Richard Jefferson has been almost everywhere around the game of basketball. He played for 17 seasons for a plethora of teams, then jumped into the broadcast booth for the past four years.
Now, as Jefferson heads into his fifth season as an on-air analyst, he tried his hand at one of the less savory jobs in the league: referee.
“I didn’t want to do this,” Jefferson said. “The NBA asked would I be interested. I have such a tremendous amount of respect for the referees, how important they are to the game and I’ve always treated every single one of them as such. I just respect them because I know their importance to our game and to the integrity to our game.”
— ESPN (@espn) July 12, 2022
Jefferson is no stranger to the whistle. He was called for 2,637 fouls over his 1,181 career games. That includes 45 technicals, as well, and two ejections. But actually playing the part of whistler was something Jefferson felt he needed to do to become a better analyst of the game.
“It’s been amazing because I love the game of basketball,” Jefferson said. “I like talking about the game of basketball so now I get an opportunity to learn a whole new piece of the game. That’s like my dream, for a basketball junkie, to sit in there and see how the referees think, how they talk, how they act, how they work together as a team. That type of stuff to me is so beneficial.”
While Jefferson appeared to enjoy the highs of holding the power of a referee, he also quickly felt the lows of fan scrutiny that come with wearing that responsibility. Early in his debut, Knicks fans heckled Jefferson during an out-of-bounds call he eventually reversed.
Other former NBA players as referees
Jefferson isn't the first former player to try his hand at officiating — three others made the post-career move as well: Haywoode Workman, Bernie Fryer and Leon Wood.
Workman is in his 13th year as a referee after playing 41 games in the NBA from 1993-1999 for the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks. Fryer officiated from 1978-2007 after a three-year NBA career for the Trail Blazers, Spirits of St. Louis and New Orleans Jazz. He also served as the vice president and director of officials in 2008. Wood is entering his 25th season after playing in 274 NBA games from 1984-1990. He also played in the Continental Basketball Association and the Phillippine Basketball Association before joining the referee ranks in 1996.
It's unclear if Jefferson liked the gig enough to stick with it on a more consistent basis. But if he's looking for another area of the game left to conquer, it seems the last option could be to try coaching.
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