Since the 1970s, much has changed in the sport of basketball and the NBA. The three-point line has been instituted for more than 30 years, 30 (up from less than 20) teams are now in the league and players command salaries that dwarf what the stars of the day used to make.
The NBA has become a cash cow and has never seen its popularity be higher than it is right now.
But what really has not differed from that year almost 40 years ago? That would be the constant presence of Dick Bavetta as one of the game’s most reliable officials.
That changed yesterday when the 74-year-old iron horse of NBA refereeing announced his retirement after 39 years of service to the league.
Bavetta, in his entire NBA officiating career, never missed an assigned game, which — when you think about it — is an incredibly remarkable accomplishment that has never gotten the praise and admiration that it should. Cal Ripken, Jr. –a Hall of Fame baseball shortshop — played in 2,632 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles, which is a MLB record and earned him the nickname of “The Iron Man” for his stunning toughness and resolve.
Bavetta? Oh, since reffing his first game in December of 1975, he officiated 2,635 consecutive games up until this past season. At least Ripken, throughout his 20-plus year MLB career, missed some games here and there, although they were few and far in between. Dick Bavetta, as a NBA employee, never missed one.
Now that is dedication.
Rumors of his eventual retirement have floated around nearly every offseason for the past few years, but then and again, in October, the New York native was back out on the court making his trademark enthusiastic foul calls that have made him a fan favorite of sorts, a designation rare for an official.
He has also had his share of notable games and shenanigans, such as when he reffed the 2006 brawl game between the Knicks and Nuggets and when he raced Charles Barkley (and lost) during the 2007 All-Star Weekend. He may seem, on the court and in game, at least, as a strict and “no frills” guy, but when his personality showed through, Bavetta displayed the charisma and attitude that led to his amazingly long stint in the game.
To be sure, the NBA will not be as fun — and well-called — this season without Dick Bavetta officiating any games. He is a true NBA legend.