As part of the 2021 NASO Sports Officiating Summit @ Home, NCAAM basketball referee Bert Smith detailed for the virtual audience his career path in officiating basketball and a scary night at the 2021 NCAAM Elite Eight. Smith is one of 11 NCAAM basketball officials selected to work the 2022 Final Four in New Orleans.
While working for American Airlines at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in the 1980s, Smith crossed paths with NBA referee Darell Garretson. After assisting Garretson with travel through Chicago on a few occasions, Smith was exposed to basketball officiating at another level. On February 18, 1990, Smith was injured while playing basketball and decided his playing days were done. A 30-plus year journey in basketball officiating began.
Fast forward to March 30, 2021, and you land on the scariest day in the life of Smith and his family. After a morning COVID test and a light breakfast, Smith spent most of his morning completing some computer work and getting things in order for his evening assignment of top-seeded Gonzaga and No. 6 USC at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. He enjoyed his normal light gameday lunch, an afternoon nap and some quality FaceTime with his family before leaving the hotel for the arena. From transportation to pregame rituals in the locker room, Smith describes the entire day leading up to game time as completely normal.
Then, about five minutes into the game, as Smith describes it, “I get to the lead, and I go ‘Man, I’m gassed. What is going on?’ It’s the last thing I remember.” Smith collapsed to the floor. After coming to and having discussions with trainers and doctors, Smith was taken off the floor on a stretcher and underwent extensive testing in the locker room. Immediate results did not show anything out of the ordinary. After regrouping at the hotel and multiple visits from fellow officiating colleagues, Smith set out for the hospital. Two hours and a battery of tests later, doctors had an answer for Smith’s collapse – a pulmonary embolism, more commonly known as blood clot in the lungs.
Smith concluded his Summit@Home video call with some incredibly inspiring words of wisdom for Sports Officiating Summit attendees and the entire sports officiating community: “You have to value each day, because none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. ‘Did I tell the people that mean a lot to me that I love them? If you didn’t, you should. Do I appreciate the fact that I was assigned this game today? If you don’t, you should. Do I appreciate the relationships that I have from being an official? If you don’t, you should. Do I reach out to people that I don’t even know, but are willing to extend kindness to me? If you don’t, you should.’”
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