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Outside the Lines: Officials' holiday

Host - Bob Ley, ESPN.
Guests - Tony Brothers, NBA official; Jon Ebinger, Coordinating Producer

Bob Ley, host- Under the NBA's big top with hundred-million-dollar stars and thousand-dollar seats are the workaday folks who keep order.

Tony Brothers, NBA official- I don't think people realize that we just don't show up and put these shirts on and run out on the floor and make bad calls and go home.

Ley- Officials who work hard to get it right.

Brothers- One of the things with referring is that, when you get back from the game, you turn to ESPN because you don't want to be the lead in the SportsCenter, and you guys -- Stewart, Scott, and all these guys that -- are sitting there just waiting to create some rhyme to talk about why you did whatever.

Ley- Today on Outside The Lines, balancing a career on the court and time with his family, especially this holiday season, the life of an NBA referee.

Announcer- Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.

Joining us from ESPN studios, Bob Ley.

Ley- We certainly hope you're watching from the comfort of home or with family on this Christmas Eve morning. There is a rhythm to the passage of time, and as the calendar winds down to this point, you can feel the world slow to savor these holidays and times spent together.

Yet Sports, to a large extent, soldiers on. There is a full NFL schedule this Christmas weekend -- but no games scheduled this evening -- college bowl games, and college basketball. While fans are home breaking bread, their Sports circus continues.

In the NBA where ticket prices for good seats render more than the occasional outing a luxury to most fans, where coaches routinely make millions and players tens of millions, the person on the court most fans might identify with is the one they're most likely to be yelling at, the referee. Players and coaches have home courts and home games and the regular company of the same teammates and colleagues, but referees spend a season on the road. Their goal- to do their job so well they're never noticed.

Christmas Eve is an appropriate time then to take notice.

Ley- Where in this season of charity and good will do NBA referees fit in? Where on Santa's list of naughty and nice is Rasheed Wallace?

In the NBA, there simply are no silent nights, and for the men and women who whistle right from wrong, it takes plenty of family spirit to keep the holidays bright.

Brothers- We didn't come down this way yet.

Ley- Two weeks before Christmas, Tony Brothers, a veteran NBA official, takes his family to Christmas Wonderful outside Norfolk, Virginia. Tony, his wife, Monica, and two sons, 6-month-old Trent and 6-year-old Travis, taking in the sights. Only once does Tony have to call a foul.

Brothers- Stay off the rail.

Ley- For Tony, the NBA life can resemble a dizzying traveling circus, a six-month ride in a spinning teacup.

Brothers- You're going to be sick.

Ley- Since opening night, Halloween, he's been living life on the run, both up and down the court and through countless airport terminals. Certain dates on his schedule he checks very carefully.

Brothers- I look in November for Thanksgiving, I look in December for Christmas and New Year's Eve and see if I'm home on these days, and then if I'm not, there's some explaining to do.

Ley- This Thanksgiving, he's explaining from a hotel room in Indianapolis.

Brothers- I got the answering machine.

Ley- He's just missed Monica who has spent the afternoon juggling holiday chores.

Monica Brothers, spouse- It's a hurried time in the Brothers' household.

Come on. Close the door.

It's just a rush, rush, rush time.

Oops. Are you OK?

Ley- While his family gathers at his mother's home for Thanksgiving dinner, Tony's long work day is just beginning.

Brothers- We went the long way. Are we going to go this way? We have -- we're going over here now. Did she call to get the car?

Ley- Tony and fellow referees Jess Kersey (ph) and Jim Clark (ph) are en route, they hope...

Brothers- I should have turned? Or should I?

Ley- ... for the Pacers' Conseco field house.

Brothers- Right here? Is this -- no. That's a little guard shack or something there.

Male Relative #1- We're thankful, Heavenly Father, that thou has been with us, thou has...

Ley- At Tony's mother's house, the blessing is followed by a sumptuous holiday meal. Seven hundred miles from that dinner table, Tony is in a stark dressing room.

Brothers- Hey, Jess, did you bring some creamer?

Well, I'll tell you this is some dark-looking stuff.

Ley- While Tony ponders his coffee, his family is enjoying the Cowboys and Vikings.

Male Relative #2- They got it. They got it. They got it.

Ley- Football is so ingrained a Thanksgiving tradition, even NBA refs sneak a peak before tipoff.

NBA official- That's fruitcake straight from Virginia.

Brothers- Yeah, but I don't eat fruitcake. You should have bought pound cake.

NBA official- I do pound cake, too. Today's Thanksgiving. You do fruitcake.

Brothers- Well, you got cranberries?

