OKLAHOMA CITY – They say Father Time is undefeated, which apparently is true even when he takes on a colorful, cranky NBA referee.
After 39 years on the job, Joey Crawford will no longer hop across the court to dramatize a call. He hoped to return this month for the regular season’s finish and playoffs, but pain and arthritis won’t subside in a knee that required December surgery.
Crawford, who already had decided this season would be his last, will not blow his whistle again. Occasionally combative even after the NBA sent him to anger-management sessions, he worked his first NBA game about the same time Kevin Garnett was born.
“Any time you do this for 39 years, you’ve got to love the game and love the players,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “We’re hard on officials. The NBA is probably the hardest game to officiate. You have to develop a feel of what to let go and how to keep the pace going. You kind of knew where you stood with Joey. I knew what to say, when to say it until Joey gave you a look or told you that was enough. The thing I liked about Joey is I never felt it was personal.”
At age 64, Crawford worked 2,561 regular-season games, second only to Basketball Hall of Famer Dick Bavetta. He officiated more NBA playoff games (374) than anyone, including 50 in the Finals.
“Definitely one of the best officials of my time,” Wolves veteran Tayshaun Prince said. “He didn’t take no mess on the court. He took his job very seriously. After 39 years, to be able to impact the game like he did, a lot of NBA players get the credit but there are referees and people behind the scenes that make this game great and he was one of those guys.”
Crawford’s dad, Shag, was a Major League Baseball umpire for more than 20 years and Joey’s brother Jerry lasted 25 years as an MLB umpire.
Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica played his first game since Feb. 10 against Toronto. He entered late in the first quarter after missing 11 games because of a strained right foot. He once again quickly found foul trouble. Mitchell said Bjelica’s return makes it less likely that the Wolves will fill its open roster spot for now.
“I’m ready,” Bjelica said. “Finally, I’m here and I’m happy I’m back.”
Tragedy times three
The Thunder on Friday said assistant coach Monty Williams won’t return to work this season after the death of his wife, killed in an automobile accident last month. Guard Dion Waiters missed Friday’s game after his brother was shot and killed in Philadelphia. Part owner Aubrey McClendon died in a car crash last week.
“The only way you get through these situations is the people around you and I think we have really, really good people,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
•Donovan referred to Wolves guard Ricky Rubio as “Marco Rubio” before Friday’s game. Just hours before, Rubio said this when asked if there’s any social-media confusion concerning two famous Rubios, “Well, he’s running for President, and I’m a basketball player. There shouldn’t be a lot of misunderstanding but we have the same last name.”