NBA: What Made Joey Crawford a Basketball Legend

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant isn’t the only NBA legend calling it quits following the 2015-16 season. Iconic referee Joey Crawford recently announced that he will retire at the end of the campaign. He is currently in his 39th year with the association. The 64-year-old has only officiated five games so far this season and is in the midst of a recovery from knee surgery. He has said that he plans to return to the court by March and hopes to work through the playoffs. Since entering the league in 1977, Crawford has refereed 313 postseason, which is the most of any active official, according to This figure includes 50 NBA Finals games.

Crawford was honored with the 2014 Golden Whistle Award from the National Association of Sports Officials, the highest honor for a referee. When someone sticks with a single job for nearly four decades, the feat is no doubt impressive. Crawford deserves much praise and congratulations for his tireless work. What makes the Philadelphia native stand out though is his quirky personality, bizarre antics on the court, and the overall lighthearted attitude he brings to the game of basketball. With that in mind, here are five classic moments from the legend’s career.

1. No free throw for you!

Crawford has pulled the last-second block attempt on would-be free-throw shooters at least twice in his career. As seen in the video above, Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic is calmly getting ready to take a shot from the charity stripe and looking to capitalize on a nice and-one opportunity. Before the ball even leaves his finger tips though, Crawford comes leaping and prancing in front of No. 44 to halt any further action.

While we do not know the cause for certain, it appears that in this case — and in another instance with Kevin Durant — there seemed to be some kind of clock and/or scoreboard issue that Crawford refuses to allow before the free throw occurs. One knock against Crawford and his free throw charades is that the timing could not have been worse. Both times it occurred in the fourth quarter of close games and both times the shooter ended up missing his attempt. Oh well.

2. Crawford ejects Tim Duncan for laughing

This piece of magic is arguably what Crawford is most well-known for. In a 2007 contest between the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, it’s late in the third quarter and Tim Duncan is called for an offensive foul. The Big Fundamental disagrees with the call, but from our view, doesn’t seem to make a case for it and heads to the bench. Shortly after, TD gets his first technical foul from Crawford for, perhaps as alluded to on the broadcast, making the case that the “ball don’t lie” after a Mavs missed free throw.

About a minute of play later, with Duncan still on the bench, the Spurs are called for another foul, sending Josh Howard to the line. Duncan has a jolly old laugh about the call and Crawford sends him packing. To clarify, the ref ejected Duncan for laughing. In April of that year, Crawford was suspended for the rest of the season in the wake of the unnecessary toss out. By the way, this was one of only two career ejections for nice-guy Duncan.

3. The blocking foul dance

As if you needed any more evidence, this gem proves that Crawford sure likes to have fun out there. In a down-to-the-wire tilt between the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers, LA’s Chris Duhon is called for a blocking foul on Indiana’s David West. Seems simple enough, right? What then transpires are some terrific dance moves from Crawford as he gets animated for the foul call. He’s pulled this move numerous times before and we can only hope that he comes back healthy and ready for more in the near future.

4. Crawford nearly ejects a mop boy

This one’s not our favorite, as we feel bad for the innocent mop boy, but it’s still pretty funny nonetheless. After a traveling call in a contest between the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers, Crawford instructs a Sixers player to take the ball for an inbounds pass from the sideline. Apparently there was some drink spillage at the spot, so Crawford barks for the employee to hustle over and wipe it up. Well, the official for whatever reason did not feel that the job was satisfactory and he soon dismisses the gentleman and summons two more people. The ongoing stare down and banter is as much entertaining as it is confusing.

5. We all fall down

We all take embarrassing spills to the floor sometimes, but unfortunately for Crawford, the majority of us don’t work in the national spotlight. The video above is just one of many times that the icon has lost his step and fell to the hardwood over the years. Thankfully, none of the wipeouts have been catastrophic and the only injury that the referee suffered may be one to the ego. Just because you’ll leave the game of basketball for good in the coming months, Joey, doesn’t mean we can’t take this “trip” down memory lane. Here’s another. And here’s one more.

Statistics and videos courtesy of,, and

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