Legendary NBA ref Dick Bavetta hasn’t missed a day of work since 1975. Bavetta, 74, worked his 2 633rd consecutive assignment (eat your heart out, Cal Ripken) Wednesday night in game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Per the AP and NBA.com:
“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.
“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 about 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.
“They could always find people to work if you had to miss a game, but I never wanted to inconvenience other referees,” Bavetta said from his hotel in New York Tuesday. “To me, it was determination, dedication. I’ve always said, ‘No, we’ve got to give it our best shot to get there.’ “
Referees’ schedules aren’t made public in advance, so it’s hard to know when one of them actually has stuck to his or not. A full season is pretty much the same as the players and the teams: 82 games. In his first two years, Bavetta was a part-timer, which meant he was scheduled for 68-70 games (making $200 a night, $16,000 a year at the start).
Raised in New York, Bavetta attended Power Memorial, the same Manhattan high school where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played. He had a first career as a broker on Wall Street, but his brother, Joe, refereed ABA games. That helped draw Dick into the profession. After years of amateur, high school and college games, Bavetta worked in the minors (the Eastern League that morphed into the CBA) for nine years.
“My upbringing was, you didn’t miss days of school and you went to work, regardless of the circumstances,” said Bavetta, the son of a New York cop. “I can’t remember even high school games in New York City or the Eastern League … whatever it would take to get to the game.”
His only real concession to the grind has been requesting no back-to-back games for the past five or six seasons. Bavetta had plenty of years doing five games in seven nights or seven in nine, but spacing out his games gives him more travel and recovery time. That’s helpful with the streak, but it does accordion-out his schedule, making it tough to get even consecutive days off. And on the days in between, he still works out — he had just gotten back from a long run through Central Park before he picked up the phone.