Nobody could make himself part of the game like Joey Crawford. Inevitably, he’ll ref a few games per year where tension builds between teams and rather than let it progress to a boiling point, Crawford will instead make himself the protagonist and overreact, usually with an extra technical or ejection to calm things down. This infuriated NBA fans like nothing else, because it sure looked like a neutral party was over-legislating against their team. Crawford is a supremely frustrating official, and this will be his last season pissing off everyone, as he told the Delaware County Daily Times that he’ll be retiring at the end of the season:
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Crawford said. “You know what happens? It’s not that you lose your passion. I have that. That’s insanity. But it just comes to the point where you say, ‘I don’t want to make a fool out of myself.’ And it’s been so good that I want to go out on a high note. I don’t want to go out on a low note. I want to be in the NBA Finals, and I don’t want to be reffing just for the sake of reffing.”
For all of Crawford’s antics, he was actually a pretty good official, and is still maintaining that status in his 39th NBA season. But the ire Crawford drew was never about his skill as a referee, but rather the dramatic overreactions he was all too prone to. There was that time in 2007 when he challenged Tim Duncan to a fight and got himself suspended for an entire postseason, or when he lit into Timofey Mozgov for no good reason, or when he gave a technical foul so hard he broke his own finger. The hits go on and on, and Crawford’s seemingly pathological need to make himself a factor in games was so grating that you could make a very sensible case that he’s the worst thing about the NBA, and nobody would blink. He is a living, officiating version of this tweet.
Referees should be invisible entities that function without feeling, and Crawford’s utter disregard (even contempt) for that notion made it so easy to hate him. But while no official is immune to bias, nobody else was as willing to call a controversial or unpopular call against the home team. As much as he made himself a pariah, he had no problem making tough calls, even if they got entire arenas booing and spitting venom at him. Crawford almost seemed to revel in it.
So, yes, his contemptuous shitbaby persona will not be missed, nor will his bone-deep tendency to center the action around himself. His legacy will be of a man who would yell at anyone no matter how famous they were or if they even deserved it. But he wouldn’t have been around enraging fans, players, coaches, and anyone else in the NBA universe if he weren’t also good at his job. Let’s hope we get at least one more flight of the leaping Crawford before this season’s over.
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