For a referee, in the NBA or any sport, the hope is that you can essentially remain anonymous. When fans start remembering you for certain games or incidents, that's usually not a good thing. Such was definitely the case with former NBA official Joey Crawford, who became infamous for ejecting San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan for laughing on the bench in 2007.
Now, that wasn't the only reason people remembered Crawford, but it was certainly the defining moment of his long career. Interestingly, he said recently that while it nearly ruined his career, it also ended up saving it. Crawford was fined $100K and suspended for the rest of the season, but he also revealed that then-NBA commissioner David Stern made him seek therapy after the ejection. Via ESPN:
Stern suspended me for the rest of the season. I thought there was a good chance my career might be over. Stern orders me to go see a Park Avenue psychiatrist. He tells me to go twice -- two hours each session. This guy is going to make a determination on whether I'm crazy or not. I go up, and I'm scared to death. I've already been fined $100,000. I'm in a suit, and I've got sweat all the way down to my belt. So, this psychiatrist didn't know a basketball from a volleyball. After two hours, he says, 'OK, we're all done.' I said, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! I'm supposed to come another day for another couple of hours. Have you already decided I'm crazy?' He said, 'You're not nuts.' I said, 'Well, what am I? What's my problem?' He said, 'You're overly passionate about your job.' I thought, 'OK, I can live with that diagnosis!'
I ended up going to see Dr. Joel Fish in Philadelphia. Everybody in Philly in the sports world went to see him when they were having problems. The guy saved my career. I started seeing him a couple of times a week.
He would tell me, 'Joe, if you feel [the anger] coming on, just do something with your hands. Put them by your side or behind your back.' He told me, 'Keep reminding yourself, calm down, calm down. If somebody was getting on me about a bad call, he'd remind me, 'Slow your breathing down. Remind yourself you're a good ref.' Those things helped me get through my last 10 years in the NBA.
It's obviously great that there was a happy ending to this saga, and that going to see a therapist worked out so well for Crawford -- to the point of not only saving his career, but helping his personal life. But when you zoom out, there is something a bit off-putting about a boss ordering his employee to get therapy. That is something a workplace could suggest or offer, but when it starts being mandated with an implied threat that if you don't go you'll lose your job, that's not so great.
That, however, is one of the reasons this mental health in the NBA series that ESPN's Jackie MacMullan is doing is important. It brings up these questions about the importance of mental health, the team and league's role in helping their players, coaches and refs through some of these issues, as well as where the line should be in terms of confidentiality.