If it happened on NBA court within the last four decades, there’s a good chance Dick Bavetta witnessed it.
Bavetta, the legendary NBA referee who retired this summer after 39 seasons, worked 270 playoff games, 27 NBA Finals games and an astounding streak of 2,635 consecutive regular-season contests that stretched from 1975 to 2014. One particular game, however, still stands out in his mind.
Bavetta, 74, said in a recent interview with NBA.com’s Hang Time Blog that a Nov. 9, 1984 matchup between Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers was the most memorable of his storied officiating career.
The game, played at the old Boston Garden, was just the fifth of the season for the Celtics and sixth for the Sixers, but had all the intensity and physicality of a playoff game. The chippiness between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses — and, especially, between their two stars — escalated throughout the night before erupting into full-blown chaos in the second half.
Bavetta, who was forced to ref much of the game by himself after his partner, Jack Madden, went down with a broken leg, remembers it well.
“It turned out to be the game where Bird and Erving decided to start choking each other,” he said.
The brawl certainly was iconic, but the game overall was about as entertaining as a November game can be. The Celtics won 130-119, with Bird pouring a game-high 42 points despite playing just 30 minutes before his ejection. Boston and Philadelphia met again in the Eastern Conference finals later that season, with Celtics prevailing in five games.
The rest of Bavetta’s interview, which is a must-read for basketball fans, can be found here. He calls Boston fans (along with Los Angeles and New York fans) the best in the league, and says he wishes he could have officiated a game in which Bill Russell played.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@TheSportPics