Dick Bavetta refereed his first NBA game on Dec. 2, 1975 and since then he’s never missed an assignment. On Tuesday, after 39 years on the job, Bavetta announced his retirement.
Bavetta joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game to discuss his career.
(OAG Web Exclusive: To hear an extended version of our conversation with Bavetta, click on the play button above.)
BL: You officiated 2,635 straight regular season games. That’s three more than former Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr. played in to establish the longest streak in Major League Baseball. Were you trying to set the cross-sport record or was there some other reason you decided to call it a career?
For the first time in my life I got to 5th Ave. and 50th street, and I started looking both ways at traffic. And I’m saying, “You’re getting crazy. It’s only a one-way street.” I said, “No, it would be just my luck. There would be a cab coming in the opposite direction that I don’t see or something like that.” So the Big Guy upstairs has blessed me with good health all these years, and I’m very lucky to have accomplished what I’ve accomplished as far as the consecutive games.
BL: You have refereed 27 NBA Finals games and the 1992 Olympics — and you ran a footrace against Charles Barkley at the All-Star Weekend in 2007. I’m just tossing these out. Do you have a favorite moment from your career?
And then, of course, the thing with Charles was just a gas. It was just unbelievable. We all thought it was a joke. I mean it all started as a joke. He was making fun of me one time during a game, you know, “How could they let this old guy run up and down the court?” and stuff like that — as Charles can only be that way. And Marv Albert said, “You know, this guy runs eight miles a day, and he can beat you in a footrace” and so on and so forth.
A couple of months later they have this thing in Vegas and we were able to raise $100,000 for the [Girls and Boys Club of Las Vegas], and it was just a fun day. I flew out that morning because it’s during the All-Star break, and I really wanted to be home with my family, so I flew out that morning and flew back right after. Get off the plane, went to the arena, ran the race, got back in the car, went back to the airport and flew back. So, that was memorable as well.
BL: All referees blow the occasional call. Or maybe not? Have you ever missed one?
DB: Absolutely. I say that assuredly. Every night that I refereed I strived for perfection and every night that I refereed I fell short of perfection.
When we go back to the hotel room and we look at the tape of the game — and most people aren’t even aware that after a game we do a game report — we put down the plays that we called that we wish we hadn’t called. We put down plays that we should have called that we didn’t. And we’re very honest and objective about ourselves and our performance.
And to err is human. To forgive is divine. I don’t think the losing team’s fans are so quick to forgive, and they don’t look at me as if I’m divine either. But no, there isn’t a game that I’ve worked that I haven’t made mistakes in the game.
BL: Finally, Dick, do you plan to continue watching the NBA as a fan or have you had enough of pro basketball?
DB: I don’t think I would ever stop watching the games. This 2014-15 season is just highly anticipated, you know, with the changing of teams and players. But there’s gotta be other things on TV that my wife will allow me to watch. I think she will determine what the TV schedule will be like. You know, maybe some re-runs of ‘Breaking Bad’ or something like that or some of these programs that come on.