There are people in this world that you may not like, but that you’ll miss once they’re gone. Few presidents make it to the end of their term with positive approval ratings. After a certain amount of time, people get sick of each other.
There have been many people like this in NBA history. Depending on you and your favorite team, it could have been Bill Laimbeer, Rasheed Wallace, or Allen Iverson. It will definitely be Matthew Dellavedova. It could even be those with too much success, like a Michael Jordan or Bill Russell. But there’s only one candidate from the referee category – that man is Joey Crawford.
And without warning or a proper goodbye, Crawford is gone. If you know any referee’s name, it’s his. Because he has transcended his position in the league more than any other official. And that’s not exactly a good thing. The ideal thing a referee can be is invisible. If you go by the book and keep your head down, no one thinks about you. That is not what Joey Crawford wanted.
He gave out technicals like a Jehovah’s Witness gives out pamphlets. He put an unnecessary yet enjoyable amount of energy and enthusiasm into his signals. He ordered mop boys to clean a sideline like an angry stepdad. He did…whatever this is.
He was charged with falsifying tax returns to take cash from the league in 1998. He resigned, but was re-instated a year later.
And most famously, he ejected Tim Duncan for laughing. Duncan, the man who has a Medusa victim-like stone face 99.2% of the time. Another .69% is giving referees the bug eyes, which Crawford has surely gotten at least .2% of that. The other .01% is laughing, which happened on eight separate occasions on last count. Crawford saw one of those miracle moments, and ejected Duncan for it. That’s indefensible. He was rightly suspended for the rest of the season.
Crawford didn’t need to do any of that. He could have done his job in a normal, nondescript fashion and lived a happy, regular life. You know, like every other referee. I can’t reference any of them because I don’t know their names. That’s exactly what Crawford didn’t want for himself.
And in a way, I’m glad. A hero’s journey is boring without a villain. WWE has heels for a reason. Loki is one of the best parts of The Avengers. A bad guy is just fun sometimes. Crawford was a bad guy, a first for a referee. That shouldn’t go unappreciated. We won’t see another official like him, maybe ever. That’s probably a good thing. But it doesn’t mean it was a bad thing he was around.
He refereed 29 of the last 30 NBA Finals, only missing in 2007 due to his suspension. You grew to expect the unexpected in big moments when he was around, like a crazy uncle at family gatherings. The dynamics he brought weren’t necessary in any way, but now I don’t know what I’ll do without them.
We’ve got to commemorate him somehow. Not in the best way, but just something to remember him for what he was. A statue of him giving a technical, for example, except it’s made out of rusty old whistles that don’t work anymore. You could hang his #17 referee shirt from rafters in the replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey, but hang it upside down like a ship in distress. Or for the rest of the season have every referee wear a patch of Crawford’s trademark bald head contorted in rage.
Even without those, I don’t think we’ll have any trouble remember Crawford or his antics. After all, NBA games are televised and we’ve still got YouTube. So long, Joey.