Is the N.B.A.’s Most Hated Referee Additionally Its Finest? It Will depend on Whom You Ask.

by Christina S. Brown
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When he was a cocksure 25-year-old, on the quick monitor to officiating big-time faculty basketball, Scott Foster was summoned for a sit-down along with his dad.

They met at a bar, and his father, Dickie, introduced alongside a household buddy with expertise in high-level sports activities. They have been involved about Foster, who was mulling a daring profession transfer. It was 1992, and he had been provided a job within the Continental Basketball Affiliation, then a coaching floor for the NBA, making $95 a recreation. However to take action, he must forgo his schedule — and profession path — of officiating Division I video games, which on the time have been paying him $250 a recreation. His dad and buddy couldn’t see the logic of accepting much less cash, much less publicity and fewer stability.

His dad’s phrase carried a whole lot of weight, not simply with Foster, however throughout Maryland’s Montgomery County. Dickie Foster was a adorned assistant hearth chief, an completed softball participant and the heart beat of the frequent events on the Foster home. As individuals splashed of their pool, and his dad grilled meats, Foster says he can keep in mind being cornered by firefighters passionately telling him tales about his dad’s heroics, his dad’s management and the way a lot his dad meant to them.

“The one job cooler than a firefighter in my neighborhood rising up was Main League Baseball participant,” Foster mentioned. “So he was an enormous deal.”

However on today on the bar, as his dad addressed Foster’s new job supply, Dickie Foster used phrases like “pipe dream” and “one-in-a-million” and “few-and-far between.” Foster remembers his dad’s ultimate phrases on the matter: “Not everybody might be Michael Jordan.”

“However …” Foster remembers telling his dad, “what if I’m the Michael Jordan of officiating?”

Right this moment, Foster insists he mentioned that in jest. However it’s important to notice that greater than 30 years later, he remembered that scene, and that line, sufficient to retell it. And it’s important to notice that greater than 30 years later, Foster has ascended to Jordanesque stature amongst NBA referees.

The NBA employs 74 NBA officers, and none can boast a résumé extra spectacular than Foster’s: he’s the lively profession chief in playoff video games (252, via Could 19), Finals video games (24) and consecutive years officiating within the Finals (16 and counting). As this season’s playoffs head towards the convention finals, Foster stays within the forefront with probably the most playoff assignments.

Many followers, gamers and coaches, nevertheless, have a special evaluation of his work.

One NBA head coach, who requested anonymity for concern of retribution in future video games, mentioned he considers Foster among the many worst of NBA referees, citing his conceitedness, his unwillingness to hear and his tendency to incite, somewhat than defuse, battle.

Some gamers, most notably stars Chris Paul and James Harden, have publicly criticized Foster, calling him impolite and conceited whereas suggesting he holds grudges. Paul, who served because the gamers’ union president from 2013 to ’21, has gone as far to say, a number of instances, that Foster makes his video games “private.”

And there may be an undercurrent of distrust due to Foster’s ties with Tim Donaghy, the previous NBA referee who went to jail for his involvement in a betting scandal.

The hole between how Foster is considered by some gamers and coaches, and the way the league sees him, highlights a difficulty that has plagued the NBA for years and sharply escalated this season: the standard and consistency of the league’s officiating. The league this season levied $765,000 in fines to gamers and coaches for criticism and/or inappropriate conduct towards officers, up from the $385,000 fined final season. Postgame information conferences are sometimes as notable for coaches’ denunciations of the referees as for commentary concerning the gamers.

Foster’s polarizing standing derives from two of his definitive traits: His accuracy in calling a recreation and what’s considered as an disagreeable bedside method. It has led to an advanced legacy, one which confuses and pains him.

“I might adore it if I might be a cross between Joe Crawford, who was a robust referee, and Dick Bavetta, who was a beloved referee … however proper now, that’s not doable,” Foster mentioned.

Scott Foster (proper) celebrates along with his mother, Pam, and pop, Dickie, after working a recreation as a rookie in December 1994. His dad is sporting the primary referee jacket issued to Scott. (Courtesy of Scott Foster)

Tommy Foster estimates he was 14 when he and his associates occurred upon his older brother, standing in entrance of a mirror. The neighborhood children all regarded as much as Scott, who was 4 years older. Tommy calls his oldest brother his “protector” and the “chief of the household,” however on today, the group of youngsters couldn’t consider their eyes.