NBA official- It's soaked in everything but wine, Tony.

Brothers- Oh.

NBA official- No wine.

Ley- After they change, Tony's crew checks their e-mail and views some training tapes.

Narrator- This is an illegal defensive alignment as the...

Ley- It's a holiday everywhere but here. In fact, tonight, there is some added pressure. The game will be nationally televised.

Sports announcer- On Thanksgiving night at Indianapolis, we welcome you to Conseco field house.

As we're ready for the opening check, the officials Jess Kersey, Jim Clark, Tony Brothers.

Ley- This night, Tony's in the thick of it.

Monica Brothers- I'm looking to see where he is and where the referees are and who's picking on my husband, and I'm listening to what the Announcers are saying about my husband.

Sports announcer- You had a little bit of an exchange there between Tony Brothers, the official who made the call on Reggie Miller, and Miller. Miller not happy with it, said something...

Monica Brothers- He always tells me later what they said.

Ley- Tonight, Tony and Reggie Miller are at odds. Tony puts the T in Reggie's Thanksgiving.

Sports announcer- Mark Jackson will go to the line. Technical foul has just been charged to Reggie Miller. Apparently, Reggie had something to say in the direction of the official Tony Brothers.

Ley- Later in the game, Tony tees up (ph) Pacers' coach Isaiah Thomas and tosses him.

Sports announcer- He has been ejected. Isaiah Thomas.

Ley- Tony's Thanksgiving is anything but a holiday. Toronto's Charles OakLey stirs up the crowd, and Tony is even hassled by the Pacer mascot. Indy loses badly to the Raptors, and the usual post-game police escort is probably needed.

This Thanksgiving, Tony Brothers has missed his family and a home-cooked meal, but things will soon be better. He's heading home. That homecoming when we continue.

Ley- After is tumultuous Thanksgiving, Tony Brothers returns home to Virginia to a much kinder reception.

Brothers- Hey, man.

Ley- Before he chose this life, Tony had a very different view of officials.

Brothers- I thought they were out of shape and old and didn't know what they were doing, and so I remember Monica saying to me -- she says, "Well, instead of you just hollering and screaming at them, if you think you can do better," in so many words, "why don't you go out and do better?"

Ley- So he did, trading his 9-to-5 desk job with a consulting firm for the rigors of the minor league CBA. When he finally made the NBA, he was immediately schooled on the status of a rookie ref.

Brothers- What I'll never forget -- and I tell Kevin Willis this now -- is that look that he gave me like -- it was almost like that cartoon where the coyote sees the -- something walk out and it looks like a pork chop or something.

Ley- In his eighth season, Tony's now an established NBA ref, passing judgment on the courts and on the sidelines with a sense of order learned from his mother's iron hand.

Brothers- And I remember getting smacked one time, and it was like I got hit on the right side of my face, and it went numb. It was like a stroke victim from here -- it's like from here -- you know, you're talking like -- you know, and, from that point, it kind of let me that it was just certain things that you did and certain things that you didn't do.

Ley- Tony recently brought his mother to Charlotte where, for the first time, she watched in person as he worked in the NBA.

Dorothy Brothers-Jones, mother- I was on an emotional high. You know, I wanted to get up and tell everybody, "I'm his mom," but he told me, "You don't let to need everybody know you're my -- that you're my mom."

Brothers- You're in enemy territory there.

Brothers Jones- Yes. He told me...

Brothers- No telling what could happen.

Brothers-Jones- I said, "I should have worn my -- my referee jacket." He said, "Mama, never ever let anybody know that you're the ref's mom sitting up in the stands."

But I had anxiety just watching him. I said, "Oh, my goodness. I hope he gets -- he doesn't throw a tech while I'm sitting in the stands."

Ley- He didn't, but even the usual calls prompted a cascade of boos.

Sports Announcer- Jess Kersey was not sure, so...

Brothers- Really, the way I look at it is that, every two weeks, just like today, when I go to the mailbox and that pay stub's in there and that guy that called me whatever that was sitting in the stands -- that was his money, and so if he got what he wanted for his money, it's OK because I got his money.

Ley- The verbal barbs are part of the job, even on a holiday. The toughest part is controlling players in the court, as evidenced by Bonzi Wells' confrontation last month with Referee Tom Donahue (ph). It's a profession with all the separation and stress of living six months on the road.

Brothers- I'm tired.

Monica Brothers- We have astronomical phone bills. He calls when he lands. He calls when he gets to the hotel. We talk a couple times during the night.

Ley- Even when Tony is home, there is an adjustment period.

Brothers- What are you hitting me for?

