The lead negotiator for locked-out NBA referees finds it "amazing" that a former referee at the center of a controversial job action nearly six years ago is on the league's preliminary list of replacement officials.
Michael Henderson is the referee in question, and the league's locked-out officials are particularly steamed that he might be wearing a whistle around his neck again after they stuck out their necks to support him earlier this decade.
On the night of Feb. 27, 2004, 28 of the 30 referees working NBA games wore their jerseys turned inside-out and stenciled Henderson's number, 62, on their backs, after he had been publicly criticized by the league for a blown call.
"On that night, all but two referees risked their jobs -- their jobs were being threatened at that very moment that they were going out to stand up for him by reversing their jerseys and putting his number on their jerseys," referees' union lead negotiator Lamell McMorris said. "They went out even though they were risking their jobs, and it's just absolutely amazing that now he is going to go and replace them."
Henderson and Robbie Robinson, who officiated from 2004-07, are two ex-NBA referees on a list of 44 potential replacement refs that was obtained by ESPN.com and other news media outlets earlier this week. Also on the list is veteran NCAA official Jamie Luckie, along with several D-League, WNBA and former D-League officials.
No talks have been held between the league and the referees since negotiations broke down last Thursday. The sides remain apart on pension and severance issues, along with a league proposal to have D-League and WNBA officials referee a limited number of NBA games.
On Tuesday, the NBA's attorneys were turning their focus to labor talks with the players, with a formal collective bargaining session scheduled for later this week in New York. The league also was making arrangements to fly its replacement officials to New York for four days of meetings, beginning Thursday.
If the current lockout of the referees lasts into next week when training camps open, the league faces the prospect of using replacement officials for the first time since 1995. The first exhibition game is Oct. 1 in Utah, and opening night of the regular season is Oct. 27.
The inside-out jersey protest happened after the league publicly rebuked Henderson for whistling an incorrect 24-second violation against the Denver Nuggets in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
A missed shot by Andre Miller grazed the rim, and teammate Carmelo Anthony grabbed the offensive rebound with 27 seconds left and Denver ahead by two. After Henderson whistled a 24-second call, the game clock was reset as the play was ruled an inadvertent whistle, and the Lakers controlled the ensuing jump ball and won the game on a 3-pointer by Kareem Rush.
At the time, it was an uncommon occurrence for the league to publicly rebuke one of its officials.
"The referees believed that that had never happened, it was unprecedented. And in their opinion an unprecedented action deserved an unprecedented response, and that's why they chose to stand up for Henderson," said McMorris. He recalled how the league office was caught off guard on the night of the protest and subsequently tried to contact officials assigned to West Coast games, even sending NBA security and referee supervisory staff to refs' locker rooms to warn the officials that they could be fired if they joined in the protest.
"Guys were turning their phones off, not answering their phones, even locking the doors to their locker rooms," McMorris said.
The two referees who declined to reverse their jerseys that night were Nolan Fine, who has since retired, and Ed Rush, who remains among the league's staff of 57 locked-out referees. Fine did not return a call seeking comment, and the refs' union has declined to make any of the locked-out officials available for interviews.
McMorris, who was new to the job at the time, was viewed by the league office as the driving force behind the protest. And according to McMorris, he did not have his first face-to-face meeting with commissioner David Stern until several years later, when the Tim Donaghy scandal was breaking.
Asked whether he believes Stern still holds a grudge against him over that incident, McMorris replied: "I'm of the belief that for quite some time that was a lingering issue, and maybe David was not terribly pleased with what took place, but we arrived at a point where I thought we'd moved beyond that."
Henderson was fired by the NBA in 2005. McMorris believes the league would have fired him a year earlier if not for the inside-out jersey protest.
Henderson, a 10th-round draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1984 who later officiated in the USBL and NBDL before being hired by the NBA, did not reply to e-mail, text and voice messages.
"We reached out to Michael Henderson because he is someone who has experience reffing NBA games, and we actually feel that makes him an ideal candidate," said NBA executive Joel Litvin, who argued that the league is better prepared to impliment a replacement officiating staff than it was 14 years ago.
"In '95 we were using replacements who were for most part CBA refs and college refs, and by contrast we're now using referees that are from the WNBA and D-League -- sort of our extended family. They've also reffed summer league games, and so unlike '95 these refs have been trained in our mechanics and interpretations. They are already in the NBA pipleline, and we think that makes all the difference in the world."
Also Tuesday, the NBA players' union publicly called for a speedy settlement between the league and the locked-out referees.
"I, along with the NBPA Executive Committee, unanimously endorse the quickest possible resolution to the negotiations between the National Basketball Referees Association and the NBA. Our referees are the best in the world at what they do and they deserve to be treated fairly," players union president Derek Fisher said. "Players throughout the league are concerned that the use of replacement referees could compromise the integrity of our games. Our fans deserve the best product that we can put on the court and that includes having the best referees. Anything less is unacceptable to our union and our members."
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.