In those early years, I had another job, too — I was a postman. I filled in for guys when they were off. A guy like me, I did all the routes. You just never knew where the dogs were. At one house, there was a German shepherd and the guy that did the route every day said, “Joe, that dog is very rarely out, but when it’s out, it’s trained to protect the property.”
Well, I’m walking and I hit the one box and I look up and there it is. It’s big. And so I’m backing off and I’m backing off, and I’m going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” and the lady, the owner, is screaming in German trying to get it to stop. Literally, screaming out the window in German. I threw the mail in the air. All of it. And the lady, she finally apologizes to me after I got away and I said, “Ma’am, I was so scared, I think I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” It was crazy. All the dog knew was German.
Despite Crawford’s sometimes dangerous side job, refereeing was his passion, and it did not take long for him to quickly become known in the N.B.A.
In my third year, I’m still a kid. I’m only 28 years old. But when we were in L.A., we always put our warm-up jacket on the table right by where Jack Nicholson sat. I was a big Jack Nicholson fan — “Easy Rider,” you know, all that. I loved his stuff. I would see him there and I would catch his eye, but I never said anything.
But in my third year in the league, I put my jacket there and I see him and I catch his eye and I say, “How you doing, Jack?” and he actually says, “How you doing, Joe?” and I was exploding.
I went and called my wife. I’m not kidding, I ran to a pay phone. And when she picked up, I screamed, “Jack Nicholson knows me!”
Among players and coaches, however, Crawford was more notorious than famous. The young Crawford developed a reputation as a hothead, a quick-trigger referee with little restraint or patience. It is a tag that still follows him.
I can honestly say, I have no idea who I gave my first technical to. I have no idea. I gave so many of them. I hate to say it, but when I first started, it was like giving candy.
Once, I threw out Don Nelson for staring at me. He just folded his arms and looked at me. He called a timeout to do it. Looking back on it, I was not happy with that.
I have people in Cleveland who stop me at the airport and they say that they were there when I threw out Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance for laughing. They were sitting at the end of the bench. There was something that I did that they didn’t like and they wouldn’t stop, and I just went: “You want to go? Go. Go.” Boom. It wasn’t good.
One night, I hit Bill Fitch with a technical so hard, I broke my finger. My finger was all swollen. I slammed my whole hand down on it when I gave the signal. That’s why I changed my signal to a little one-finger tap — because I broke it once the old way.
Honestly, I think after that whole mess was the first time I called the sports psychologist.
Crawford has worked, on and off, with psychologists regarding anger management for years. But he did not need an expert to help him figure out where his inner rage came from.
It was my upbringing. It’s an approach that I learned from my father. The old baseball axiom that my father had in the ’50s and ’60s was the official is always right. I’m going to a baseball game and I’m seeing it. I’m watching my father call George Myatt, or whoever’s managing the Phillies, (an expletive) right to his face. I saw it. I heard it.
After he was retired, I remember talking to him and saying, “Dad, you can’t say those kinds of things in the game anymore,” and he looked at me and said, “(expletive).”
Most players and coaches were wary of Crawford’s quick temper, but they also appreciated his acumen and his outgoing personality. Crawford rarely initiated conversations — he wanted to let the participants in the game have their space — but he reveled in the relationships he built as he ran up and down the court each night.
Charles Barkley might have been my favorite player to be with on the court. He was one of them at least. Charles used to get a lot of technical fouls, but the thing about Charles was that he didn’t take things personally. The next game was the next game. I always appreciated that about him.
Moses Malone was one of the funniest. We were in Denver, I think he was playing with Philly at the time, and that day, a reporter had done a top-10 referee list and my name was in there. So my first call of the night is like a loose-ball foul on Moses, and Moses just turns and says, “That is not a top-10 call.” I had to laugh.
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.”
Some of the guys liked my signals. For an easy offensive foul, I just go like this, with one little finger out pointing like a gun. That was Joe West’s old called-strike pose, and I liked that call so I did it. Damon Jones, who is out of the league now, used to make me do it before games: “Come on, Joe! Give it to me!” So I’d do it for him.
