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RIP Darrell Garretson

A press release from the National Basketball Referees Association:

The national basketball community lost one of its most influential leaders on Monday when former 27-year referee and 17-year NBA Chief of Officiating Staff Darell Garretson died. Mr. Garretson, 76, whose health had been in decline following surgery and various illnesses passed away in the night at his Phoenix-area home. His son is National Basketball Association referee Ron Garretson.

Darell Garretson is widely considered the man who shaped today's basketball officiating. As a long-time referee and administrator - two jobs he did simultaneously for 13 years - he spent 31 years supervising, evaluating, and training NBA officials on and off the court until his full retirement in 1998. He was also instrumental in creating and heading the NBA referees' first union, the National Association of Basketball Referees, a predecessor to the National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA).

"Our grief at losing Darell Garretson is not just about the loss of an icon, a refereeing legend - although he certainly is both of those things," said Lamell McMorris, Spokesperson for the NBRA. "It is much more personal. Darell discovered and developed so many of our current referees. He saw a glimmer of real talent in them, be they Joe DeRosa at an officiating camp in small-town Indiana, David Jones refereeing NCAA games, or Bob Delaney or Derrick Stafford in the CBA. He took them and he coached them, tirelessly, and he made them some of the most elite referees in the world. And they love him for it."

Mr. Garretson started his career as an NBA referee in 1967. In 1981, he was tapped to serve as NBA Chief of Officiating Staff, while remaining an active referee, and is the only person in NBA history to have had this title. This second role required him to scout for new talent, and train new and current referees.

As a supervisor, Mr. Garretson was generally considered tough but fair. He was driven to see his officials perform at the highest caliber, to keep them pushing and working to surpass their own personal goals. When officials would ask him what they could improve upon, his response was: "Everything. And the answer will always be everything."

Mr. Garretson was continually focused on mentoring and training, something which led to the implementation of practices that continue to this day. He was instrumental in implementing the three-referee crew in 1988. Prior to this time, NBA games had only two officials. For Mr. Garretson, a three-official crew not only increased court-coverage, but allowed a younger official to be mentored by two more experienced officials. He also instituted summer training programs for both prospective NBA referees and those early in their career with the league.

Mr. Garretson not only focused on younger officials, but urged all of his colleagues to continue to improve their skills and conditioning. They would often hear him jest, "As my old grandpappy used to say it: If I could buy you for what I think you're worth, and sell you for what you think you're worth, I'd be a pretty wealthy man."

He was also a master of method - Mr. Garretson's concept of "refereeing the defense," in which an official focuses his or her attention on the defensive player, rather than watch the ball, defines professional refereeing today. This method allows an official to most clearly see illegal actions by the defender and the offensive player.

In 1994 he retired from active officiating, having worked more than 2,000 games, 269 playoff games, 41 Finals games, and five All-Star games. He continued his role as supervisor until 1998, when he went fully into retirement.

"NBA refereeing is inextricable from Darell Garretson. His exhaustive, devoted work has greatly influenced the craft to this day - and it will for a very long time," McMorris said.

A private ceremony is planned for next week.

"We are all grieving this profound loss. And certainly our condolences go out to his son Ron and the entire family," McMorris said. "Darell Garretson will truly be missed."

The National Basketball Referees Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the NBRA, has created a Darell Garretson Memorial Charity Grant in honor of Mr. Garretson. The foundation supports referee education and a variety of non-profit organizations. The Darell Garretson Memorial Charity Grant will provide funds to one organization a year whose mission and actions reflect the teachings and spirit of Mr. Garretson. In lieu of flowers, the Garretson family has asked that donations be made to the NBRF and sent to:

Darell Garretson Memorial Charity Grant

c/o National Basketball Referees Foundation

1455 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Suite 225

Washington, DC 20004