AMERICAN SPORT used to be supported by grunts who took pride in working quietly. These were people who had high standing in the catacombs of Soldier Field but were able to check bags at O'Hare unobserved. Freddie Brown, Rocky Marciano's secret-weapon cutman in the 1950s. The unsung assistant coach Phil Bengston, pacing the sideline alongside his boss, Vince Lombardi, in the 1960s. Bruce Edwards caddying for Tom Watson in the 1970s, keeping up and shutting up.
You know what happened. In no particular order: SportsCenter, YouTube, "film at 11." Modern times. Now everybody wants to be a rock star, and why not? Money for nothing and somebody to hold the door open. Attention is some drug.
Which brings us to Joey Crawford, the veteran NBA official who will retire at the end of this season, after 39 years doing the hustle. (He joined the league at 26 in 1977. Disco down and check out the show!) Maybe some team will give Crawford and Kobe Bryant, another product of Philadelphia basketball who's retiring this year, matching beach cruisers at one of those pregame thanks-for-the-memories extravaganzas.
How many times did Crawford issue Bryant (among scores of others) a showy technical foul or stage-whisper in his ear or tug at the back of his jersey? Maybe it was all in a night's work, but, man alive, did he milk it. Do you remember when Crawford gave Tim Duncan two third-quarter T's in a tight 2007 game against the Mavericks ... while the Spurs' unassuming big man was sitting on the bench? And Joey Crawford's fame spiked.
With fame comes polarization, so it's not surprising that some consider Crawford to be the worst official in the league while other (and more influential) voices consider him among the best. Crawford has always been a hard worker, and he knows the rule book inside and out. His trademark was a tight—maybe too tight—but fair game. NBA officials get assigned to work postseason games on the basis of league ratings, and Crawford has worked 313 playoff and Finals series games. If his knee recovers in time after surgery in November, he'll likely add to that total this spring.
Did Crawford want you to watch him? Of course he did. His father, Shag Crawford, the longtime (1956--75) MLB umpire, did not roll that way. Shag at least tried to walk away from irate managers, as was then the custom. Jerry Crawford, Shag's son, also an umpire, pretty much followed suit.
But his kid brother caught on with the NBA when it was morphing from below-the-fold sport to mainstream entertainment. Showtime basketball wasn't just Magic in the paint, Dick Stockton in the booth and Dyan Cannon in the stands. It was Joey Crawford at the officials' table, his chest heaving with adrenaline. He knew that red light was on him, and he reveled in it.
He's not alone. There's Cowboy Joe West, the veteran and famously hot-headed MLB umpire and country singer, who in September saw fit to engage in a 20-second sixth-inning staring contest with one Madison Bumgarner, the Giants' ace. There's Ed Hochuli, the lawyer and muscular NFL official, who body-built his way to the cover of this magazine, David Letterman's show and a slew of Madden NFL video games.
And it's not just refs. Consider the celebrity caddie Steve Williams, who won 13 majors with Tiger Woods. Williams had a Valvoline deal, and has a charitable foundation and a new book. He might as well wear shirts stenciled with the words CHECK ME OUT. Nobody is going to confuse Stephen A. Smith, a king of all sports media who walks with a player's strut, with Walter (Red) Smith, the legendary and modest 20th-century sportswriter. Red Smith's thing was to go to the stadium concourse between innings and "catch the scents" of cooking cabbage. That move will not help a guy's Q score. Stephen A. has 2.6 million followers on Twitter.
In retirement Crawford will likely ponder the same questions as Kobe. He can write a book, or not. He can start a basketball camp, or not. He can do TV, or not. With fame comes options and (sometimes) wealth.
When Shag Crawford retired from baseball, he became a starter at a golf course where he could play for free. You won't see Joey standing in a hut handing out scorecards anytime soon. He comes in big or not at all.
Faces in the Crowd
Consecutive games to start his career in which Spurs forward Tim Duncan had at least one point, an NBA record, before being held scoreless, last Saturday, in a 121--103 win over the Rockets. Duncan shot 0 for 3 from the field in 14 minutes of play.
All-purpose yards for Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey in the Cardinal's 45--16 win over Iowa in the Rose Bowl, the most in the game's 102-year history. McCaffrey's output included a 75-yard touchdown catch and a 66-yard punt return for a TD.
Career interceptions for Raiders safety Charles Woodson, fifth most in NFL history. Woodson, who played 11 seasons with Oakland and seven with Green Bay, announced his retirement on Dec. 21.
Amount won by Lakers fan David Moya for hitting a half-court shot before the fourth quarter of Los Angeles's 97--77 win over the Suns on Sunday at Staples Center. Moya said he hopes to use part of his prize to attend the April 13 home finale of Kobe Bryant's, who is making roughly $300,000 per game this season.
FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (CRAWFORD)
PETER DAZELEY/GETTY IMAGES (WHISTLE)
JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES (CRAWFORD AND JORDAN)
CHRIS COVATTA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (DUNCAN)
THEARON W. HENDERSON/GETTY IMAGES (WOODSON)