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Referee Takes Longest Whistle-Stop Tour
By LIZ ROBBINS
Armed with a whistle and a smile, Dick Bavetta has run with four generations of superstars. He has never been shy. Bavetta once rebuked the Lakers superfan Jack Nicholson for leaving the court with three minutes to go in a blowout.
"I told Jack, 'Do I get up and leave early?' " Bavetta said, recalling the moment with his throaty laugh and Brooklyn accent. "He went back to his seat."
At 66, Bavetta is not going anywhere besides back to the basketball court.
He is the Cal Ripken Jr. of referees, never missing a day of work in his 31 years in the N.B.A. Bavetta will referee his 2,035th game Wednesday, surpassing the retired Jake O'Donnell for the most regular-season games in league history.
"I guess if you stay around long enough and get old enough, you get to this point," Bavetta said. "I still feel like I'm celebrating my 16th birthday. I'm blessed with good health — why not keep doing it?"
He spoke by phone before refereeing the Hornets-Spurs game Wednesday. Bavetta had already been dodging traffic in downtown Oklahoma City at 6:30 a.m., on his usual 8-mile, 80-minute run on a game day. "I feel it invigorates me," he said.
Bavetta gave himself just one day off from exercise after last season's N.B.A. finals. "As this game has evolved and as I've gotten older," he said, "I've learned you really can't turn it on and turn it off."
Ronnie Nunn, the N.B.A.'s director of officials, said no one had adapted better to the game's demands than Bavetta. "I tell these guys that if a man at 66 can cover the baseline like he can cover it, you really don't have any excuse," he said.
Bavetta's physical regimen is spartan, but his personality is flamboyant. Witness his vaudevillian block calls when Bavetta throws his hands on his hips, arches his back and sways with a pelvic thrust.
"Whenever I see the old training tapes, I think, 'I look like Joe Cocker or John Belushi,' " Bavetta said. "All the referees in the room laugh and say, 'There he goes again — he's going to throw his back out!' "
Bavetta honed his style for nine years in the old Eastern League. During the week, he would referee games in the Catholic High School Athletic Association in New York, then he traveled around the region on weekends for the Eastern League games.
It took him 11 years in the N.B.A. before he worked playoff games; he is now a postseason fixture.
Bavetta recalled two regular-season games as personal highlights.
The Celtics-Sixers rivalry had boiled over on Nov. 9, 1984, when the referee Jack Madden broke his leg in the third quarter, leaving Bavetta to work alone. As the benches cleared, Bavetta saw Larry Bird and Julius Erving exchanging punches, and he ejected them. "I guess the N.B.A. figured, 'If this guy could handle this, he could handle anything,' " Bavetta said.
Bavetta was not expecting a punch from Jalen Rose, then with the Indiana Pacers in 2003. At Madison Square Garden, Rose was aiming for Patrick Ewing when Bavetta's nose got in the way. Bavetta was back refereeing a Nets game the next night.
"I love Dick, we patched things up," Rose said Friday. "I'm proud to be one of his fans. He's a funny guy, and he's a great ref."
Bavetta prides himself on defusing situations with humor and shrugging off criticism. Tim Hardaway of the Miami Heat once dubbed him Dick (Knick ) Bavetta for his calls in Heat-Knicks games.
"By not taking myself too seriously, I really don't take the comments too seriously," Bavetta said. "There's nothing they can say I haven't heard before."
Trading Season Focuses on Future And Present Fixes
By the time Indiana traded Ron Artest to Sacramento for Peja Stojakovic last month, the anticipated move had lost its punch.
It did, however, signal the late start of the trading season, one that has ranged from head-scratching to shrug-worthy as teams balance the need to rebuild with the desire to win now.
The Celtics and the Timberwolves swapped seven players the next day, with each franchise seeming to be running on a treadmill.
In Boston, the newly acquired Wally Szczerbiak loves to shoot, and so does Paul Pierce. They take shots away from each other as the team seems bereft of defenders. At least Szczerbiak and Pierce can provide a veteran presence for Kendrick Perkins, Delonte West and Al Jefferson.
The draft pick from Minnesota will arrive in 2008 or 2009, but it is hard to say whether Coach Doc Rivers or Danny Ainge, the executive director for basketball operations, will still be in Boston without a playoff run.
In Minnesota, Kevin Garnett was not selected in the All-Star fan balloting for the first time in six years. The stat-happy Ricky Davis, whom the Timberwolves acquired in the Szczerbiak deal, is not a legitimate second star to complement Garnett's remarkable talents.
The Knicks and the Raptors swapped aging veterans — Antonio Davis for Jalen Rose — with different views of rebuilding.
