For a former player to become a referee is, to Bullets guard Tim
Legler, like a sportswriter becoming a coach. "First you spend
all that time criticizing them," Legler says, "and then you're
one of them." No scribe has ever taken over an NBA team, but
this season Leon Wood has emerged as only the third ex-NBA
player to pick up an NBA whistle. (The others are Stan Stutz,
who reffed during the 1950s, and Bernie Fryer, who has been
officiating for the last 19 years.)
Wood, 35, was an All-America guard at Cal State-Fullerton, a
shooter of such skill that the 76ers made him the 10th pick in
the 1984 draft. He beat out John Stockton for a spot on the '84
Olympic team and won a gold medal in Los Angeles alongside
Michael Jordan. Wood's NBA career was disappointing, partly
because at 6'3" and 185 pounds he was built more like a point
guard than a shooting guard. He averaged 6.4 points and 3.2
assists in 274 NBA games for seven teams in six seasons, then
played in the CBA and overseas before retiring in 1994.
Wood soon began officiating, first at rec centers, then at high
schools. While his ascent to the NBA has been swift, Wood told
The Washington Post that his goal is to be a "great referee,"
not just a "survivor." Because of his familiarity with certain
players, some of his rulings do get extra scrutiny. "Last year
he did one of my games [as a replacement ref] against Chicago,"
recalls Washington forward Harvey Grant. "Michael committed a
foul right in front of him, and he didn't call it. I said, 'Oh,
you and Michael played in the Olympics, so you're not going to
call that, huh?' He got a big charge out of that."
COLOR PHOTO: SAM FORENCICH/NBA PHOTOS After teaming with Jordan in the '84 Games, Wood lost his golden touch. [Leon Wood]