A replacement official from 1995-96 agreed to speak with FanHouse under the condition his name not be used. While an official always has to face adversity, he offered some insight about what it was like to deal with also being called a "scab.''
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The NBA has failed to reach an agreement on a new contract with officials after they wouldn't accept NBA-desired monetary concessions. So replacements will take to the floor for the first time Thursday when Denver plays at Utah.
The 1995-96 replacement remembers the tension before games. He said that outside many arenas the officials who had been locked out protested while carrying signs.
The official recalled being in a car that went down a Reunion Arena ramp before a game in Dallas. Two officials were standing outside. One carried a sign that read, "NBA scabs.'' When the car with the officials drove by, the officials yelled, "You scabs'' as well as obscenities at them.
The official remembers once going to great lengths to avoid hostile officials outside the Spectrum in Philadelphia, a city where there were more protests than most.
"The NBA rule was you had to be at a game one hour in advance,'' said the replacement, who had been a minor-league referee and ended up working more than 15 games before the regular officials returned in December. "So I said to the guy I was working with, 'Let's get there two hours in advance and we'll miss them. So we did. And then after we arrived, I remember 76ers people coming to us and saying (the two officials outside) were yelling, 'You guys are (wimps) for coming in early. Come on out and talk to us.' We just laughed. We didn't come out.''
Despite some of the tension, the official said he didn't feel intimidated. He also didn't claim to be intimidated by much of the other negativism surrounding the replacement officials.
The official said that during one game fans were riding him and calling him "Mickey,' referring to the Mickey Gordon character Billy Crystal played in the movie Forget Paris, which came out earlier in 1995 and was about an NBA referee.
Rather than ignore the fans, the referee said he told them, "You bet I saw that movie.'' That won them over.
"Pretty soon, they were saying, 'This guy's not too bad,' '' said the official, who estimated he got about 95 percent of his calls correct. "Then they were saying, 'Go Mickey.'' '
But coaches often weren't friendly to the replacements. In one game, the official said Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich yelled, "It's too bad you referees don't know how to referee a basketball game,'' and "You guys are terrible.'' Tomjanovich got a technical.
The official also offered some insight into how replacements were selected in 1995-96 and what they went through to get ready for the season.
The official first got a call from the NBA in early September 1995 asking if he would be interested in possibly being a replacement, and he said he would. Then in late September, the call came inviting him and about 50 others to a one-week seminar held at the Sheraton Meadowlands in New Jersey during the first week of October.
From 9 AM each day during the week until about 7:30 PM, the officials listened to Darell Garretson, then the league's chief of officials who died last year. He went over the rule book, the officials manual, NBA philosophies and game control management. Examples were shown on a big screen.
The official said most of the officials were in decent shape, but one was about 50 pounds overweight. The official said Garretson did single out one who was about 12 pounds overweight and said, "This is what you don't want to look like."
Garretson said during the seminar that there is no such thing as a dumb question. One prospective official then asked, "Can I wear my NBA jacket to church if I get the job?''
To Garretson, that apparently was a dumb question. The unnamed official said Garrettson "was ready to kill the guy.''
The great majority of the officials at the seminar were chosen for game duty, but some got more games than others. The official said replacements received $895 per game plus expenses.
"The reasons these guys did this is they were thinking that, if they did a good job, that they're going be offered a position (as a full-time official after the work stoppage),'' said the official, who did not end up getting such a call. "I loved it. I was always excited walking out on the floor. It's an entirely different feeling (than any other officiating). It's like being on the PGA Tour instead of the Nationwide Tour. It's like being in the major leagues rather the minors.''
While the official generally spoke well about the quality of refereeing during the 1995-96 work stoppage, he did say that not all officials were fully ready for the major leagues.
"There was one referee who was 24 years old and smoked,'' he said. "(During a game that extended past regulation), he came up to me and said, 'I'm absolutely exhausted.' I said, 'Are you kidding me. I love what I am doing.' "
Yes there was plenty of negativity, but the official said he has no regrets about going through the experience. When the word came in early December that the regular officials would return, he was greatly disappointed.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.