During the Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks game Wednesday night, NBA referee Dick Bavetta officiated his 2,633rd consecutive regular season game, which beat MLB Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripkin Jr.’s long-standing record for the longest back-to-back participation in an American professional sporting event.
Richard T. “Dick” Bavetta, 74, got his start as an NBA referee in 1975, and he has never missed an assigned game since. He began officiating after his brother Joe, a ref for the American Basketball Association at the time, convinced him that it would be a good career. Bavetta was a stock broker on Wall Street during those days, and began officiating games between fellow brokers in the Wall Street League, played at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club.
Bavetta went on to referee high school games, before moving on to the Continental Basketball Association. In the mid-1960s, for nine years straight he was rejected during NBA referee tryouts, mainly due to his small, unimposing stature, though was finally hired on in 1975. His debut was on December 2, 1975 at Madison Square Garden in an NBA game between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics. He soon became seen as a referee of the lowest tier, and led the league in technical fouls and ejections called.
Bavetta eventually went on to become the highest paid ref in the NBA, raking in about $200,000 a year. His most well-known game was between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics in the 1980’s. Celtics forward Larry Bird and 76ers guard Julius Erving began to strangle each other and were ejected by Bavetta.
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Commenting on what his record means to him, Bavetta said, “Well it means that I am here and alive and happy. And it doesn’t end here as they say. After tonight there is another game. That is what we do. I am just blessed that the ironman streak has been broken here (at Madison Square Garden), I couldn’t ask for something any better.”
Regarding any plans for retirement, Bavetta said, “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.”
Image via Wikimedia Commons