-- NEW YORK -- Longtime NBA referee Dick Bavetta was honored before the Brooklyn Nets-New York Knicks game by the NBA for officiating in his 2,633rd consecutive regular season game.
Bavetta passed former Major League Baseball and Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr.'s ironman streak and was presented with a commemorative plaque and basketball by Rod Thorn, the NBA's president of basketball operations.
"Well it means that I am here and alive and happy," Bavetta said about what he thinks of his streak. "And it doesn't end here as they say. After tonight there is another game. That is what we (do). I am just blessed that the ironman streak has been broken here (at Madison Square Garden), I couldn't ask for something any better."
"I can't think of any reason unless it's an act of God with weather problems and things like that, but I've been blessed by the good Lord above with good health," he added. "So that has enabled me to stay healthy over the years and I think it's symbolic of our profession."
Bavetta, 74, who is a member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, began officiating NBA games in 1975 and has worked 270 playoff games in 29 straight seasons. He has officiated 27 NBA Finals games and three All-Star Games. Bavetta also was the first NBA referee selected to officiate the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.
"The NBRA is in awe of what Dick has accomplished," said Lee Seham, general counsel for the National Basketball Referees Association. "During his streak, he has worked tirelessly on the court and made sacrifices off the court to never miss an NBA game assignment. And what the public should keep in mind is that every referee works the entirety of every game he officiates."
Bavetta said there were several close calls due to inclement weather that could have interrupted his streak. Bavetta said NBA officials work 82 games a season -- averaging about 12 games a month -- and make all their own travel arrangements, which are paid for by the NBA.
So when there have been airport closings due to bad weather, Bavetta and his officiating crew have often rented cars to drive to the next city. He told stories of driving for several hours from Chicago to Detroit overnight in treacherous weather and driving from Toronto to Cleveland on the morning of a game as well due to flight cancellations.
Bavetta even once took a punch to the nose from Jalen Rose while trying to break up a fight between Rose and Patrick Ewing at the Garden. He refereed a Nets game the next night.
"Oh I have had many close calls over the years," Bavetta said. "We are contracted to do 82 games just like the teams. Unfortunately we don't get 41 home games so we are on the road quite often. It is something that becomes a part of your life.
"You have to be an independent individual," he continued. "And most importantly you have to have a family that is supportive of you, a wife that understands that you are going to miss a birthday here or there and daughters that understand that a prom may be missed or something like that. The NBA will try to work around that for you but that is part of what we do and it is an accepted fact and we accept that gladly."
Bavetta said he hasn't decided yet whether he will continue officiating beyond this season.
"Maybe get involved with the league office in some way or maybe come back," he said of his future plans. "I haven't really decided. ... I usually sit down with my family after the season is over, with my two daughters and my wife, and decide what are we going to do.
"The NBA is all there for me. Whatever I want, they are in favor of."