BOSTON – At some point on Friday night, Leroy Richardson made a decision that Celtics fans hated.
He’s an NBA official.
It happens, right?
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But before the boo birds came out, fans should have taken a moment and thanked him.
No, not for a favorable whistle or a no-call in favor of the Celtics, who rallied to beat Charlotte, 90-87.
They should've thanked him, along with the many men and women who have served this country with pride as part of the military.
Before becoming an NBA official, Richardson spent 12 years in the Navy.
Richardson, 53, is quick to admit how important his time in the Navy has been in helping shape him into the man he is today.
“Everything from the way I still make up a bed,” Richardson told NBC Sports Boston. “The skillsets you learn, the discipline, your core values are really refined in the military. It’s God, country, team. It’s about the service. You learn that there’s something bigger than you; that’s the biggest thing. You learn to trust the man next to you not with menial things, but with your life a lot of times.”
And while Richardson was very much interested in joining the military as a teenager, you have to remember...he was a teenager.
So when it came time to start looking at a particular branch of the service...I’ll let him tell you what happened.
“I was interested in going into the United States Marine Corps at first because they had the best-looking uniforms,” Richardson said. “As a [teenager], you’re going for the cool uniform, the thing that women liked to see.”
But his parents imparted to him some advice that in hindsight, dramatically changed his life’s journey.
They reminded him that electronics was one of his academic strengths and that particular skill might be better suited in the Navy or Air Force.
“After I tested and scored high, the Navy recruiters were very high on me and wanted to bring me in on their advanced electronics program,” Richardson recalled. “They genuinely showed a real desire to have me in.”
Richardson was an enlisted surface warfare specialist and underwater sea surveillance specialist stationed in Keflavik, Iceland, from 1986-1987 and was also deployed to the Mediterranean from 1988-1989.
But while enlisted, Richardson was also officiating, working his way up from Virginia high schools to major college basketball conferences (Big East, SEC and Ohio Valley) to the point where he was on the NBA’s radar.
He enjoyed his time in the military and is quick to add that he would not trade those experiences, the lifelong friendships that he still maintains today, for anything.
Which made the decision to focus on officiating and not re-enlisting, a difficult one.
“It was tough,” Richardson admitted. “But I never looked back after making the decision. My faith in God and praying on it made me feel like I made the right decision when I came to the decision. Once I made it, I never looked back.”
Being decisive was just one of the many character traits, honed in his time in the Navy, that easily transitions to refereeing NBA games today.
And while he has been able to keep his military past separate from his day job, sports and the military have become hot-button topics lately in light of several NFL players' desire to raise awareness about inequality and police brutality by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before games.
Richardson acknowledged he has had conversations about the subject with fellow veterans.
“The flag is representative of the Constitution and the things we believe in,” Richardson said. “And while I absolutely will always stand for the flag and always salute the flag and always pledge allegiance, the flag protects people’s rights to not agree with everything that I might believe in personally. I think when you talk to people who served, they know that while we don’t always agree with what everyone does in protest, we actually fight for their right to disagree. That’s what the military stands for.”
And on this Veterans Day, we should all stand out of respect for Richardson and the many men and women who have fought to protect our rights and liberties in this country.
But if he missed a call (or at least you thought he missed a call), you had every reason to yell at him.
He has done this long enough (he joined the NBA staff in 1996) to know that it comes with the job, one he takes a tremendous pride in - just like when he served our country, with pride an honor, in the Navy.