There was Foster, in entrance of the mirror, training the nuances of his newest job: basketball referee. Each time he blew his whistle, he would follow a special sign. (Whistle) … raised hand for a foul … (whistle) … a rolling of the arms for journey … (whistle) … rigidly inserting his fingers on his hips for a blocking foul. Tommy and his associates have been gobsmacked.

“We have been like … ‘You’re a weirdo,’” Tommy mentioned. “‘Get out of the mirror, psycho.’”

Foster was 18, and starting to have a look at officiating as greater than only a strategy to make spending cash. He first put a whistle in his mouth when he was in highschool. He coached each of his youthful brothers, Tommy and David, and a requirement on the Montgomery Rec Middle was for coaches to remain after their recreation and referee the following contest. He says he nonetheless remembers his first appropriate name in a kind of youth video games, a baseline drive that was disrupted by an excessive amount of contact from the defender. The sequence of blowing the whistle, elevating his fist and reporting the foul to the scorer’s desk gave him a sense of accomplishment.

“To do all that, it felt good,” Foster mentioned. “So I mentioned, ‘I need to do that on a regular basis.’”

Looking back, Tommy says it is sensible that his oldest brother went into officiating. Ever since they have been children, Scott was the one who upheld the sanctity of the Candlewood Park neighborhood video games in Derwood, Md. Whether or not the children have been enjoying Wiffle ball, soccer or basketball, Tommy mentioned Scott’s phrase held weight not solely as a result of he was the oldest, but in addition as a result of he was probably the most sincere.

“I used to be a dishonest little s—,” Tommy mentioned. “I simply at all times needed to win. And since I used to be the youngest, I used to be at all times on my brother’s workforce. So there can be instances like, although I knew I solely received one foot in bounds on a catch (in soccer), I might argue that I received each toes in. And we’d go on and on, till Scott would are available in and be like, ‘We’re not dishonest right here. Your guys’ ball.’ His integrity … he at all times needed to do the fitting factor.”

Foster’s dedication to officiating at such an early age was constant along with his work ethic rising up. At 16, he purchased a pink 1967 Ford pickup for $250. It had a rusted mattress, three-on-the-tree transmission and a tailgate that solely Foster knew easy methods to shut. The truck got here in helpful when he took to slicing neighbors’ lawns. Quickly, he was canvasing extra prospects, and with the added earnings he purchased a trailer and extra mowers. Then he added biweekly trash disposal to his choices. Foster’s Upkeep was born. At its peak, Foster’s Upkeep had 25 residential prospects, seven banks and a memorable reprimand from the Magruder Excessive Faculty workplace.

The varsity car parking zone was as soon as littered in rubbish, courtesy of crows that had raided Foster’s pickup mattress.

The crows ended his follow of ready till after college to dump his prospects’ trash, nevertheless it wasn’t till he was 18 that he handed the enterprise all the way down to his center brother, David, who’s three years youthful.

“It was the day I reached right into a trash can and got here out with a hand dirty by a child diaper,” Foster mentioned. “Later within the day, I took a load to the dump and maggots received throughout my legs. That was my official considered, ‘I ought to go to varsity.’”

He went to the College of Maryland, and attended basketball video games at Cole Subject Home not a lot to observe the gamers however somewhat the mannerisms and mechanics of legendary ACC referees Lenny Wirtz and John Moreau. He additionally went to catch glimpses of Paula, the cheerleader he would later marry. It was 1988, and as he labored highschool video games in Washington D.C., he dreamed of in the future officiating certainly one of faculty basketball’s most famed matchups: Duke versus North Carolina.

Little did Foster know, however as soon as he determined to undertake a whistle as his commerce, there can be worse days forward than child diapers and maggots, and larger video games on the horizon than Duke versus North Carolina.

In his excellent world, Foster imagines being nameless. No person is aware of him, no person has even heard of him. However he misplaced that privilege in 1996, his second NBA season.

Whereas working his first nationally televised recreation, Foster ejected Lakers star Magic Johnson for bumping him, incomes Johnson a three-game suspension and $10,000 effective. Famed Lakers fan Jack Nicholson went onto the courtroom and gave Foster the choke signal — two fingers across the throat. Announcer Bob Costas analyzed the ejection at halftime.

