An era in the National Basketball Association is officially over.
Referee Dick Bavetta is retiring after a 39-year career. Since 1975, Bavetta never missed an assigned game. He officiated a record 2,635 consecutive regular-season games and worked 270 playoff games, including 27 in the NBA Finals.
NBA president Rod Thorn says Tuesday in a statement that the league is ”grateful for his contributions to our league, and we wish him the best as he enjoys his well-earned retirement.”
Bavetta showed his love for the game and his determination to be an NBA official in the mid-1960s , that is when he started his quest by attending regional tryouts to become an NBA referee. Bavetta was rejected nine consecutive times because of his size and physique. He was finally hired and debuted on December 2, 1975 at Madison Square Garden when he officiated a game between the New York Knicks and the visiting Boston Celtics.
Early in his career, Bavetta was ranked at the bottom of NBA referees in performance evaluations. To fine-tune his skills, Bavetta would officiate games for the New Jersey pro league and Rucker League in Harlem during the off-seasons and studied NBA rulebooks. He would start a regiment of extreme physical training that included six to eight miles of running and three hour naps in the afternoon. His tenacity to better himself paid off because he ended up becoming one of the best and well-known referees in the league.
Bavetta’s most memorable game occurred during a 1980s nationally televised contest between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics when he was forced to officiate an NBA game by himself after his partner, Jack Madden, broke his leg in a collision with Celtics guard Dennis Johnson. During the same game, Hall of Famers Larry Bird (of the Celtics) and Julius Erving (of the 76ers) began to strangle each other and were ejected by Bavetta.
Another memorable moment happened when he wasn’t officiating a game. During the 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend, Bavetta raced TNT studio analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley for a $75,000 charitable donation ($50,000 contributed by the NBA and $25,000 by TNT) to the Las Vegas, Nevada Boys & Girls Clubs of America. They raced three and one half full lengths of the court and Bavetta lost by a narrow margin despite a last-second dive and Barkley running the last portion of the race backwards. The race ended with an infamous kiss between the two contestants.
Bavetta, 74, also worked the 1992 Olympics, the first involving NBA players. He is most proud of his streak, which last season surpassed even the 2,632 consecutive games played by baseball ironman Cal Ripken Jr.
Bavetta says, ”It really has been a great run.”