At one time, Richie Powers was included in the pantheon of great NBA referees. But after his 23-year oncourt career ended in 1979, Powers’ life took several downturns. A gut-wrenching profile in Referee revealed that the former icon was an alcoholic, living in the backseat of a dilapidated auto and was occasionally suicidal.
During his career, Powers was a rebel. He refused to join the NBA Referees Association and crossed the picket line when his peers went on strike just before the 1977 playoffs. He earned suspensions by setting aside a rule in one game and by handing out technical fouls the league deemed were unmerited in another. His bitterness over being passed over as NBA supervisor of officials — a job that went to Darell Garretson, whom Powers loathed — led to much of his unhappiness.