When I come home -- one, they wanted to eat out. I want to eat in. I eat out all the time, when they eat in all the time. So I suggested that they go out and eat so that, when I come, I can eat in. So all of us eat out, and then we eat in.

Ley- But on the flip side is the chance to be home most of the off season from late April through September. There's a good salary and status in the community.

Travis, you're the only person I know to bring your autographed ball out to play with.

Ley- During his brief stay at home in December, Tony spoke to his son's basketball team.

Brothers- When the whistle blows, what did -- what do you do?

Children- Stop. Stop what you're doing.

Brothers- And when a referee tells you to do something, what do you do?

Children- Do it. Do it.

Ley- This night, Travis is happy that his dad, if only for a couple of days, is home for the holidays. He's home but soon to be leaving again.

Brothers- The last time I left, I left -- I was leaving at about 4-30 in the morning to catch a flight, and I went and woke him up in the room, and he started to cry, and -- it hits me pretty hard when I have to leave, but I know with all the things that I'm afforded with this job, then it's worth what I have to give up.

Monica Brothers- There's a void because he's -- because Daddy's not here and because Honey's not here, but -- but, at the same time, we just -- it's just life, and you just go on, and you do it, and you just realize how blessed you are to even be in this situation. You know, not everybody can say that. Not everybody is as fortunate and as blessed as we are. So just suck up and go on.

Ley- Which is exactly the way young Trent handles it. He knows nothing of technical fouls, running for flights, even Santa Claus or carousel rides. He just knows his daddy. His is the face Tony Brothers has squarely in mind as he boards yet another early morning flight for another city, another game, keeping order in the NBA.

Ley- And when we continue, I'll talk live with Tony Brothers who was keeping order last night for the Jazz and the TWolves. He's about to board a flight for home.

Ley- Tony Brothers spent 24 days on the road in November and this month 21 days away from home, but home is today's destination. He's got a flight in about 60 minutes, and he joins us from the Minneapolis airport.

And, Tony, just before the commercial break, I said you were about to board a flight for home. That must be the most joyous phrase any ref hears through the course of an NBA season.

Brothers- Yeah. Well, it's been a long trip, and when you get ready to go home, especially for the holidays, it's something special about that.

Ley- Just another night at the office last night as the Jazz, what, came from 11 down. Only four technicals. Quiet night for you?

Brothers- Yeah. Well, I guess -- I guess when you only have four, maybe you consider it a quiet night, but it was -- it was work that we had to do, and things kind of worked out the way it should have worked out, and so we were happy with the outcome.

Ley- What's the most important thing that you've been able to learn over your eight years in the league about balancing -- as we took a look at you and your family, balancing family life and the rigors of this profession?

Brothers- Well, you learn that you can't have everything. You're not going to be able to be home and be afforded the things that you can have in life as well as be out and do the job that you have to do. So what I try to do is I try to spend the time that I have in the summer at home doing the things that I don't get an opportunity to do during the winter, and it pretty much balances out.

Ley- Is this something that younger officials talk about with older officials, something that refs talk about in their down time, especially the younger guys?

Brothers- Well, I think what -- what has started to happen here is that a lot of the younger referees are sort of leaning to the older veteran referees now and trying to find out how they coped with a lot of things throughout their careers. I think sometimes coming in you have the tendency to think that you've reached the top of the profession and you're -- you're capable of handling everything, but you need that influx of information from those guys to kind of help you get through things.

Ley- There's a fair amount, I guess, of parenting on the telephoning, especially with your 6-year-old boy, huh?

Brothers- Oh, yeah. He just poked four holes in the seat in the back of the car the other day. So that was something that had to be dealt with, but, you know, for the most part, things work out pretty good. You know, you have the -- you have family and special friends that kind of keep you going and -- and just keep everything the way it should be.

Ley- Well, you were married, you had a desk job, and your wife, as you mentioned during our report, sort of prodded you into -- into learning -- into becoming a referee. Obviously, this issue of separation and the sacrifices you would have to make were an issue. Did you and your wife talk about this, and what for -- what really forced your hand in becoming a ref?

Brothers- Well, I think that once you start officiating, it's something that gets in your blood, and -- and your objective is to be the best that you can be, and so, you know, I told her what I wanted to do, and we discussed it, and -- and the desk job was great, but it wasn't really what I wanted to do, and so when I decided to pursue it, she got behind me a hundred percent, and things worked out.