“It was like Kennedy received assassinated once more,” Foster mentioned. “It was brutal. That was in all probability the primary time individuals heard my title … nevertheless it’s not like I mentioned ‘Thank god, that put me on the map.’ The very last thing I needed was to be the lead on SportsCenter and CNN information.”

It was a referee’s nightmare: he had turn out to be a part of the story.

“You by no means need to be recognized,” Foster mentioned. “Everyone thinks I really like the highlight, and says, ‘We didn’t come right here to see you’ and I’m like, ‘I do know. I get it. I don’t need you to come back see me. I’m not price seeing, to be sincere with you.’”

But, Foster has had a tough time avoiding consideration. Because the Magic ejection, he has weathered a confrontation in an area storage, an FBI investigation, two NBA investigations and a listing of what detractors say are fast technical fouls, vindictive whistles and conceited indifference — all delivered with a glance as if he simply encountered one other dirty diaper.

The conflicts and confrontations have led to what Foster calls “the noise.” Criticism that he’s conceited. Complaints that he refuses to speak with gamers and coaches. Insinuations that he can’t be trusted. And insistence that he holds grudges.

He says he can deal with “the noise,” partly as a result of it’s a part of the job and partly as a result of he’s held within the highest regard by his friends. His in-game grading has yearly rated him on the prime of the occupation, in keeping with Monty McCutchen, the pinnacle of NBA officers. Referee Tyler Ford, in his ninth NBA season, says Foster is the “elite of the elite.” And Ashley Moyer-Gleich, in her sixth season, mentioned, “Scott isn’t top-of-the-line. Scott is the perfect.”

Even probably the most adorned of the occupation, together with retired referee Danny Crawford, who officiated in 23 consecutive NBA Finals, say Foster is phenomenal.

“Scott Foster is by far one of many prime referees within the recreation, if not the highest referee,” Crawford mentioned. “So far as his character and other people not liking him? It’s as a result of he takes no flack. If you happen to come at him in an unsportsmanlike method, you’ll pay for it.”

As a lot as Foster says he can deal with the noise, it turned obvious throughout an prolonged interview with The Athletic that Foster has been pierced by a trident of accusations. He calls them the “Three Issues” and referenced the “Three Issues” 3 times over the course of his interview, which was monitored by a communications official for the NBA.

Foster’s “Three Issues” are at all times in the identical order:

1. The 134 cellphone calls Foster exchanged with referee Tim Donaghy throughout a seven-month span when Donaghy was betting on NBA video games and offering inside info to bookies.

2. Friction with Paul, the All-Star guard, which has included veiled accusations by Paul that Foster made issues private within the wake of a postgame encounter in 2015 with Paul’s younger son.

3. A set of nameless participant polls, one by The Los Angeles Occasions in 2016 and one by The Athletic in 2023, during which gamers voted Foster the worst referee within the NBA. In a 2019 ballot by The Athletic, gamers voted Foster the second-worst ref behind Tony Brothers.



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“Individuals need to grasp onto the destructive and use three issues that discredit Scott Foster … so now, you possibly can take these three issues and principally say, ‘Have a look at all this proof!’” Foster mentioned. “However anyone who research and appears on the variety of performs I name for this workforce, and that workforce, and the way truthful I’m … and principally I feel each coach on this league would agree that I’ve the braveness to do what’s unpopular, however what’s hopefully proper.”

Chris Paul and Scott Foster

In three of the previous 4 seasons, Scott Foster has officiated solely certainly one of Chris Paul’s regular-season video games. (Christian Petersen / Getty Pictures)

If Magic Johnson first put the highlight on Scott Foster in 1996, Chris Paul has made certain Foster stays beneath scrutiny.

No less than 4 instances since 2018, Paul has publicly claimed that Foster is out to get him and the workforce for which he performs. Paul has voiced a wide-ranging record of complaints — from unprovoked technicals in 2019, to Foster allegedly making inappropriate feedback earlier than a 2020 playoff recreation, to stating in 2021 that he had misplaced 11 consecutive playoffs video games during which Foster officiated (a streak that may attain 13 earlier than it resulted in 2023). Additionally, in November, Foster ejected Paul with consecutive technicals at Phoenix. After the sport, Paul mentioned Foster years in the past was concerned in an incident along with his son, Chris Paul Jr.

“We had a state of affairs some years in the past, and it’s private,” Paul mentioned in November. “The league is aware of, all people is aware of, and it’s been a gathering and all that. It’s a state of affairs with my son.”

The strain stems from an incident on April 28, 2015. That night time, Foster officiated Sport 5 of the first-round playoff collection between Paul’s Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs received 111-107. Though Paul was given a technical within the fourth quarter, it was issued by Josh Tiven, and the sport didn’t function any egregious benefit from a foul or free throw standpoint.

The Spurs have been whistled for 5 extra fouls than the Clippers, and the Clippers tried 5 extra free throws. Of the 59 fouls referred to as within the recreation, Foster whistled 23, Tiven 21 and Invoice Kennedy 15. Of Foster’s calls, 12 went towards the Clippers, together with two of Paul’s three private fouls.

After the sport, Don Vaden, then the NBA’s director of officers, loaded into an SUV with the officiating crew. Vaden mentioned Paul noticed them entering into the automotive, and as Foster began the automobile to drive out of the world, Paul positioned himself in the course of the exit lane, blocking their departure. As he did this, Paul turned his again to the automotive whereas holding the hand of his 5-year-old son.

As Foster idled, uncertain what to do, Vaden mentioned he summoned a safety guard to ask Paul to maneuver. Because the safety guard was speaking to Paul, Foster tapped his horn, and Paul acted shocked earlier than transferring to the aspect.

“I received house the following day and was advised there have been accusations made that I did one thing unprofessional,” Foster mentioned. “The NBA did an investigation and located there was nothing discovered that wanted to be mentioned or anyone talked to. And that was the top of that.”

Did he ever say one thing to Paul’s son?

“Noooo,” Foster mentioned.

Was there any interplay in any respect with the son?


The incident remained delicate sufficient {that a} assembly was arrange the next season, within the spring on the Clippers’ follow facility. In attendance have been Foster, Paul, Paul’s father, then-Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Bob Delaney, a former referee who had moved into NBA administration overseeing officers. Delaney couldn’t be reached by The Athletic.

Paul has 3 times referenced the assembly in interviews, and in April, when requested by The Athletic about specifics concerning the assembly, Paul declined to elaborate. He repeated that as an lively participant, he was unable to say something about Foster, citing the concern of a effective or retaliation from Foster’s colleagues.

“I gotta wait … I can’t say nothing,” Paul mentioned.

Foster acknowledged that he was current on the 2016 assembly and took part within the dialogue with Paul, Paul’s father and Rivers.

“I used to be advised that assembly was personal, and that it might keep personal endlessly, and that’s what I’m sticking to,” Foster mentioned. “The truth that individuals learn about it’s too dangerous. I feel it was a good suggestion. There was in all probability a small honeymoon interval, or one thing like that, and I feel it helped so far as making an attempt one thing.”

No matter occurred within the assembly, it didn’t resolve the strain.

Within the 2017 playoffs, because the buzzer sounded after Paul’s Clippers misplaced Sport 5 to Utah, Paul faked throwing the ball at Foster, inflicting Foster to flinch along with his fingers and legs. Foster mentioned he has no recollection of the incident.

One 12 months later, Paul would be a part of Houston, and his clashes with Foster would comply with.

Throughout a January 2018 recreation towards Portland, Paul was whistled for a foul by Foster, then approached referee Courtney Kirkland, saying, “That’s Scott … that’s Scott …” Foster overheard the remark and gave him a technical foul.

“Scott Foster at his most interesting … simply … by no means fails,” Paul advised reporters whereas shaking his head. Later he added, “There’s historical past there. However that’s Scott, you recognize, he ‘The Man.’ That’s who they pay to see.”

The subsequent season, Paul and Rockets teammate James Harden complained about Foster after a 111-106 loss on the Lakers, during which each fouled out. Of the six fouls administered to every participant, Foster referred to as two on Harden and two on Paul. Foster additionally gave Paul and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni technical fouls with 33 seconds remaining.

“Scott Foster, man,” Harden mentioned after the sport. “I by no means discuss concerning the officiating, however simply impolite and conceited. I imply, you aren’t in a position to discuss to him all through the course of a recreation, and it’s like how do you construct that relationship with officers?”

When requested if he thought Foster was making it private, Harden was emphatic.

“Yeah, for certain,” he mentioned. “For certain it’s private. For certain. Like, I don’t suppose he ought to even be capable to officiate our video games anymore, truthfully.”

Paul was extra reserved, however clearly exasperated.

“Uh, I imply, I don’t know what else to do,” Paul advised reporters. “Met with the league with him earlier than and all these items … I don’t know what else to do.”

Foster insists the general public criticism from Paul, Harden or any participant doesn’t have an effect on the way in which he calls video games. All through questions on Paul, Foster was reserved and composed, and his voice by no means modified in quantity or octave.

“I hoped all this may all go away that day, the day of the assembly,” Foster mentioned.

In 2020, Paul alluded that Foster made an inappropriate remark to him earlier than his Sport 7 playoff recreation. ESPN reported that Paul mentioned Foster made some extent to inform him he refereed his final Sport 7, a loss when Paul was with New Orleans in 2008.

Foster remembers the interplay in another way.

“Throughout that season I had, in my thoughts, discovered some widespread floor, and fairly good interplay between the 2 of us,” Foster mentioned. “And in an try and additional construct a bridge and discover widespread floor, I discussed to Chris previous to the sport that my first Sport 7 I ever labored was that recreation (in 2008). The dialog appeared like a pleasing alternate among the many two of us. I figured all Sport 7s are one thing to recollect and cherish, and I simply shared that was the primary I ever labored.”

What Foster says bothers him greater than something is the social-media narrative constructed by “the individuals with the stats” who’ve tried to “construct a case” that Foster is towards Paul. Paul’s groups are 4-18 in playoff video games refereed by Foster; 3-17 in video games Paul performed. Paul is 73-56 in playoff video games not officiated by Foster.

“I went again and tried to determine a few of these video games,” Foster mentioned. “Like, one was a recreation in New Orleans, I feel they have been enjoying Denver, and so they lose by like 50 (it was 121-63). Like, in what world can you place that on me?

“I imply, actually? In what world can you place that on me?’

NBA referee Ashley Moyer-Gleich, pictured with Foster (left) and Curtis Blair, says: “Scott isn’t top-of-the-line. Scott is the perfect.” (Gary Bassing / NBAE by way of Getty Pictures)

Participant and/or workforce feuds with referees are a part of NBA lore.

Scottie Pippen insisted Hue Hollins was out to get him. Clyde Drexler and Jake O’Donnell have been so frosty that O’Donnell as soon as refused to shake fingers. Tim Duncan accused Joey Crawford of difficult him to a combat. And Danny Crawford mentioned, “Dallas used to hate my guts,” as a result of the Mavericks as soon as misplaced 16 of 17 playoff video games he officiated (Dallas was 6-17 in playoffs officiated by Crawford).

“Each period has the referee who all people hates,” mentioned former NBA referee Invoice Spooner, who retired in 2020 after 32 seasons. “However guess what? They’re those working the large video games. Earl Strom, Jake (O’Donnell), Joey Crawford … all people hated these guys. Similar with Scott. But when it’s an enormous recreation, and the league desires any person to run the sport, Scott goes to be on it. As a result of he’s a rattling good referee.”

The most recent chapter between Foster and Paul — when Paul was ejected in a November recreation towards the Phoenix Suns — is notable as a result of it was the final time the NBA assigned Foster to a recreation involving Paul’s Warriors. Foster officiated 61 common season video games this season, and referred to as the video games of all 30 groups, together with some groups as many as seven instances, and a few groups as many as six instances. Golden State is the one workforce Foster officiated as soon as.

It’s the third time up to now 4 seasons that Foster has officiated solely certainly one of Paul’s regular-season video games. Within the 4 seasons prior, Foster refereed Paul a median of 4 video games per common season, together with six in 2017-18.

McCutchen, the league official who oversees referees, acknowledged the friction between Paul and Foster, however he mentioned he would by no means deliberately hold a referee away from a workforce due to battle.

“Anytime there may be some high-level stress, we give it some respiration room,” McCutchen mentioned. “We don’t have a set time on that. What I can let you know is I didn’t inform our scheduler, ‘Don’t give Scott Foster any extra Golden State video games.’ That I can let you know. If I didn’t belief to assign a referee to a workforce or a participant, then we shouldn’t keep away from assigning them to that workforce, we must always hearth that referee. As a result of in the event you can’t assign each referee with confidence due to an integrity query, then these referees needs to be fired.”

McCutchen mentioned the 144-day hole of Foster final working a Golden State recreation will not be uncommon. He cited 34 situations this season of an official having 144 or extra days between working a workforce. He additionally mentioned of 16 crew chiefs, 10 this season both noticed a workforce one or zero instances. He mentioned if the Warriors had made the playoffs, “Scott would have seen Golden State.”

Foster mentioned he merely goes the place he’s advised.

“Clearly, I seen I didn’t return (to a Warriors recreation),” Foster mentioned. “However there’s been numerous years that I don’t return to locations. However I’m not naive sufficient to suppose that there wasn’t some motive, motive.”

The three former referees interviewed for this text, every now not beneath the watchful eye of the league, notice that the Paul-Foster feud has been narrated from one aspect. The NBA largely restricts officers from talking to the media, so the one vantage of the battle, they declare, has been via Paul’s lens.

Spooner, the retired ref with 32 years within the league, mentioned he thinks Paul has been constructing a calculated marketing campaign towards Foster.

“I’m going to let you know, and I do know you might be recording me, however I get requested on a regular basis: ‘Who’re among the powerful guys, among the dangerous guys?’ And once I inform them that Chris Paul, in my 32 years within the league, was one of many largest a–holes I ever handled, they are saying, ‘Not Rasheed Wallace … or da-da-da?’ Nope. Nothing like (Paul),” Spooner mentioned. “And they’re like, ‘Oh, he looks as if such a pleasant man.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, he’s an excellent picture cultivator.’”

Foster mentioned he has tried to evaluate how he comes throughout when he levies fouls and technicals. He mentioned he has by no means been reprimanded by the NBA, however he and McCutchen famous the 2 have had discussions about his physique language and the way his demonstrative and authoritative methods are obtained by coaches and gamers.

“One of many issues we train round right here is that calling a technical foul needs to be the identical factor as calling a journey, or a forearm examine. We have now a typical,” McCutchen mentioned. “If you’re ever giving a technical foul with the concept ‘no person talks to me that method’ … this has nothing to do with you. The NBA has a typical of what’s a great or not a great technical foul. It’s necessary we maintain individuals to that commonplace … Scott has actually grown to making use of the usual now.”

Whereas Foster has his detractors amongst NBA coaches and gamers, he additionally has the respect of others. Chauncey Billups has skilled Foster from two views: as a Corridor of Fame participant throughout his 17-year profession and as Portland’s head coach for the previous three seasons.

“I feel Scott is a wonderful official,” Billups mentioned. “He’s not going to place up with any s—. He’s an old-school man in the way in which that I like officers, like Joey Crawford, Steve Javie … they aren’t going to take nothing, whether or not you’re the finest participant or a participant up from the G League. It’s the identical respect given. So I’ve at all times revered that about him.”

Billups mentioned he thinks what hurts Foster is his physique language and his pure affectation. Billups mentioned Foster usually appears aggravated or in a nasty temper, and famous he hardly ever, if ever, smiles. It took years for him to succeed in the conclusion that it’s simply Foster’s pure look.

“If you happen to don’t know him, it appears like there’s a degree of conceitedness with him,” Billups mentioned. “And I’m not going to let you know that I do know him nicely, however I’ve been in sufficient video games with him to know that’s not the case. It’s his look (he chuckles) … critically, although. However in the event you don’t know, and you’ve got social media out right here, and also you take a look at him, you possibly can simply run with that narrative that he’s offended and conceited. He’s not.”

Spooner mentioned he and different referees teased Foster about his take-no-flack popularity. He remembers listening to Darell Garretson, the previous head of referees, telling the troops that they want to have the ability to undertake a special character when on the ground.

“Garretson would say, ‘It’s a must to be keen to go from zero to a—gap in a heartbeat,’” Spooner mentioned. “And I used to joke, ‘Effectively, you’ve received that half down, Scott.’”

Some unease about Foster goes past his temperament. One participant who simply accomplished his sixth NBA season, and who requested anonymity for concern of violating the league’s coverage on criticizing officers, mentioned Foster’s friendship with Donaghy, and the 134 cellphone calls exchanged between the 2, is introduced up amongst gamers. They surprise if Foster was concerned within the betting scandal.

“There’s hypothesis about that,” the participant mentioned.

This season, that hypothesis was on show courtesy of Minnesota middle Rudy Gobert. He was fined after an everyday season recreation in March and once more within the playoffs for making a gesture after being referred to as for a foul: rubbing his forefingers to his thumb, insinuating that cash is on the road. In each video games, Foster was crew chief.

“I wouldn’t say it offends me, nevertheless it undoubtedly impacts me, the place I’m going, ‘Wow, man. Like actually?’” Foster mentioned of Gobert’s gesture. “I imply, come on. That’s not what we’re about. You’ve received to be kidding me you suppose that. I simply suppose that has turn out to be a logo of disrespect, or a method you disrespect an official.”

However there it’s. For everybody to see. The No. 1 factor of the “Three Issues.”

“I discuss till I’m blue within the face, and both individuals are going to consider me, or they don’t,” Foster mentioned.

The voice on the phone is uneasy, and reluctant to speak. It’s a voice from Scott Foster’s previous, a voice with which Foster now not communicates.

“Does he know that you just have been calling me?” Tim Donaghy requested. “How come the NBA is letting you do a narrative on him? They normally don’t permit that …”

Earlier than Donaghy served a jail sentence for his function in a playing scheme, he was associates with Foster. Shut associates.

“We have been like brothers,” Donaghy mentioned.

In 2003, Donaghy named Foster the godfather of his daughter, Molly. Shortly after, Foster named Donaghy the godfather of his oldest son, Kyle.

Right this moment, Donaghy mentioned he has misplaced contact along with his godson. And he has not spoken to Foster since 2007, when Donaghy knew he was about to be arrested and referred to as Foster to inform him he couldn’t play in a golf match.

Donaghy had positioned bets on NBA video games, together with ones during which he officiated, and had supplied confidential info, equivalent to participant accidents and referee assignments, to bookies. Donaghy pleaded responsible to 2 felonies: conspiracy to commit wire fraud by denying his employer the intangible proper to sincere companies and conspiracy to transmit wagering info.

Foster turned publicly embroiled within the controversy in 2008 when it was reported that he and Donaghy exchanged 134 cellphone calls through the time Donaghy was working along with his co-conspirators. Lots of the calls lasted now not than two minutes and have been positioned within the hours earlier than or after video games, and among the calls have been made shortly earlier than or after Donaghy spoke to certainly one of his co-conspirators.

In August 2007, the FBI contacted Foster and interviewed him over the cellphone.

“I keep in mind having a dialog with one of many FBI brokers, and so they mentioned they turned his life the other way up,” Donaghy mentioned of Foster. “And so they really felt dangerous for all the things he went via, simply because he was related to me. It clearly didn’t look good, the cellphone calls didn’t look good, however I can simply let you know Scott wasn’t concerned in any method, form or type. I don’t care what anyone says. I do know the true story.”

Whereas the FBI was investigating Foster, the NBA employed former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz and his regulation agency to conduct a evaluate of the league’s officiating. The Pedowitz report was 133 pages, with seven dedicated to Foster. Pedowitz famous that through the 14-month investigation, Foster supplied cellphone information from December 2006 via June 2008.

In his report, Pedowitz mentioned Foster and Donaghy exchanged 170 cellphone calls through the timeframe of Donaghy’s involvement along with his co-conspirators. Pedowitz additionally reported he discovered that quantity wasn’t uncommon amongst NBA referees.

“That’s how we communicated in 2007,” Foster mentioned. “Anytime any person desires to discredit me, or query my integrity, they draw this conclusion from this 134-phone-call article… and it’s like, ‘That’s the proof!’ There is no such thing as a proof. As a result of it didn’t occur. Right this moment, when individuals hear anyone referred to as somebody 134 instances, it’s like ‘Wow! That’s bizarre.’ As a result of it’s bizarre. I didn’t have textual content messaging in 2007. I had a Motorola Razor, which in the event you needed to textual content ‘Sure’ in a textual content message it was 23 keystrokes or one thing loopy like that.”

In conclusion, the Pedowitz report mentioned Foster’s cellphone information “don’t in our view increase issues about his integrity.”

Donaghy was sentenced to fifteen months in jail, however Foster mentioned he looks like he’s the one serving a jail sentence.

“I by no means, ever mentioned I wasn’t associates with Tim Donaghy. I used to be,” Foster mentioned. “However I would like everybody to know I had no thought what was happening. (After Donaghy was arrested) it was the bottom morale of our employees, the bottom morale of my life. I misplaced a buddy who I haven’t spoken to since then, not out of something apart from … that’s simply how dangerous it was.”

