Referee Dick Bavetta watches a free-throw attempt during a game between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
Frank Franklin II/AP
NEW YORK — NBA referee Dick Bavetta worked his 2,633rd consecutive game assignment Wednesday, an ironman streak even longer than the one baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. compiled.
Bavetta worked the game between the Knicks and Nets at Madison Square Garden, where he began his career in 1975, extending a streak during which he has never missed an assignment. He chalked up his streak to good health, a dedication he said all officials shared, and a fear of inconveniencing someone else if he had to take a day off.
”I tell you I don’t think about it, in a sense that I guess it’s a work ethic that I got from my mom and dad, and it’s always been my way of thinking, that you get a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” Bavetta said before the game.
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”And I can’t think of any reason unless it’s an act of God with weather problems and things like that, but I’ve been blessed by the good Lord above with good health, so that has enabled me to stay healthy over the years, and I think it’s symbolic of our profession.”
The 74-year-old Bavetta has worked 270 playoff games in 29 seasons, including 27 NBA Finals games, three All-Star games and the 1992 Olympics. He was honored before the game, joined on the court by NBA president of operations Rod Thorn and fellow official Tony Brothers.
There have been close calls through the years, usually when bad weather caused flights to be canceled or airports to be closed. But he always found a way, renting a car to drive from Toronto to Cleveland, or Chicago to Detroit, so he and his partner official could get where they had to be.
”It’s just inbred in us that we don’t want to miss a game,” Bavetta said. ”I’ve always felt that when I miss a game, I’m imposing upon someone that’s home with his family, that already has made plans for the weekend or something. So by me not be able to make a game, they have to call someone else up and as far I am concerned, if I am healthy enough and able to get to where I am getting, that is my job.”
NBA referees are contracted to work 82 games a season, same as the teams. He figures he does above 12 to 15 games a month, making his own travel arrangements and then re-arranging them whenever circumstances intervene, such as the bad weather that hammered the East and Midwest this winter.
”The NBRA is in awe of what Dick has accomplished,” said Lee Seham, general counsel for the National Basketball Referees Association. ”During his streak, he has worked tirelessly on the court and made sacrifices off the court to never miss an NBA game assignment. And what the public should keep in mind is that every referee works the entirety of every game he officiates. We are all humbled by what Dick has done and he is an inspiration to all future referees.”
Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games with Baltimore, when he shattered Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130.
Bavetta isn’t sure how far his streak will go. He hasn’t decided when he will retire, saying he usually discusses his plans after the season with his wife and two daughters. Though he got to work in his home city Wednesday, most of his games are on the road, but he isn’t sure he’s ready to stay home yet.
”It is something that becomes a part of your life,” Bavetta said. ”You have to be an independent individual and most importantly you have to have a family that is supportive of you, a wife that understands that you are going to miss a birthday here or there and daughters that understand that a prom may be missed or something like that. The NBA will try to work around that for you but that is part of what we do and it is an accepted fact and we accept that gladly.”