It’s often been said that if one has a problem, one has three choices: whine about it, ignore it or do something about it.
Lucky for the world of sports officiating, Barry Mano saw a problem and did something about it.
The result was the creation of Referee magazine, a national publication for sports officials and, later, the National Association of Sports Officials, a group dedicated to the welfare and improvement of sports officiating.
Barry watched his older brother Mark get raked over the coals because of a call in a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls on Dec. 12, 1972.
Mark wasn’t even originally assigned to the Bulls-Lakers game. “It was my day off and I got a call from my supervisor, Mendy Rudolph,” he said. “There was 18 inches of snow on the ground and nobody, including planes, was going anywhere. Since I lived fairly close to Chicago, Mendy told me to get there any way I could.”
With two seconds left in the game and the Lakers leading, 106-104, the Bulls’ Chet Walker was on the foul line shooting two. The first was good. He missed the second, touching off one of the biggest fan demonstrations in NBA history. The ball bounced off the rim and the rebound was tipped back to Walker, who put up a shot that went in. The crowd went absolutely nuts thinking the Bulls pulled out a last second victory.
There was a “slight” problem.
Mano, from his trail position, looked up at the clock and noticed there were still two seconds. The clock operator failed to start the clock. “Chicago Stadium had a huge scoreboard above center court, and a number of smaller scoreboards placed around the facility,” Mano recalled. “I couldn’t see the large scoreboard, but could clearly see from one of the other scoreboards that the clock showed two seconds. I asked Paul (Mihalik, his partner on the game in the two-person crew) if he saw the clock.” He did not. So, Mano went to the scorer’s table to inform the public address announcer to announce that the basket did not count. “At first, he wasn’t going to do it,” Mano remembered. “I said, ‘Yes, you are, do it!’”
So, the PA announcer made the announcement and Mano described the result in four words: “All hell broke loose!” Mano and Mihalik were quickly surrounded by Chicago players and fans. Mano remembered there were about 20 uniformed Chicago police officers near the end of the court. At first, Mano breathed a sigh of relief, thinking help would soon be on the way.
“They never moved,” Mano said in astonishment. Fortunately, in a very classy gesture, four Los Angeles Lakers — Wilt Chamberlain, Keith Erickson, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich — came to the rescue. “We are going to take the biggest beer bath in American history,” one of them yelled, “but we are going to get you out of here.” And they did.
About this time, Mano surely was wondering if his $175 game fee was worth all of this aggravation. Normally, it takes an NBA official about 20 minutes to shower and dress after a game. Mano and Mihalik waited for an hour before they thought it was safe to leave.
The NBA wasted little time in trying to determine if Mano got it right.
NBA Supervisor John Nucatola flew in from New York the next day and, according to Mano, reviewed tape of the game 100 times. That’s correct. You read it right: 100 times. The NBA then determined that 2.9 seconds had elapsed from the time the clock should have started.
Mark Mano was vindicated.
In informing Mano of the result, the NBA added another note. It told him not to expect to be working games in Chicago anytime soon.
As it turned out, “anytime soon” was a couple of months later with Richie Powers. Chicago management was faced with a problem. It knew the fans would hardly appreciate knowing Mano was back when he was announced as one of the officials. Rather than simply not announce the names, game management came up with a clever solution. “First, we were told not to go out and watch the pregame warmups,” Mano recalled. “Then they told Richie and me that they were going to announce our names and go immediately to the national anthem.” It worked. Chicago fans chose to honor their country rather than blast Mano.
Despite the fact that Mano was cleared, the media frenzy was huge. It is a tired and worn out phrase, but it is certainly justified here: He was called every name in the book. And it just kept up.
The game motivated Barry Mano to start a publication providing a voice for sports officials. “The Bulls game got me thinking. I also was refereeing and experiencing the disrespect and unjust treatment many officials were receiving,” Barry Mano remembered.
Mark Mano continued his NBA officiating career for three more years before the NBA released him for what it called “low ratings.” Was it a cop out? Mark isn’t sure. To his credit, he was not bitter. “But I was pretty disappointed,” he said. “I was told the general managers’ ratings were subpar and that is why I was fired.” Mano was incredulous. “How can a general manager, who obviously has a stake in the outcome of a game, rate game officials?” Good question.
“Mark’s incident energized my thinking, and his firing by the NBA showed me we needed a voice,” the younger Mano pointed out. “There wasn’t (a union) then,” Barry Mano said, noting that the National Basketball Referees Association had yet to be formed. That pretty much meant that Mark Mano was going to have to bite the bullet as far as any hearing or recourse to his firing.
Barry Mano got a group of eight investors to roll the dice and provide financial support. Referee began with four employees, including the Manos’ dad, Rudy. It was a slow start. However, Referee now employees 24 people. It had 4,600 subscribers after the first year. Now, it has grown to 31,000. The readership also includes 26,000 members of NASO, a group started by Barry Mano in 1979.
It was quite an adventure for a guy who started out not taking a salary for over three years, and relying on his wife Jean’s teacher income to provide a living.
There is an ironic twist to this story.
Instant replay did not come to the NBA until the 2002-03 season. Had replay been in use in 1972, it would have been quickly obvious that Mark Mano — who went on to a long career officiating college basketball — got the play right. Thus, no 18,000 fans freaking out, no story about a blown call in the Chicago newspapers and thus, possibly no … well, you know the rest of the story.
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