Longtime referee Joey Crawford has final season cut short by injury

Longtime NBA referee Joey Crawford had planned on hanging up his whistle for good after this season -- his 39th. Those plans, however, have been moved up, effective immediately, as he will not be able to return from surgery on his right knee as originally hoped.

The 64-year-old Crawford had surgery in December to repair a torn meniscus and had hoped to return to the court by March 1 and referee through the playoffs.

Crawford told NBA.com on Wednesday that he will not be able to return as his knee has not responded well to rehabilitation.

"You turn the page, y'know, and you think, 'It's somebody else's turn,'" Crawford told NBA.com. "But you still miss it. You miss the people. I'm just lucky that a lot of the refs, they'll call me up. I don't know if they do it because they feel sorry for me, but they'll say, 'Can you break down a quarter for me here or a quarter there?'

"I was lucky. For 35 years or so it was only like, a calf [strain] here or there. But the last two years, my 38th and 39th, it just broke down on me. What're ya gonna do? You just move on."

Warriors coach Steve Kerr praised Crawford on Friday.

"I always felt he was one of the best at his job," Kerr said before Golden State took on Portland in Oakland, Calif. "Played in a ton of games that he officiated and obviously coached in a few as well. Sorry to see Joey go, but happy for him that he's had such a great career and that he's made the decision to step down and I wish him well."

Asked if he has a favorite memory, Kerr said: "I just love his mannerisms. And I asked him one time about (his gestures) when he says which direction the ball's going. ... And he said it was in homage to his dad and his brother, who were baseball umpires. So it was sort of his way of just paying respect to them."

Crawford has been an NBA referee since 1977, working 2,561 regular-season games. He has officiated 374 postseason games, most of any active ref, including 50 NBA Finals games.

He said he notified NBA vice president Bob Delaney of his decision not to return this season.

"I would have been draggin' the leg, to be honest with you," Crawford told NBA.com. "And I didn't want to go out that way. It's been too good for too long. I didn't want to detract from the game or anything. It's hard enough, the job, vs. going out and worrying about my knee, because then you're going to miss plays.

"I'm not going to short-change the game. The game's been too good to me."

In April 2007, Crawford was suspended for the rest of the regular season and playoffs after ejecting San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan from a regular-season game against the Mavericks for laughing on the bench. In a statement released by the NBA after the suspension, then-commissioner David Stern said Crawford "failed to meet the standards of professionalism and game management."

Crawford received the Golden Whistle Award from the National Association of Sports Officials in 2014, the highest honor for a referee.