Person of the Week: Dick Bavetta

ByABC News

Feb. 10, 2006 — -- Dick Bavetta, the dean of NBA referees, hasn't missed a game in 33 years. His streak is unmatched in his profession.

"It's been a great ride," he said. "I'm still trying to figure out where time has gone. Tonight is game number 2,135 consecutive."

He says he's a humble referee just trying to do his job .

"I've always considered myself as a grade-B actor -- someone who is also down in the credits, also starring," he said. "The players are the stars of the performance, and the game is the performance."

Some of the biggest names in the game believe he's the best in the business.

"I think Dick is an outstanding referee," said former NBA star Patrick Ewing. "He's not only stern, but he's fair.

For a ref, the ruff and tumble of pro sports is a demanding and occasionally dangerous business.

"I had the ability to step in between Patrick Ewing and Jalen Rose as they started to square off," Bavetta said. "Jalen Rose threw a fantastically strong round left hook that broke my nose."

Bevetta established his authority on the court early in his career, and no player escaped his whistle. During a Boston Philadelphia game in 1984, superstars Larry Bird and Julius Erving found that out first hand.

"Midway through the fourth period I look over -- Julius Erving and Larry Bird are choking each other," Bavetta said. "So I eject them from the game."

Bavetta, 66, is in astonishing shape. He runs eight miles a day just to keep pace with today's great young stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

"They're stronger and faster, so we adapt ourselves to these different situations," Bavetta said.

"It's sad and it's embarrassing because his body held up longer than mine did," said basketball great Charles Barkley.

Bavetta has a wife and two adult daughters. Three decades on the road has taken its toll.

"I've missed birthdays," he said. "I've missed anniversaries. It is difficult to be away from my family. I hope that I make them proud in the thing that I do."

Bavetta offered some modest words of wisdom, gleaned during a truly amazing career: "Oh, what a journey this all has been," he said. "From All Star Classics to finals games. It actually staggers my equilibrium. But to one and all, I must confess -- it's just basketball, nothing more, nothing less. And that's how I feel about it. "

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