No, NBA basketball referee Dick Bavetta is not replacing Tony Stark or Robert Downey Jr. and becoming the new Iron Man on the big screen. However, last night, Bavetta officiated his 2,633rd straight NBA basketball game, surpassing Iron Man Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak of 2,632 straight MLB games that he set in 1998.
Bavetta started officiating NBA games in 1975. While the 74-year-old referee is not crashing through the lane or chasing down the ball on defense, the new Iron Man has been running up and down the court for the last 39 seasons. Without missing a game.
Officials do not have it as easy as the players which also adds to the validity of his record. NBA teams play 82 games a season. 41 on the road, 41 at home. Officials in the NBA do not have a home court. Without their own home court officials are typically on the road most of the season. That travel over 82 regular season games can take a toll, but Dick Bavetta kept showing up, game after game, year after year.
Over the years with the NBA, Bavetta has officiated games with players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and 100’s of other basketball greats. The new Iron Man has watched the evolution of the game with a career that has lasted 18 years more than the longest NBA career. The Boston Celtics legend Robert Parish entered the league a year after Bavetta and played for 21 years. However, Parish did miss a game here and there, and Bavetta kept on going.
The 2,633 games that has labeled Dick Bavetta as the new Iron Man is just part of the story. That is 2,633 regular games. Bavetta has also officiated in 270 NBA Playoff games, 27 NBA Finals, and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona with the original Dream Team that included Magic, Jordan, and other NBA superstars.
Bavetta credits his work ethic to his father, who was a police officer from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. Bavetta recalls that he can not remember his father ever missing a day of work. Bavetta’s older brother Joe, a police detective, was who started him officiating basketball. Joe officiated games for the American Basketball Association and talked his brother into officiating.
Bavetta, who admitted he was an average player when he attended St. Francis College in New York, loved the game and began officiating youth league games. The Brooklyn born official worked his way up and then wanted to take on the NBA. Bavetta tried out for the NBA nine straight years in a row, and was rejected every time. He just did not have the experience to handle the NBA players.
Bavetta then spent time over the summer at the Rucker League where a lot of NBA talent would play. Officiating these games was just what Bavetta needed to break in to the big time and in 1975 he made it.
The new Iron Man Dick Bavetta is not done just yet. The record holding official will finish out this season, adding to his record. Once all the regular season games and playoffs are over Bavetta will sit down with his family and make the tough decision to either return for his 40th season or retire.
Commentary by Carl Auer