Recently I had a chance to ask Steve Javie a few questions. He is a former NBA official (1986-2011), who refereed in 23 NBA Finals games; currently an analyst for the ESPN. In 2017 he was selected to the National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame. “As a referee you had to be prepared mentally for anything to happen,” says Javie.
Your father [Stan Javie] was an NFL referee, you played many different sports and pursued baseball career. How did you end up as a basketball referee?
Never really thought about becoming an official early in my life, but after my playing days were done, I wanted to stay in the sports world. I loved playing baseball but officiating wise, basketball officiating was much more exciting and challenging for me. I started refereeing basketball while in college for some extra money in the intramural program.
What features of character do you think a referee should have?
Integrity of course. Fortitude. And must be objective and able to learn from mistakes.
How not to think about the criticism and focus on making correct calls?
Criticism is part of the job, and you can’t worry about it. Only if your boss is the one criticizing you should you worry.
During the 1990s you were one of the referees in playoff games between Knicks-Pacers, or Knicks-Heat. How difficult were such games for referees?
The 90’s was a physical time of play in the NBA and as a referee you had to be prepared mentally for anything to happen. If you know the rules and prepare for the worst, you can handle just about any situation.
You spent over 85,000 minutes on the court. How important is the physical preparation of the referee?
There is no doubt you have to be in good physical condition to officiate at really any level. But once you’re in that condition it becomes mental preparation.
Who were the most difficult players for you to handle as a referee? Trash-talkers, physical players, or slick veterans, who knew how to “cheat” you?
I thought Shaq was one of the most difficult players because of his strength. And Iverson because he threw himself into contact and landed on the floor so much. Reggie Miller was also really good going around screens making you think the defender was holding him, but he was the one doing the holding. Very slick.
In 1995 you made your debut in the NBA Finals. Do you think that this is the most one can achieve as a basketball referee?
Yes, without a doubt that is what you work for as an NBA official.
Kobe Bryant was known for studying the rulebook and knowing how the referees move on the court; Michael Finley also mentioned during a game that he read the rulebook. Have you ever been surprised by the player’s knowledge of your job?
Most players don’t know the rules so I’m surprised you could name two of them.
In 2003 you were the referee in Michael Jordan’s last game. How was it like to be a part of history, and do you have any story related to Jordan?
Nothing really specific comes to mind. Just that he was the best player I officiated, and he usually treated the referees with respect.
You refereed in 23 NBA Finals games. How difficult was it for you when you knew that your calls could be really important?
I never really thought of that. I was only concerned with concentrating on my job knowing I wouldn’t be perfect but not letting my mind think of things like that.
You refereed for the final time in Game 6 of 2011 NBA Finals. Did you feel that this could be your last game?
I knew it was going to be my last game because of my knee injury. I was fortunate to referee that year so I knew that was the end.
Have you ever rewatched a game or part of a game in which you e.g., assessed technical foul and thought you would make a different decision now?
I haven’t recently or since I’ve been retired but when I worked there were some times after watching the game and my calls that I wished I reacted differently.
The league has made a few changes concerning baiting for fouls on shot attempts. What do you think about this change?
I like the change. I never liked the fact that players weren’t trying to score but just trying to either get to the foul line or try to fool the referee. The players will adjust, and this will be better for the game in the long run.