Local referee Davis expects NBA All-Star Game to be special
No Bulls players were chosen to play in Sunday's All-Star Game at the United Center. But one of the referees, Marc Davis, is a Chicago native.
Davis grew up on the Southeast Side, a few blocks from Vocational High School. He has 22 seasons and more than 1,300 NBA games under his belt. Before working his second career All-Star Game, Davis spoke to Mike McGraw about reffing the NBA's midseason showcase and his rapid rise through the ref ranks:
Q: I would imagine you have to referee the All-Star Game differently from a normal NBA game. How do you approach it?
A: Some may say that the All-Star Game has kind of become a little bit more ceremonial and more of an exhibition than a game. But I really think this year is going to be the greatest game ever, and it's going to be an intense game. When you take the new format with the quarter scores, with them picking phenomenal charities like After School Matters and Chicago Scholars and all that they bring to the table. Then you put into context Kobe (Bryant's) unfortunate passing, adding 24 to the third-quarter score -- I think this game will be really special.
Q: How special will it be for you to work the All-Star Game in your hometown?
A: It's special to me because as passionate as I am about basketball, I love my city. I love Chicago. We have the greatest city in the world and you know that all eyes of the sporting world are going to be on your city. I think I was a sophomore or junior in college (at the U.S. Naval Academy) the last time they played here (in 1988). It was phenomenal to watch my hometown on TV and to watch that building and the electricity.
Q: I think maybe people don't appreciate how physically demanding it is to be an NBA referee, and you're still going strong at 53. How much of a challenge is that?
A: It is a physical job. We get some timeouts, we don't get any substitutions. We work three or four games a week, rarely ever five. We do work back-to-backs. They really try to keep us below 65 regular-season games now, which may not seem like a lot up against the teams and 82, but we don't get 41 home games.
I worked (last) Wednesday in Boston, with a two-person crew because one of our officials got hurt. Then I worked the next night in Milwaukee, I worked Sunday night in Cleveland, Monday night in Detroit, and I'm making my way to Indy right now.
There's so much involved in managing and refereeing an NBA game, it's the mental endurance that you kind of have to have, to me, more than the physical part.
Q: How did you first get started as a referee?
A: I was a graduate of St. Ignatius here and was doing some subbing and was a basketball coach at Hales Franciscan. The athletic director and one of my buddies I was coaching with, when my substitute gig ran out, they said, 'You ought to referee some grammar schools.' They play during the day. You can referee a couple games before you come to practice in the afternoon.'
As luck would have it, the first game I refereed, the gym teacher/coach was Mr. Fred Mills, who was one of my Southeast Little League coaches growing up and he refereed. He took me to a CYO tournament out west at the old Resurrection Grammar School. He took me under his wing, and it's been one progression of phenomenal mentors and teachers since then.
Refereeing is really something special. You will not find a profession where people are willing to help as much as other referees are willing to help their colleagues.
Q: Did you like it right away?
A: Immediately, ridiculously so. I was so challenged by it. I was so intrigued by it. Immediately, I became obsessed with figuring out how to do it, well before I ever thought about being in the NBA. I was just so passionate about it and obsessed by it. I wanted to be really, really good at it.
Q: You made a pretty quick rise to the NBA. How did that happen?
A: I started refereeing around Christmastime of '95. Just through a bunch of crazy turns and twists, I was in the NBA, my first game was in January of '99. Most of the people I got hired with, they had been refereeing for 10-15 years before they got there. I was just blessed to be in the right place at the right time with the right mentors. The level of basketball in Chicago while I was learning how to referee was phenomenal.
About two weeks after I started until I got hired in the NBA, I probably never went more than one day without refereeing. There was always basketball here. So many of the pros played, not only in the Chicago Pro-Am, but played out at Margate Park, played out west.
I got a chance to get really good reps early in my career and that kind of propelled me.
Q: Obviously, referees have to endure an unfair amount of verbal abuse. Does that ever get to you?
A: No. Look, people pay a lot of money and that's why they're called fans. The fans are passionate about it, and they're not able to be objective. At the same time, the teams couldn't call their owns fouls. So somebody's got to be objective out there and that's just kind of our lane and our niche.
You're affected by what you pay attention to. So what would really irritate me is a missed play or a missed decision or losing my concentration for a second or a player asking me about something and me not being able to give him the rule or appropriate response immediately. Those are the things that I'm focused on.
Q: You rank third among active NBA refs in number of Finals games worked, just ahead of fellow Chicagoan James Capers. Is that a source of pride?
A: Oh definitely, that is. And particularly because I've known Capes pretty much my whole life. We grew up around the block from each other. His younger brother was one of my best buddies. I always knew his dad (James Sr.) was a referee. We always commented when we saw his dad on TV. I never saw myself doing it.
To be tied with Capes on that, to be able to do that with one of your buddies, one of your friends; our families have been friends through Little League and things like that. To me, it's almost overwhelming when you think about it. Who would have ever thought two kids from the Southeast Side would be two of the top-rated referees in the NBA? It blows you away.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls