Veteran NBA referee Danny Crawford, one of the league’s best and most accomplished officials, is retiring.
The National Basketball Referees Association announced the news Wednesday on Twitter.
Crawford, 64, officiated 32 seasons and 35 Finals games, including two of the five games of the Cleveland-Golden State series in June.
"I left with gas in my tank," Crawford told USA TODAY Sports. "Could I have gone two more years? Yeah, I could’ve. But I looked at how many years I gave them and said, ‘When do you stop?’ You keep working this job and you can’t physically do it anymore. I didn’t want that. I wanted to leave with my gas in my tank and I wanted to leave in a positive way."
Crawford, who also was assigned to two All-Star Games, called his first Finals in 1995 – Game 2 between Houston and Orlando – and called at least one Finals game every season from that point until his retirement. He officiated more than 2,000 regular-season games and more than 300 playoff games.
Crawford knew Game 5 of the 2017 Finals was his last game as an NBA ref.
“Because I went into the season knowing I was going to retire, my goal was to try and talk myself out of it," he said.
He didn’t talk himself out of it.
"I made it a point to go into the year and make myself aware of the energy in the building," Crawford said. "I appreciated how talented the coaches were and how talented the players were and that I was a part of it all. I said to myself, 'You know what? I’m not going to miss it.' "
On the court, Crawford was calm and composed and had a commanding presence. He knew how to keep a game from getting out of control and had an outstanding rapport with players and coaches.
“I think I could relate to where the players and coaches were coming from because I played basketball,” Crawford said. “I had an awareness of the emotional state that the players and coaches were in. They had their pressures just like we had our pressures.
"My job was to give them an ear because they want to be heard. I think I did a pretty good job of listening and giving players and coaches the best answer I could give them. That’s all I could do. Be straight-up honest, no BS and hopefully move on. I had a great working relationship with players and coaches because I gave them the respect they gave me."
Before joining the NBA, Crawford spent time as a collegiate official and a Continental Basketball Association official. He began officiating as a student at Northeastern Illinois University to earn spending money.
Crawford began coaching basketball after graduation but the losses stung and he gravitated back toward officiating.
"There was never, ever a goal to be an NBA referee," Crawford said. "But once you get involved, you start going with the flow and being in the right place at the right time, you tend to grow with the profession. Everything just snowballed."
After officiating so many games, it is difficult for Crawford to pick one game or moment that stands out but calling Michael Jordan's last game as a Chicago Bull and calling Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals came to mind quickly.
"When you take a step back and think about your career, you think about how fortunate you were to be on the court during these special games," he said. "At the same time, you came out of those games with them not talking about the officials. The most important thing referees wants in a game is leave and nobody is talking about us."
Now, Crawford, who has spent more approximately 12 years staying in hotel rooms, will explore life without working NBA games.
"I know I have options," he said. "I can go on vacation. I can sit in the stands and watch high school basketball or college basketball. I know I'm not going to get bored. I want to test the waters away from the NBA and see if there's another world out here."
As good as Crawford was as a ref, he realizes the game keeps going.
"When you leave this profession, nobody asks for you anymore," he said. "You’re only as good as your next game and I understand that and I appreciate it. Take your ego out of it. It’s OK. I had a nice run. The NBA’s going to keep on rolling."
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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