Steve Javie stands at the summit of the basketball officiating world. In June, Steve completed his 22nd season in the NBA and was selected to work the NBA Finals for the 14th consecutive season. Once known for a quick temper or “trigger finger” as he likes to call it, Steve is now lauded for his game management and is regarded as the best referee in the business by his coaches and his peers.
In an article published in the May 2008 edition of Refereemagazine, veteran NBA referee Joey Crawford called Steve “The best official I’ve ever worked with.” Crawford said that referees need to excel at rules knowledge, play calling and game management. “Only Javie has all three,” Crawford said.
In the same article, former official Ed T. Rush said, “Steve is the best official in the world right now.” Ken Mauer, the veteran NBA referee who wrote the foreword for “BasketCases: How Youth Basketball Parents Can Lower Their Blood Pressure and Keep Their Sanity” and broke into the NBA in 1986, the same year as Steve, gave his colleague a compliment that is perhaps more important: “Steve is one of the finest men I know.”
Steve, who lives in the Philadelphia area during the offseason, has also endorsed BasketCases as a great resource for youth basketball parents and coaches, saying “BasketCases is clever, insightful and engaging. If parents, coaches and officials follow Derek’s suggestions, the real winners will be kids who play this great game.”
Steve discussed basketball officiating with BasketCases author Derek Wolden during a recent telephone interview. The questions and answers are printed below:
DW: In addition to all the praise given to you in the Referee magazine article, former Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy called you “the best play caller” in the NBA during one of the 2008 playoff telecasts. How does it feel to be the top of your game?
SJ: It’s very humbling to hear that. But as you know, you are only as good as the last call you made. I’ve had plenty of bad ones. Officiating basketball is so subjective. You can look at one official and have an opinion and someone else can have the complete opposite opinion. It’s nice to know that in the opinion of some a lot of hard work has paid off.
DW: You worked in the CBA for five years before being called up to the NBA. Did you ever have any doubts that you wouldn’t make it?
SJ: Some other officials were called up after their second, third or fourth year, but I had faith in my abilities. I knew if I kept persevering, it would work out.
DW: Some people don’t know that your father Stan worked as a referee in the NFL for 30 years. What lessons did he teach you about officiating?
SJ: After tough games I would sit down and talk with my father. One of the things he taught me was to always stay in control. The sport, itself didn’t matter. Baseball umpires have out/safe calls; we have block/charge calls. The important thing is to keep control and manage the game. I had a lot of fights and other stuff early in my career that I had to restore order. My dad told me that was the best thing that could happen to me because now I know how to handle it.
DW: What is the most memorable game you ever officiated?
SJ: I’ve been on the court for three Michael Jordan game-clinching shots and officiated a great Finals’ overtime game between San Antonio and Detroit (in 2005 when Robert Horry hit a 3 with 5.8 seconds left in overtime to lift the Spurs to a one-point win at The Palace), but the most memorable game for me was my first NBA Finals game in 1995.
Joe Crawford was and still is my mentor. I worked my first 2 ½ years with him all the time. To be selected to work with Joe in my first NBA Finals game and to have my family there was very rewarding. That was the game in which Nick Anderson missed four free throws at the end of the game, Kenny Smith hit a three to force overtime and the Rockets went on to sweep the Magic.
DW: NBA referees breakdown every call and noncall they make on videotape following each game. When you see yourself kick a call on tape, how does that feel?
SJ: Sometimes you just want to fast-forward the tape. No one wants to see himself make a mistake. Sometimes you guessed or anticipated the play and didn’t see the whole play through. Other times your partner probably had a better look, and you wonder why you blew your whistle. On the other hand, it’s great to see the tape validate a tough call you got right. Sometimes, you are confident you know what happened, but you don’t always get to “see it.” Either way, the tape doesn’t lie.
DW: With 22 years of NBA experience under your belt, what do you try to teach younger officials?
SJ: Actually, I’m still learning all the time. I learned from working with great officials like Mike Mathis, Joey Crawford, Jake O’Donnell and Jack Madden, but I learn just as much from the newer guys coming up because they have different experiences and different perspectives. Experience isn’t the number of years you’ve done something; it’s what happened to you during those years that count.
DW: How long did it take for NBA coaches to accept and respect you?
SJ: It took at least 10 years, maybe 15. The most important thing you can do is be consistent. If you are consistent on the basketball court or as parents, others know what they can expect from you.
DW: Are you aware of how crazy officiating youth basketball has become?
SJ: I don’t have kids, but I’ve watched my nephew play, and it’s crazy. My nephew loves sports; he doesn’t care that much about which team wins. He just loves to play. It’s the parents who are more concerned about winning, way more than when I was officiating youth games. I don’t know if everyone thinks their kid is going to earn a Division I scholarship or what. I wish we could get back to a time in which kids played as many sports and possible and were well-rounded. Too much specialization and forcing kids to choose one sport isn’t good for kids.