NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. (BVM) – Attending a basketball game keeps your adrenaline pumping all night. For most of us, our focus is on the players, admiring their trick shots and hustle plays. But for Joey Crawford, it was just a little different. As a kid, when Crawford went to watch a basketball game, his attention wasn’t on the players; it was on the refs. From a young age, he always felt a pull towards the world of refereeing.
“I was raised in officiating,” Crawford said. “My father was a Major League Baseball umpire and that’s what sparked my interest in it.”
Born and raised in Havertown, Pa., Crawford attended Cardinal O’Hara High School. After graduating in 1969, Crawford started college but left after a year to focus on officiating so he could achieve his dream of becoming an NBA referee.
“I wanted to be in the greatest league in the world and ref the greatest players in the world,” Crawford said.
To improve his skills, Crawford was officiating anywhere and everywhere he could while working at General Electric and the post office. In 1977, all his hard work and persistence paid off and his dreams became a reality: the NBA hired him.
Just like any other job, being an NBA ref had its positives and negatives. During the basketball season, Crawford was away from his wife Mary and three daughters for 20–25 days every month.
“We moved to Newtown Square and Mary was running the house,” Crawford said. “I was the selfish one, doing what I wanted to do.”
The constant travel that’s required at the professional sports level has made the divorce rate very high.
“It was really hard, but I learned strength from my family, especially from Mary,” Crawford said.
Throughout his long travels and hotel stays, Crawford completed his college degree online at Neumann University. He graduated in 2009.
“It’s probably my greatest accomplishment,” he said.
The positives that came with Crawford’s job turned out to outweigh the bad. When asked about a game he would never forget, three games came to mind.
“Since 1970, there have been only a handful of (NBA Finals) Game 7s and I have experienced three of them,” Crawford said.
The thrill and adrenaline of being a part of this league was like no other.
After 39 years as an NBA ref, Crawford retired in 2016.
“I felt rudderless,” Crawford said. “Officiating had been my whole life, and all of a sudden, it was over.”
The NBA decided to take advantage of his expertise, however, by offering him a job on the corporate side of things, as Director of Refereeing Performance.
“Becoming an NBA referee is harder than becoming an NBA player,” Crawford said. “There are only 70 NBA referees and the process to become one can take years. It’s a whole different ball game now than it was for me.”
Part of Crawford’s job is to teach and work with up-and-coming referees and make sure the best of the best are selected to go to the NBA.
“My career is over and now I’m doing something that’s the complete opposite,” said Crawford. “I used to be just worried about myself and the plays I was calling, but now my mindset is to help other refs be better.”
When asked about something valuable he learned from reffing, Crawford paused and said “forgiveness.”
“There were times where I made a call and a player or coach called me every name in the book,” Crawford said. “But at the end of the game, they forgave me.”
There were also times where Crawford messed up a call or threw a player out and had to be forgiven.
“At the end of the game, I knew whether I had done a good job,” Crawford said.
He was constantly learning about himself and striving to be better during his career and the same goes for his current job.
“I am 69 years old and I’m still learning,” Crawford said. “I love it!”