Joey Crawford on life as the bald ref in the NBA

Joey Crawford is the old bald ref, everybody knows that.

Maybe you don’t know his name, but if you’re an NBA fan you know his face. There’s no way you couldn’t either. He’s been in the NBA as an official since he was 25-years old and now he is 60.

His thirty-five years of life in the NBA come with a list of stories he could write a book on too, and probably even a series of books. Recently the New York Times sat down with Crawford and decided to start with an article.

Referee Joe Crawford throws up the ball for the opening tip between New York Knicks' Tyson Chandler (6) and Boston Celtics' Jermaine O'Neal (7) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011, at Madison Square Garden in New York.

It’s an interesting piece to be sure, and Crawford opens up about a number of topics in it, including that time he tried to fight Tim Duncan. If you only know Crawford for that though, you probably should give the whole article a read. The truth is, even if you think he’s cocky, a jerk, or not a particularly good official, it’s pretty hard to be a referee for 35 years in the NBA if you’re awful.  

To that point, below is first an excerpt from the Times piece about how Joey is the only ref in NBA history to do three NBA Finals Game Seven’s:

Crawford is the only referee in N.B.A. history to work three Game 7s in the finals, and those three nights, he said, continue to inspire him.

Look, I think back to my first finals game in 1986, Boston and Houston. It was me and Jake O’Donnell working, and suddenly it’s the fourth quarter and Robert Parish makes a move and all the players stop.

I run out and say, “Jake, what’s up?” and he says, “What do you got?” I go: “What are you talking about? I didn’t blow the whistle” and he says: “You blew the whistle! What do you got?”

Turns out someone in the stands blew the whistle. But I was still a kid then, Jake was a legend and no one believed me. I didn’t know what to do.

Now, compare that night to the three Game 7s? I think back to it sometimes. My career has been so wonderful. And in those three games, the biggest games you could have, we did well. We did so well. You know how I know? Because when you go through those three games and nobody is saying a word about the three of you afterward, that’s the pinnacle.

For a referee, that’s the absolute best.

But he did start a fight with Tim Duncan once also, which was pretty awkward. According to Crawford, it also changed his life too:

The second is an incident in 2007 in which Crawford and the San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan had an on-court verbal altercation. Duncan said Crawford challenged him to a fight.

The Duncan thing probably changed my life. It was just — you come to the realization that maybe the way you’ve been doing things is not the proper way and you have to regroup, not only on the court but off the court.

I had seen a sports psychologist before that. But after, I saw him a lot more. His name is Joel Fish. He’s worked with a lot of athletes. It gave me a new perspective.

After the Duncan episode, Commissioner David Stern suspended Crawford, ending a streak of 21 consecutive years in which Crawford officiated in the finals, but reinstated him that fall.

And he also included this gem of a story too about the late, great, Manute Bol. AKA the number one center in the League:

You know who else was funny? Manute Bol, God bless him. He would knock down a 3, and I’d give him some kind of look as we were running back. He’d catch my eye and he’d hold up one crooked finger and say, in his broken accent, “No. 1 center in league — Manute Bol.”

I would pay money to see a YouTube clip of Manute burying a three and then turning to Crawford and saying that. Really appreciate Joey mentioning that one, I guess he’s not such a bad ref after all.

About Brendan Bowers

I am the founding editor of I am also a content strategist and social media manager with Electronic Merchant Systems in Cleveland. My work has been published in SLAM Magazine, KICKS Magazine, The Locker Room Magazine,,, and elsewhere. I've also written a lot of articles that have been published here.