When the NBA’s Best Referee Steve Javie Retired, He Went to a Catholic Seminary to Become a Deacon

Referee Steve Javie (29) listens to Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan following a foul call against his team in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 103-97. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) ASSOCIATED PRESS

Newtown, Pa.

Near the end of his long career as an NBA referee, Steve Javie took a summer vacation with his wife. They decided to burn his unholy amount of frequent-flier miles and Marriott points on a trip to Saint Thomas. He was thinking about retirement, and this seemed like an ideal place to settle down. Javie could play golf, hit the beach and live in a tropical paradise.

It did not quite work out that way. Instead he would spend the next seven years committing himself to Catholicism.

“The calling comes and you go, ‘Uh oh, I gotta listen,’ ” he said.

Javie officiated his last NBA game in 2011. He soon began studying at his local seminary. He was recently ordained as a deacon by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. And this unexpected turn of events is how he found himself in church one Sunday morning wearing elaborate vestments to deliver a homily. He began with a confession.

“I’m a sports guy,” he said.

Javie comes from a long line of sports guys. The son of an NFL referee, he played and umpired minor-league baseball. When he eventually chose basketball, Javie had a 25-year career in the NBA and consistently ranked as one of the league’s top officials. “He was the best referee I ever worked with,” said his former colleague Joey Crawford, “and I worked with everybody.”

Crawford says that referees must have unimpeachable judgment, steady control of the game and deep knowledge of the rules. A good ref has one or two of those three traits. “He had all three,” he said. But even the best refs are prone to mistakes, and those errors can follow them forever. “You’re a scumbag for the rest of your life,” Crawford said. “Steve is not a scumbag. He’s the farthest thing from it. Players and coaches and people in our league have a different attitude about who we are and what we do. Steve really screwed that one up.”

Javie is still the face of NBA refs even in retirement. As the rules analyst for ESPN, he remains a constant presence on television, a floating head with unmistakable slick hair who explains questionable calls.

There is something oddly religious about the whole thing. The NBA summons Steve Javie to interpret the rules for the masses. He’s the closest thing there is to a basketball deacon.

Steve Javie during his deacon ordination on June 8 at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. PHOTO: SARAH WEBB/CATHOLIC PHILLY

The idea of becoming an actual deacon was not something that crossed his mind until very recently. As he put it: “My Bible used to be the sports page.”

But his old colleagues insist the man they used to call “Father Javie” was unusually qualified for this unlikely vocation. He wasn’t just a sports guy. He was also a religious guy.

When a bum knee forced Javie to hang up his whistle at the age of 56, he needed something else to do, and his friends were not entirely surprised when Javie decided to spend his retirement becoming a deacon. They knew that he attended daily Mass and had become more devout toward the end of his career. What did shock them was how long it would take to make a lifetime commitment.

“Seven years,” Javie said.

“Seven years?” Crawford replied.

It turns out there are few places in the world where the process of becoming a deacon is as demanding as it is in the Philadelphia diocese. The application lasted an entire year. His reward for being accepted: six years in a Catholic seminary.

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SOURCE: Wall Street Journal, Ben Cohen