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Nobody does it better

NBA could use more officials like the unique Bavetta

Posted: Monday May 15, 2006 11:52AM; Updated: Monday May 15, 2006 1:25PM
In a league in which too many referees are quick with a whistle, Dick Bavetta strives to let people express themselves.
In a league in which too many referees are quick with a whistle, Dick Bavetta strives to let people express themselves.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
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"I don't believe one grows older. I think that what happens early on in life is that at a certain age one stands still and stagnates."
 -- T.S. Eliot

Standing perfectly still at the moment I recalled the above quote was Dick Bavetta, even as Britney Spears' Toxic assaulted everyone's ears. It was Friday night, and Bavetta was waiting out a timeout under a basket at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J. His gray referee shirt had turned a darker shade with sweat. Around him swarmed a collective of supercaffeinated, overly styled young men and women known as the Nets Spirit Squad. As the electric youth fired T-shirts into the stands and generally tried to create commotion, Bavetta stood motionless, an old-school statue in a new-school NBA.

It's easy to pick on Bavetta. Entire states -- Utah and Indiana come to mind -- hate him. Tim Hardaway famously tagged him "Knick" Bavetta, while some fans call him Dick "the Fix."

And yet, I think Bavetta is the best in the business.

Earlier in the game, reserve Nets center James Thomas had become upset with a call. As the teams went to a timeout and headed for their benches, an angry Thomas ran up to Bavetta. Without saying a word, Bavetta slung an arm around Thomas and made a show of grandly escorting him to the Nets' bench, like an usher taking a VIP to his seats on Broadway. No drama, no quick technical foul. Other times, players (usually veterans) have long discourses with Bavetta, during free throws or even while play is going on.

When I asked one player that night what he thought about Bavetta, he made a face like he'd just taken a bite from a lemon. "Actually, I think Bavetta's right up there among the best referees," he said, smiling, "and I think most players agree. He might not be right all of the time, but you always know what you're going to get. Consistency, that's a big thing with the referees. You at least want to have some idea of how the calls are going to be made, and a lot of the refs are totally inconsistent. At the very least, Dick is consistent with how he calls the game."

"I love Bavetta," says one NBA team's announcer. "He may be too theatric for some, but he has a good feel for the game and the players, and I rank him right up there in terms of guys that will give you a fair whistle and not get rattled in a big game. He's in my upper tier."