The Raptors' interim general manager, Wayne Embry, was merely seeking to get rid of Rose's $16.9 million contract and acquire an expendable one so the team could be close to $10 million under the salary cap. That could enable the Raptors to re-sign point guard Mike James and acquire a free agent to support their cornerstone, Chris Bosh.
Isiah Thomas, the Knicks' president, has added to the team's bloated payroll while collecting draft picks. The plan had value this season, with the draft picks Channing Frye, Nate Robinson and David Lee, but the Knicks hold two first-round picks in the 2006 draft, which is considered weak.
Pistons' Milicic Undergoing Long Process Of Maturing
As the Detroit Pistons rush to dispense with the regular season and return to the finals for the third consecutive season, one of their players, Darko Milicic, has been virtually invisible.
Milicic, the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, was chosen ahead of players like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. He entered the weekend averaging 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in 5.8 minutes and has not been able to break into the Pistons' well-oiled rotation.
Detroit holds the option for his fourth season, and Joe Dumars, the team president, has become more active in trade discussions.
But it is hard to ascertain Milicic's value because he rarely plays. With the team 39-6 entering last night's game at Indiana, the Pistons are in no hurry to make a deal. They made their blockbuster deadline trade for Rasheed Wallace two years ago; other than gaining depth, they need little but salary relief or draft picks.
Milicic, a 7-footer and only 20, is aware of a trade possibility, but Dumars has also turned down offers to develop his talent.
Milicic's agent, Marc Cornstein, explained his client's approach.
"On one hand, he has tremendous loyalty for Joe, for John Hammond, for the management of Detroit," Cornstein said Friday, referring to Hammond, the Pistons' vice president for basketball operations. "They've really been in his corner.
"That being said, it's two and a half years, and like any player, he'd like to play. He's happy as long as it's a situation where he's given the opportunity to play, and I can't see why a team acquiring him would not want to give him that immediately."
Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time
Till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind
Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?
Till we fall away in our own darkness, a stranger to our own hearts
And life itself, rushing over me
Life itself, the wind in black elms,
Life itself in your heart and in your eyes, I can't make it without you
Dick Bavetta on Wednesday night will call the 2,135th game of his 31-year career as an NBA referee, surpassing Jake O'Donnell. Bavetta, 66, has officiated 214 playoff games, including 23 NBA Finals games, and has never missed a contest. Bavetta, who has a degree in finance and was a broker on Wall Street before he became an NBA referee, talked with USA TODAY NBA reporter Roscoe Nance about his career.
Q: To what do you owe your longevity?
A: I would be remiss not to look up to heaven and say God has blessed me with unusually good health. You're talking about somebody who tried out for the NBA for nine years, and each of the years I tried, (I was told I) was too thin, had a balding appearance, had a boyish complexion. They were looking for guys who looked the part.
Q: What is your proudest moment as a referee?
A: Every time someone recognizes me as an NBA referee. I've always felt the responsibility I take on as an NBA referee is 365 days a year, 24/7. If someone never meets another NBA referee, they're going to judge all NBA referees by me.
Q: What is your most memorable game?
A: Years ago, the big game was Boston-Philly when (Larry) Bird and (Julius) Erving would go against each other. It was a national TV game, and at the start of the second half, Dennis Johnson stumbled into (referee) Jack Madden and broke Madden's leg. I had to do the second half by myself. As the game progresses, Erving and Bird decide to start choking each other, and I eject both of them. I remember the comments by both teams were, "Maybe a lesser-experienced official would have called a technical and kept both of them in the game. Whatever possessed Dick Bavetta to do it, it was the right thing to do." That was kind of a launching pad for my career, and the NBA started to look at me a little differently with certain leadership qualities.
Q: What's the closest that you've come to missing a game?
A: Last year I had a game in Milwaukee on a Tuesday night, and I was working Wednesday in Detroit. When we drove back to Chicago from Milwaukee, they said O'Hare Airport was going to be closed the following day. I was with Sean Corbin. ... We drove 6½ hours in a blizzard from Chicago to Detroit. If we hadn't driven, we wouldn't have made the game.
Q: How much has officiating changed during your career?
A: Where it has changed is in the accountability and the scrutiny that we're now under. We carry a BlackBerrry. We have a laptop. We do daily testing. We do daily meetings. We do tape sessions. After the game, we're required to go back to our hotel and watch the same game we just refereed and submit a game report, submit a game summary, which is inclusive of critical plays in the game, pertinent plays, plays that we were not satisfied with. Years ago, that never happened. Maybe when you got around to it you put a handwritten report in an envelope. That generally only took place if there was a problem in the game.