I think this is interesting, too: Magic, Michael and Larry. They almost never said anything, good or bad. Most players in sports believe they actually know something about officiating. And they don’t. But those guys, they very, very rarely said anything to me. Isn’t that amazing? Because there’s three guys that had the ball, what, 75 percent of the time? They had more important things to worry about.
During most seasons, Crawford generally worked 65 to 70 games and quickly developed a routine to help deal with the continual travel. Over the last 35 years, some parts of that routine have changed considerably while others — particularly when it comes to laundry — are exactly the same.
Back then, lunch was a big burger, and I probably had some cake or something later before the game. Now, it’s the turkey sandwich and I take a nap before the game. We get weighed three times a year by the league. It’s different.
I smoked then, too. How did I know halftime was over? When I finished my second cigarette. Thank God, I’ve been off cigarettes for about 25 years now.
Your first question when you check in at the hotel is always, “Do you have a washing machine?” We get two pairs of pants and three shirts and two warm-ups. On the road, I bring one shirt, one pair of pants, and one warm-up. I do not wash my pants. I washed my pants one time and dried them and ruined them, so I don’t even wash them. I wash the shirt and my socks and my jock and all that stuff. If you’re going to a town where you know there is not a washer, then when you get back to the hotel that night, shirt goes right in the sink. The thing for me is my socks and my underwear — I have to wash that because it skeeves me if I don’t.
For shoes, all the referees laugh at me. I change mine every 15 games.
They give us a dozen whistles when we’re at camp. I always keep an extra one in my pocket because I have a tendency to break through them with my tooth. I’m sort of hoping someone can give me the Heimlich if I choke.
I went to the shaved head around 2005. I always remember referees doing the comb-over thing because everybody was embarrassed. But my spot kept getting bigger. So I got the razor and I got the cream and I just did it. Now I shave it every other day. I just use a regular razor, keep the cream on the left hand and when I can’t feel the fuzz anymore, I know I’m done.
Crawford did not hesitate when asked if he had any regrets. There are two, he said. The first is regarding his actions that led to a guilty plea of falsely stating income in 1998 after an I.R.S. investigation into several referees’ pocketing cash from downgraded airline tickets. 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 tax thing, I was petrified, to be honest with you. It was the worst. If they wanted to scare you, they did. If that’s what they wanted to do, they did. They did it. I was so grateful to get the chance to come back.
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.
In both instances, Crawford’s career was in doubt. He resigned after his guilty plea and was sentenced to six months of house arrest and three years’ probation. He was reinstated in 1999, however, and did not miss any games because of the league’s lockout. 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.
Indeed, Crawford’s talent has never been in doubt. Over the next month or so, he will add to his record 278 postseason games entering these playoffs and, perhaps, 46 games in the finals.
The first playoff game I ever did was in my fifth year, and it was in San Antonio, and I was scared to death, to be honest with you, I can’t even remember who they played. I can only remember the night before just saying to myself, “Please don’t screw up, please don’t screw up.” I barely slept.
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.Continue reading the main story
“The NBA releases the (officiating) assignments at 9 a.m. on Sunday. I’m gonna guess them now and we can see if I’m right,” said Tim Donaghy. “Danny Crawford, Monty Mccutchen, and Duke Callahan. You watch.”
Donaghy made these predictions to The Daily Beast on Friday afternoon in another attempt to show just how rigged he believes the NBA still is, even years after he was barred from the NBA for betting on and controlling the point spread in games he was officiating. By Sunday morning, those predictions were proven correct.
Donaghy spent 11 months in a Pensacola federal prison for manipulating NBA point spreads, but says the fix is still in—especially during an NBA Finals that have received harsh criticism for series-changing suspensions and suspect foul calls.
Both the NBA and FBI completed investigations proving Donaghy was the only one participating in manipulating point spreads or outcomes.
“Here’s the bottom line: When Draymond Green kicks Steven Adams in the nuts like a full karate chop and doesn’t get suspended, it’s because (the Warriors) were down 3-1 and they needed him on the floor,” said Donaghy. “Then he gets in a little altercation with LeBron. He grazes him, and he gets suspended.”
