Former NBA referee Joey Crawford has a reputation. Some believe him to be one of the better referees to ever have graced the Association. Others believe that Crawford vastly overstepped his purview while on duty as a referee.
No matter your opinion of Crawford, you no doubt remember the incident in 2007 between the veteran referee and then-San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan. During a game in Dallas against the Mavericks, Duncan was seen laughing after a call he didn’t agree with. The Spurs star had previously picked up a technical foul on the floor, and minutes later Crawford ejected him after seeing Duncan laughing.
It was certainly a low point for Crawford, both publicly and personally. Jackie MacMullan has been publishing an excellent mental health series over at ESPN, and Crawford was one of the people interviewed for the referee segment. He admitted that the league made him seek out therapy after ejecting Duncan in 2007.
The Duncan incident was in 2007. Duncan was sitting on the bench laughing. And I threw him. That laugh bothered me. I thought it was incredibly disrespectful. But I knew the minute it happened I was gonna be in trouble.
[The suspension] was a big deal. It really shook me. That’s when I realized, ‘I gotta do something about this.’ I had to talk to a professional to help me deal with all the anger.
Stern suspended me for the rest of the season. I thought there was a good chance my career might be over. Stern orders me to go see a Park Avenue psychiatrist. He tells me to go twice — two hours each session. This guy is going to make a determination on whether I’m crazy or not. I go up, and I’m scared to death. I’ve already been fined $100,000. I’m in a suit, and I’ve got sweat all the way down to my belt. So, this psychiatrist didn’t know a basketball from a volleyball. After two hours, he says, ‘OK, we’re all done.’ I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! I’m supposed to come another day for another couple of hours. Have you already decided I’m crazy?’ He said, ‘You’re not nuts.’ I said, ‘Well, what am I? What’s my problem?’ He said, ‘You’re overly passionate about your job.’ I thought, ‘OK, I can live with that diagnosis!’
I ended up going to see Dr. Joel Fish in Philadelphia. Everybody in Philly in the sports world went to see him when they were having problems. The guy saved my career. I started seeing him a couple of times a week.
The de-stigmatization effort in the NBA around mental health is an important one as it impacts how fans may view seeking out help for themselves while looking through the lens of their heroes on the floor.
Good for Crawford for making an adjustment, not only for his career but for his family as well.