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Valentine was able to find work in the ACC, Big East and Conference USA, among other leagues, so the run-in with Knight didn't cost him his livelihood. It did, however, do something that for a ref, is almost as harmful: It made him famous.
While Nichols insists that the decision had nothing to do with Brouhaha in Bloomington, Valentine did not work the '98 Final Four after reffing in six of the previous seven. The best referees go unnoticed, and the incident in Indiana, combined with his stylistic flourishes, made him the target of intense criticism. Valentine also had strained his relationships with colleagues and league officials. After the 2002--03 season, Hyland sent Valentine a letter by Federal Express informing him that he would no longer be assigned to work conference games. "I cried a little bit, because I was like Art's son," Valentine says. The league's coaches lobbied to bring Valentine back, but Hyland rebuffed them. "I said, Look at our list of the top 12—he's better than almost everybody there," recalls former UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "They said he doesn't mix well with the other staff members, the other refs, and do I see why that would be a problem? I do."
ACC coaches say Valentine caused similar headaches for John Clougherty, who became the conference's supervisor of officials in 2005. A veteran ref who had worked three Final Fours with Valentine, Clougherty stopped assigning him games in '08--09 before bringing him back part time. (Neither Hyland nor Clougherty responded to repeated requests for comment.)
Gradually, Valentine has toned down his act. His demeanor has become more measured, his calls more disciplined. "We all go through a maturation period," says Hightower, who declined to discuss the incident in Indiana, "but the bottom line is that Ted Valentine right now is as fine a referee as there is in the game," In 2006 he returned to the Final Four, in Indianapolis, working the semifinal between George Mason and Florida. As he walked to the arena that night, he spotted Nichols outside, smoking a cigarette. Nichols smiled and said, "Teddy, you are now out of purgatory."
Valentine also reffed the 2007 national semifinal between Ohio State and Georgetown as well as the '10 championship game between Duke and Butler. Three years ago the Big Ten finally assigned him a game at Indiana, though Knight had left a decade earlier. For all his conflicts, Valentine has usually found a way to mend fences, but Knight remains an exception. On three occasions Valentine has refereed a game during which Knight sat courtside as an ESPN analyst. The latest was at Texas A&M on Jan. 17. When Valentine saw Knight at the broadcast table, he started walking toward him with the intent of extending his hand. "Something hit me and I thought, this is not the place," he says. "It's got to happen in private somewhere. That's how much respect I have for him. You see him getting older, and you know you're not far behind. I don't need no apology from him. He don't owe me nothing. I just want to shake his hand, let him know I have no ill will. I would like to have that moment, so we can talk as men."
There is one cohort in basketball that reveres Valentine above all others: younger referees. Whenever Valentine is assigned to work a game with a greenhorn, he goes out of his way to make the kid feel comfortable. He asks the young ref to handle the pregame administrative tasks and lets him toss the opening tip. And Valentine makes sure that if the coaches have anything to say, they say it to him. "He's young like you were young," Valentine tells the coaches. "Leave him alone. Let him work."
Valentine compares himself with George Foreman, who transformed himself from a menacing young fighter into a cuddly middle-aged guy who sold grills. "I laugh more," he says. "I talk with the fans more. I like it when they tease me. I really do. They'll be yelling and screaming and I might say, 'Hey, I don't come to your office yelling at you.'" The older refs who watched Valentine break into the business marvel at his ability to survive and advance. "Ted has done a great job of adapting," says Tim Higgins, a retired veteran of 10 Final Fours. "In our business we're nomads. There's always somebody who wants you, and there's always somebody who's mad at you."
Valentine has more people in each camp than he can count, but that doesn't bother him. This is, after all, a man who has spent most of his adult life working a job in which every office is a potential crime scene. So what if he left a little blood on the floor?