Donaghy, who served 11 months, now resides in Florida, the place he lives off the lease from 15 properties he purchased in 2008 and 2009. He says he nonetheless watches the NBA, and he turns into unhappy when he sees Foster.

“One in every of my largest regrets is that me and him have been very, very shut,” Donaghy mentioned. “It’s upsetting to me understanding he’s getting a whole lot of s— due to what our relationship was on the time. So, that’s powerful … simply powerful once I take into consideration that relationship. I wasn’t going to name you again, however I’m hoping sooner or later, when Scott steps away, we are able to discuss. And I can apologize to him. You by no means know, perhaps that friendship might be pieced again collectively. I’m unsure.”

Foster has officiated 24 NBA Finals video games, greater than some other lively referee. (Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE by way of Getty Pictures)

As his flight was getting ready to go away Boston on Could 8, Foster bolted to the airplane bathroom. He wanted to cry.

By nature, Foster will not be emotional, not to mention a crier. The final time he was moved to tears was earlier than the 2023-24 season, when the NBA referees gathered at their annual referee preseason assembly at a Brooklyn resort.

Each instances, he cried for a similar motive: his father.

On the referees assembly, Foster was on digicam for a promotional video about NBA referees receiving their white jacket, a souvenir given to officers once they work the Finals. The jackets are the holy grail of officiating. Foster has 16 of them, and what introduced him to tears was remembering the primary one.

It was once such a cherished reminiscence, that summer season day in 2008 when Foster returned from Sport 5 of the Celtics-Lakers Finals and walked all the way down to his father’s Ocean Metropolis, Md., seaside home with the jacket. For Foster, that first jacket represented a triumph in perseverance, a recognition of excellence, and it got here on the heels of the Donaghy investigation, when he was at his lowest. When he offered his father the jacket, he advised him he couldn’t have performed it with out him. Within the following years, Dickie Foster wore the white jacket most each time he left the home.

That reminiscence for Foster had turn out to be heavy. His father was battling dementia, and Foster knew his situation meant the 2 would by no means share a second like that once more. Because the cameras have been rolling, he began bawling.

Now, eight months later, he was within the airplane lavatory, dropping it once more.

Round 3 a.m., within the hours after he officiated Boston’s victory over the Cavaliers in Sport 1, Foster realized his father had died. Dickie Foster was 79.

He thought he was ready for the second. It had been years since his dad was the colourful, exuberant, friend-to-all, the one with a relentless smile and unmistakable stomach chortle. He repeated to Foster within the final couple years that he was sorry for changing into a burden. Foster assured him he wasn’t.

Later that morning, as he referred to as his dad’s associates, all of them had the identical response: sorrow however aid. Then, as Foster sat on the airplane and delivered the information to certainly one of his dad’s former softball teammates — “the best man in my dad’s group of buddies” — the teammate began crying uncontrollably. Foster needed to beeline to the lavatory to cover his emotion.

Foster started to surprise if he would be capable to compose himself for his task the following day — Dallas at Oklahoma Metropolis. In homage to his father, Foster mentioned lacking the sport was by no means a thought or an choice. His dad usually boasted he by no means missed a day of labor on the hearth division.

“My dad would have been actually upset with me if he knew I did that due to his passing,” Foster mentioned.

As he stood for the nationwide anthem earlier than Sport 2 in Oklahoma Metropolis, Foster went via his regular routine: saying a prayer for all his household and associates who’ve handed (his mom died in 2016). He mentioned he was nervous he would break down in entrance of a full area.

However then he remembered one thing his father at all times preached. Years in the past, his father turned enthralled with “The Treasured Current,” a brief story by Spencer Johnson. The story illustrates the worth of discovering happiness and contentment by residing within the second. His father through the years distributed dozens of copies to family and friends, and hung an indication on his porch that learn “Treasured Current.”

Foster blocked all of it out … the noise … the three issues … his father’s passing. He targeted on the current.

When the anthem completed, Foster was composed and within the second. He was proper the place he envisioned that day along with his dad on the bar, so a few years in the past. He was within the NBA, at an enormous recreation, with a whistle in his mouth. He was on the prime of the sport.

(Picture illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; photograph: Bart Younger / NBAE by way of Getty Pictures)

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