Ley- Now you had a marvelous observation during the story. Guys can yell at you, but at the end of every two weeks, you've got their money if they've laid out their hundred bucks for their ticket. But, as you -- as you look at the entire profession and what you've been involved in, do you find -- I got an e-mail just before the show, and they heard me talking about this program on ESPN radio this morning. They said, "These guys work three hours a night. They fly first class. Gee, what kind of hardships can they run into?" Is this something that you encounter, this attitude?"

Brothers- Yeah. We encounter that attitude, but what people need to realize is that we start at about 11-00 every day meeting. We go -- we work the game, and then afterwards, we watch the entire game, we critique our performances and send in a report to our supervisors, and so we're scrutinized much more than they really know, and it's not a cake job where we show up and put these shirts on. I mean, we're constantly having to work out and do things. We have a few guys that are injured right now because injuries are a thing that happen. So there's a lot of things involved here.

Ley- Just a question, I guess, of pure semantics and logistics. How does someone who's on the road this much get his Christmas shopping done?

Brothers- Well, you sneak out when you're on the road. Right now, I'm in Minneapolis, and so I can go to the Mall of America and get what I need to get, but most of the stuff is taken care of at home.

Ley- You've got a flight in an hour. I guess referees are among those class of people that keep one eye on the weather channel at all times and one eye on the flight schedule.

Brothers- Yeah. Well, we have to -- last night, I was at (INAUDIBLE) was on the phone with the airline trying to figure out if he could get back home for Christmas or if he was going to go his next assignment, and so it's often that we have to do that, but, you know, that's the sacrifices of the job, and we -- everybody that's on our staff -- they're professionals, and we do what we have to do to get the job done.

Ley- At this time of the year, is there ever any sense on the court from the fans or from the players -- it's the holiday season -- any extra sense of charity and any extra slack cut?

Brothers- No, there's never any slack cut for us. When we go out there every night, it's the same job every night, and -- and that's how all our guys approach it.

And one thing I wanted to say is that there are a lot of guys that were on the road on Thanksgiving, and I just happened to be the person that they picked, but there are a lot of people that make a lot of sacrifices in this job.

Ley- Yeah, I happened to watch you as you were watching that. I guess that was the closest you came, as you were watching our report, to having Thanksgiving dinner with your family.

Brothers- Yeah, but, you know, the Cowboys were playing, I believe, and I think we were doing pretty bad, so it was good that I wasn't there because I'd have taken a little heat that day.

Ley- Well, there's a debate in your house, as you say, as you come home, about eating in or eating out, but I guess on Christmas Eve this evening, you'll be eating in. What's on the menu?

Brothers- Well, I don't know what's on the menu, but we're going back to the same venue. We're going back to my mother's house. So I'm sure some of the things that I didn't get that day that Andy (ph) was able to eat that I'll be able to get today.

Ley- Well, Tony, listen, thanks a great deal for letting us spend time with your family. Merry Christmas to you and your family. And travel safely.

Brothers- Well, thank you. And Merry Christmas to you as well.

Ley- Thank you, Tony.

Next, we will follow-up on last week's program on the Manny Ramirez negotiations as we continue Outside The Lines.

Ley- Our behind-the-scenes look last week at the Manny Ramirez negotiations provoking e-mail from both ends of the spectrum, viewers happy to see such a contract unfold before their eyes and others very worried about what such a deal will do to Major League Baseball.

This from Windom, Minnesota- "As a fan of a small-revenue, small-payroll club, your program on the Manny Ramirez negotiations was another nail in the coffin for baseball as I know it. The agents and players' unions seem to live by one rule -- get every player the highest possible contract and damn the consequences. Meanwhile, the owners and front-office officials are equally at fault, fueling the salary escalation with each new mega-contract, then complaining about the competitive imbalance which they helped to create."

From South Daytona, Florida, "Watching this week's show only encourages me to be a bigger NASCAR fan. Between the greed of Manny Ramirez and the sleaze of his agent, is it a wonder Major League Baseball is in trouble? In NASCAR, the driver has a relationship with his fans. He signs autographs, makes personal appearances, and presents himself, for the most part, with dignity. Maybe this is a Southern tradition. I may be the minority, but I've never seen 150,000 people at a baseball game."

Well, the interactive Outside The Lines is online at The keyword "otlweekly." Type that on the front page to visit our site that features complete transcripts of all Sunday morning shows, and if you missed any particular program, video on demand of all the shows as well. Your e-mail can be addressed here as well, your comments and criticisms to otlweekly at

And Tony Brothers will be by, online for an chat on the life of an NBA referee. That is Thursday at 1-00 p.m. Eastern. Follow the link from the top of the front page and pose your questions to Tony.

"This transcript may not be complete, and neither ESPN or Outside the Lines should be held responsible for errors in content".

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