last year, I hurt my knee and I probably should have got it cut then. I rehabbed, came back and worked games through the whole playoffs and through the Finals and probably should have packed it in then, but I didn't. My last game was Nov. 5 in Cleveland. I just wasn't right on the court. I probably was worried more about my knee than I was the plays. And then it locked and I couldn't bend it.

"People say they hate your guts when you make these calls and they holler at you and you go through these combative things with players and coaches but really all it is is competition ..."

Joey Crawford

... I just didn't want make a fool out of myself to be honest with you ... I just didn't want to go out dragging my leg ... [Cavs GM] David Griffin and [Cavs forward] Richard Jefferson came into the locker room. [Jefferson] had his baby and I don't know why this stuff stays with you, but it really impressed me. Jefferson said, "You're done right?" I said, 'I think so." He said, "I thought so, the way you were walking off the court [and] I just want to tell you that you were part of my NBA experience." And I went, "Wow." That really blew me away. ... People say they hate your guts when you make these calls and they holler at you and you go through these combative things with players and coaches but really all it is is competition, and people reach out to you and say how appreciative they are all of these things you did over the years.

What were your favorite games or moments you officiated?

Crawford: I think there's only [five] Game 7's in the NBA Finals in the last [31] years ... and I have had three of them ... to me it is a panacea. To [not only] get one of those games but then to get three of them ... first one was Houston-New York (1994), second one was Detroit-San Antonio (2005) and third one was Boston-L.A. (2010) ... My first Finals game was 1986 -- Houston-Boston. Scared to death! I had sweat before that game, in places that I didn't even know I had sweat. Man, could I run back then. It was a blur. I hit Bill Fitch with a T. I remembered that. He wasn't happy with me.

Referees often say that they can't remember their best calls but will never forget their worst call. Is there one big regret for you?

Crawford: There are situations that you regret. The Duncan thing is always a big thing, I regret that. There are numerous interactions that you have with players and coaches, that you get back into the hotel and say, "Why did I say that to him? Why did I do that? That was dumb! Stupid!" Those kind of things wore on me. My last nine to 10 years was a lot better because I wasn't going through the inner turmoil. ... After I went to a sports psychologist, I knew when I screwed up and I tried not to do it again, and even if I did screw up, I would apologize immediately. ... As bad or as hard as that was to go through in 2007, it was something I did, I learned from it. I was lucky that Stern gave me my job back and I moved on. I tried to use it as a positive. It was hard to use it as a positive because there was so much negative that came out of it.

What would you say to Duncan if you guys talk about what happened and tried to get some closure?

Crawford: I would talk to him tomorrow. ... I have not reached out to him and he has not reached out to me. What would I say to him? Great question! I would just say to him that it cost me more money than it cost you if we went by percentages of salary. No, you know what? I would just say to him, if we got down to it, the nitty gritty, we are sitting there having a couple of beers, I would say, "Hey, I made a mistake." But you know what, in reality, I can't go anywhere without somebody asking me about Tim Duncan. He is known for his great stellar career. I don't know what I am known for. I guess it's throwing out Tim Duncan. What are you going to do? It is part of my career. I don't hold anything against him. It is just part of what happened.

What did the sports psychologist help you with the most?

Crawford: When I felt it kick in, to lose my temper or why I was losing it, he gave me certain exercises that helped. My problem was that I am overly passionate. It is a genetic thing. My father was the same thing. All you talked about in my house was officiating. I didn't have many conversations with my father because he was gone all the time, but any conversation that you did was usually about officiating and how you approached officiating. And the approach in our house was aggression. ... My father, he was going to fight Alvin Dark, who was the manager of the Giants, in back of the stadium after a game. I said, "Dad, why didn't you?" He says they broke it up. He says we were going to fight. And he said, "I hated that man." He said [even] in his 90s, "I would fight him." ... That is what I am talking about with the aggression. His approach to a situation was with aggression. That was when I first started reffing at 18, going up to the Eastern League at 21, 22, mine was aggression. When I first started working at the NBA, it was aggression. That is what I did. And I am not saying it was right.

"That is one of my regrets that looking back all these years that I did not appreciate all the great things that players did because you were reffing."

Joey Crawford

You had a certain flair with your body movement when making certain calls and it sometimes went viral on social media. Did you realize you were doing a little extra sometimes and why?

Crawford: The one that I hit on social media, the one with Chris Duhon, I screwed the play up. I am calling a block and it was an offensive foul from here to Poughkeepsie. And I should have called an offensive foul, and I get surprised by the play and I said to myself, "Well I am going to try this." And I start going ba-boom! Ba-boom! Ba-boom! I am skipping out all the way to midcourt and maybe I can sell it this way and the next day, I get a phone call from the office: "Joe, we don't want you doing that."

You also blocked a few free throw attempts from happening too?

Crawford: What has happened is a couple of times I blocked free throws [too] and there were reasons why I did it. See, I was taught that if anything is up on the scoreboard, you as a referee have to know everything. I have to know where the subs are coming from, I have to know what the numbers on the board are, team fouls, what the time is, 24-second clock. So I am looking up at the clock and I see the team fouls are wrong. Well, I was taught that if the team fouls are wrong, you don't want Coach A to say he thinks he's got three and there's [really] four, and now he tells the guy to foul and it's the fourth and now we are getting into the penalty. So I go out there and block [a foul] shot and I shouldn't have. It was Kevin Durant and he misses the [free throw]. But to Kevin Durant's credit, he could have buried me, but he didn't ... so I think that kind of stuff, especially today where everything is blown up. ... Last year, I was having trouble with my knee and I kept falling. Now I am on social media, they got the sniper taking me down. It was hysterical stuff. Do you think I am falling on purpose?

Did you ever get to appreciate an incredible moment or an all-time game while you were officiating it?

Crawford: That is one of my regrets that looking back all these years that I did not appreciate all the great things that players did because you were reffing. So you didn't appreciate the shot that Ray Allen hits [against San Antonio in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals]. You can't. Maybe I will look at it years later. Even if I looked at it today, I would still be saying where was I looking on the Ray Allen shot.

What do you remember most about that shot?

Crawford: I am looking at Duke Callahan and he was the slot [referee]. And Allen shoots it and it goes in and he is behind the 3-point line. So Duke says, "I want to go to the replay." I said, "Why?" [Callahan says] it's too important. So we go over and what happens? Duncan came into the game. And he's not allowed to come into the game [during a review]. Thank God he didn't score a bucket [after that]. That would have been awful. So then we get fined. We blew a rule. I told Duke you should pay my fine.

You officiated during the golden era of NBA basketball from Bird and Magic to Michael to now. What was that like when you sit back and think about it?

Crawford: Kareem, [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Karl Malone [too] ... everybody always forgets all these guys. I am very lucky, but I really didn't appreciate them because I was reffing. When you are reffing, if you are doing your job you are trying to get them to adhere to the rules and it is hard some nights. I appreciated their competitiveness, but I didn't appreciate those great, great moments. I appreciated [former Jazz coach] Jerry Sloan calling me a no-good ... that used to be funny as hell. I used to tell a young referee, if you hit Jerry with a T, he would immediately call you a no-good m-----f----- ... so I said when you call the first one, just get away from him because you are going to have to throw him [out otherwise].