Basketball is as difficult a game to referee as any, it's widely agreed, which is why refs able to take the pressure get paid the big bucks in the National Basketball Association.
If they're respected they can work for years, far longer than players or even most coaches. This makes them in a sense the elder statesmen of the game, even though, in classic athletic form, they are silent as tombs to the media.
An exception to this rule — at least on the court, where he talks to everyone — is the much-loved Dick Bavetta. You'll often see players in the middle of a game give Bavetta a pat, or even drape an arm around him.
Bavetta looks like an undertaker, but is treated like royalty. Wish I knew why.
Some have suggested it's because he's a company man, but the evidence is inconclusive, and the love is incontrovertible.
We may never find out the full story, because the league is trying to cut costs, and wants to get rid of Bavetta. He's resisting retirement, but many of his peers have already been pushed out.
Veteran New York sportswriter Peter Vecsey witnesses the anger of other refs forced to quit before the age of retirement, and notes:
About to commence his 36th season (2,434 in a row without a missed
assignment), the 71-year-old (Dec. 10) is 10 years older than his
closest colleagues — Bennett Salvatore, Joe Crawford and Bob Delaney.
Bavetta also is the league's highest paid official, $450,000. Think the NBA might want him wiped off its books?
Dick Bavetta, if you're reading this, take note: I want to read your memoir!