Warriors All-Star Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 after tapping LeBron James in the groin while the Cavaliers star stood over him. No foul was called during the game, but a retroactive flagrant foul was called, putting Green over the postseason limit for flagrants, and forcing Golden State to play a pivotal home game without him.
The Cavaliers have since unexpectedly won two straight games to even the series and force a Game 7 on Sunday night.
“When (the league office) says to the referees—get (or punish) the first act; don’t get second act, and they don’t do that themselves? As a man and an NBA player, you have to let him react. They let LeBron bitchslap him, and Draymond gets suspended. And it’s because (the Cavs) were up 3-1. That’s the reason why.”
Game 6 presented even more controversy when NBA MVP Steph Curry fouled out for the first time all season. Warriors coach Steve Kerr called three of the six foul calls “absolutely ridiculous.” Both he and Curry were fined $25,000 by the league for criticizing officiating.
Curry’s wife, Ayesha, tweeted shortly after Curry was ejected that “I’ve lost all respect sorry this is absolutely rigged for money… Or ratings in [sic] not sure which. I won’t be silent . Just saw it live sry.” She later deleted the tweet.
“Now, you see Curry’s wife putting out some stuff saying it’s rigged when he hasn’t fouled out of a game all year,” said Donaghy. “There were some real cheap fouls called on him.”
Donaghy then outlined how he believes the game could have been rigged.
“This is what happens: They put them in a hotel room. They used to have a VCR set up where they’d go over film for an hour and a half. They’d say, ‘The referees in the last five games missed this. We want this called,’” he said. “They’d show them three or four places of Curry reaching in. So now anytime Curry reaches in or there’s a bump where Curry’s involved, they looking for it.”
Donaghy says it’s clearest on the sixth and final foul where “LeBron ran him over” but a reaching foul was called on Curry. The MVP was then subsequently ejected for throwing his mouthguard in frustration.
That call was made by Jason Phillips, who Donaghy notes “blatantly missed the take foul in the OKC series.” Phillips was roundly criticized for bungling Game 5 of the San Antonio Spurs-Oklahoma City Thunder Western Conference Semifinals, after he failed to call an intentional foul Kawhi Leonard attempted to commit on Russell Westbrook, potentially costing the Spurs the game and eventually the series. The NBA’s Last Two Minute officiating report even noted that the call was incorrect.
“You find me a job in America where you can just totally screw up what you do and you still get a promotion. It’s the only one where that happens,” said Donaghy. “How does he get into the Finals?”
Donaghy notes that the league lets officials know of their assignments 48 hours before every game, but doesn’t see a reason why NBA officiating crews for all seven games couldn’t be announced before Game 1.
Even prominent writers about sports conspiracies believe that a rigged NBA Finals, however, is simply too much to pull off.
“‘The fix is in!’ is usually the cry of the loser who thought they had a win and saw it turn into a loss,” Brian Tuohy, who wrote conspiracy books The Fix Is In and Larceny Games told Vocativ writer Bobby Silverman.
"The NBA Finals are, (Ayesha Curry) says, rigged," Silverman added. "To which we say no, don’t be ridiculous."
To the league’s credit, Donaghy said, “not many games have been decided by officials—at least not in the last three minutes of the game” in the 2016 playoffs. He said it’s not as bad as the infamous 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Kings and Lakers, one in which Donaghy’s attorney alleged that “the referees' favoring of [the Lakers] led to that team's victory that night” at the league’s request.
But he believes the NBA is “due” for a game where “the wrong team wins” the Finals due to officiating.
“Sunday night could be a disaster now if those calls at the end of the game are not right,” he said. “They’ve escaped this for many years, and it’s their worst nightmare.”
Why would the league do it?
“If the networks are making $15 million for every Game 6 or 7, how much do you think (TV networks) are gonna bid when those negotiations come back around?” he said.
Donaghy now lives in Florida and runs his own sports handicapping site called RefPicks.com. In 2014, he accused the league of pressuring referees to influence the 2014 Nets-Raptors series in Brooklyn’s favor. The Nets, who trailed that series 3-2, wound up winning.
He was released from prison in August of 2009, but was was sent back a month later for violating release terms. He was released again in November of 2009.
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.