Bright lights, as usual, spotlighting the real stars of the show: the players. And even more when it’s an NBA Final, like the one the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat are playing at the Disney World Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Among the 12 referees who earned their final trip to the NBA Finals to officiate at least in one of the games, there is one, Tony Brown, who has a liaison with Puerto Rico and is familiar to Puerto Rican players, managers, fellow officials, and perhaps a few fans.
Brown, 53, a native of Florida, began in the National Superior Basketball League (BSN, Spanish acronym) at the same time he began his NBA career 18 years ago. He had to wait all those years to reach an NBA Final, and now, along with Pat Fraher (19) and Josh Tiven (10), is making his debut in the NBA´s brightest stage.
In a 2008 Phoenix Suns gamer, former player Steve Nash questions referee Tony Brown. (Paul Connors)
Brown was not assigned to any of the first two games of the series (the second was last night), but he will make his debut Sunday or Tuesday, in the third or fourth game.
In a telephone interview from “the bubble”, Brown -also a finance graduate from Clark Atlanta University- spoke with El Nuevo Día about how his career grew almost at the same time in the NBA and the BSN.
-What does this opportunity mean, after all those years in NBA, and other leagues and countries like Puerto Rico and Venezuela?
It means a lot because the NBL really helped me prepare to work in NBA finals and, you know, working in Venezuela was a great training camp, but the BSN is what helped me prepare and become a complete referee. I´ve been in the NBA for 18 years, so it’s also been 18 years in the BSN. My first year in the NBA, Carlos Villanueva brought me to work and he is the reason I started officiating at the BSN.
-With almost two decades of career, did you ever think that the NBA Finals would never come, or is it the norm that it takes so long?
I don’t think there’s a schedule. The people who make that determination, they simply decide. When they decide that someone has reached the level to work at the highest stage, that’s when they give them the opportunity. They basically give that opportunity because it’s a position earned. You have to earn your place there; work your way there.
-You have a FIBA license, so you’ve worked internationally. Did that kind of basketball help you somehow to continue to progress in the NBA?
I think working at the BSN helps you become a better basketball referee. The BSN is a very good training ground, for learning. And basketball there is very good.
-How did, specifically, the BSN help you?
It helps since you are able to see good basketball players. It helps your own perspective. You know the games are good, the competition is very good. And, it just allows you to watch plays and learn to officiate at a higher level.
I guess you know that other NBA referees have also officiated in the BSN as well, such as Jack Nies, Ed Middleton, and Ted Bernhardt.
Yes, they were my mentors. And in fact, I went (to Puerto Rico) to help train some of the officials, but they realized that they helped me as much as I helped them.
-How do you compare being like in a WNBA All-Star Game and NBA, to the experience of a Final?
Oh, you know what? I don’t know yet, because I haven’t had that experience yet. (he laughs). But I’ll tell you one thing, the only thing I know for sure is that I think that when you’re ready to go out and work, once you get over your anxiety, you do what you’ve been trained to do. That’s all I can hope for (in his first Final game).
-What is your goal for the game you´ll be assigned?
Just to do a good job and avoid becoming the center of attention in the league.
-Do you have plans to return here in the future? Did you know that the BSN will play this fall in a bubble, like the NBA?
Well, depending on how things work out there, it may happen this year. That´s what I´ve heard (plans to play in a bubble). So, it could be this very year.