I'm a relative novice, with only five years experience working everything from youth league level girls' games to Dual County League varsity battles. But when the accusations against veteran NBA official Tim Donaghy became public knowledge recently, I was rocked as badly as the 35-year veteran whistle-tooter, never mind the diehard NBA fan.
The only thing basketball officials, or officials in any team sport competition for that matter, have in their possession when they don their zebra-patterned shirts is their integrity; their honesty.
That integrity is being tested/has been besmirched because of Donaghy, a veteran official who over the last two seasons allegedly was coerced by organized crime members into shaving points. He is also suspected of gambling on games he officiated and supplying inside information to gamblers.
If we don't have our integrity as we take the court before the game and depart from it after the final horn, we've got nothing.
We're human, so we're going to miss calls, like it or not, every time we work a game. We only pray that the ones we do miss do not influence the outcome of the game.
But there must never be any doubt that we're out there to officiate the game, not to determine the winner and loser. The players and coaches do that.
Of course, we officiate any sport at any level because we love being part of the game. No one works at any level, except the NCAA Division I and NBA summits, for the cash. Believe me.
We work hoops, the game with the least protection from an enraged fan, the only sport in which fans can reach out and touch us, let alone scream in either of our ears with unmistakable clarity, because we love being in the middle of the action, where most of us had once been players.
So like it or not, thanks to Mr. Donaghy (even as he remains innocent until proven guilty), basketball officials in many respects are starting from scratch everywhere when it comes to re-establishing their competence and integrity; no matter if it's in a city summer league, fall AAU tournament, or when the serious in-season stuff starts in November.
We'll be fine, because our pride is unbreakable and our integrity our greatest attribute.
Donaghy's former NBA colleagues? They're a different story. They surely must prove themselves all over as capable, above-reproach referees, even the best among them, i.e. Joe Crawford and Dick Bavetta.
As for the NBA officiating great of the pasts, I'm sure Earl Strom and Richie Powers are rolling over in their graves. The rest are keeping mum for obvious reasons.
When I was a kid, a good friend of my dad's, who could always get us choice seats for Celtics playoff games during the Bill Russell era, claimed the games were fixed.
If that's so, I responded years later, why would the NBA want the Celtics to dominate and win 11 of 13 titles between 1957 and 1969? He never had an answer, even as the Celtics won five more titles between 1974 and 1986.
I always kept that opinion in mind during the 20 years I covered the Celtics for The Salem News, 1972-1992, during two phenomenal gravy train periods - the Havlicek-White-Cowens years, then the Bird-McHale-Parish years.
I often watched carefully the conduct of the officials and invariably admired their work under the most pressure-packed settings imaginable. Playoff games in Philadelphia's Spectrum, Chicago Stadium, the Gardens in New York and Boston, the Capital Centre in Landover, Md., the Buffalo War Memorial Auditorium, Milwaukee's old bandbox Arena, Veterans Coliseum in Phoenix, even the Forum in Los Angeles, were experiences of a lifetime for a Celtics beat writer.
And never was I more certain that the games were always legit than when the visiting teams pulled out hair-raising, arena-deflating victories against seemingly all odds. I saw a lot of those, most of them won by the Celtics on the road, but several also won by "the bad guys" in the old Garden.
That's why old guard NBA officials like Powers, Strom, Norm Drucker, Jack Madden, Jake O'Donnell, Darrell Garretson, Don Murphy, Manny Sokol, Ed Rush and John Vanak, among others, rank among the best of all time. They had personality, courage, competence - and integrity - no matter how their games finished.
One official's indiscretions - and alleged outright gamefixing - will not bring down the NBA, nor the officials who work the games (unless more refs are implicated).
They've got their integrity intact, like the rest of us who labor in the greatest of all team games. And it's the job of every basketball official to ensure that the integrity is protected/safeguarded/not impugned (your choice), regardless of the shenanigans taking place at the NBA level.
Gary Larrabee, a former 25-year member of The Salem News sports staff, is in his fifth year of officiating.