Moments after the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Rasheed Wallace positioned himself outside the referees’ locker room at the Staples Center in a surreal scene that culminated with security insisting he could not enter.
A decade later, retired longtime NBA referee Danny Crawford, part of that Game 7 crew, deemed it the “strangest situation,” and said there was no way he could allow Wallace entry even if his intentions had been pure.
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“If you think about Rasheed Wallace’s relationship with referees over the years — it was impossible,” said Crawford, who retired in 2017 after 31 seasons as an NBA referee that included 23 straight Finals appearances. "He was the most difficult man in the world to referee, to deal with. It was impossible.
"So Game 7, NBA Finals, you hear security knocking on the door saying, ‘Hey, Rasheed Wallace would like to come into the locker room and talk to you guys.’ I said, ‘Are you serious?’ I can only imagine what this fight would be like in this locker room. He would kick our butts. So I actually told the security guy, I said, ‘You know what? No way. Rasheed can’t come in the locker room.’ Then they said, ‘But he wants to come in and talk to you guys,’ and supposedly, he wanted to come in and apologize. That’s what I heard. But, guess what guys, too late.”
Wallace was playing what many thought was his last NBA game (he made a brief, ill-fated comeback attempt with the Knicks at age 38 in 2012). He logged a playoff-high 36 minutes of floor time in Game 7 before a battered and bruised Celtics team ran out of gas and the Lakers rallied ahead in the final minutes.
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Crawford wasn’t taking any chances that Wallace wanted to vent about any of the calls that night.
"Based on his credibility, there was no way that we could do that. Impossible. Because I could see [reporters] writing, ‘Big fight in the referees’ locker room!’ Rasheed Wallace and Danny Crawford. And Danny Crawford kicked his butt,” Crawford said with a laugh during an appearance on NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics Talk Podcast. "That was an unbelievable situation and there was no way we could let him in the locker room.”
Wallace, the Michael Jordan of technical fouls and ejections, was a known referee agitator. Crawford said that, if Wallace was coming to apologize, he never attempted to reach out in the aftermath.
"The most difficult individual in my career. He was impossible,” said Crawford. "I remember I worked the All-Star game in Washington [in 2001]. Rasheed Wallace was an All-Star then and I remember we were staying in the same hotel and we’re going down an escalator and I remember these little kids asking Rasheed Wallace for an autograph and he was like waving these kids off like, ‘No, no, no, no. Get away from me.’ And I was like, ‘He is a difficult individual.’
I have a few pictures in my portfolio of Rasheed and I, and they are not good. He’s coming after me and I’m going at him. That’s my memory of Rasheed Wallace.
Crawford, voted one of the most respected officials in the NBA near the end of his career, said he never tried to let past flareups influence how he refereed a player. But Wallace was an exception.
"Game in, game out, it’s all different … our relationship is new. Except for Rasheed Wallace,” said Crawford. "Because you knew what you were going to get. I hate to say that and, you know what, I hope if Rasheed is listening, he will agree. It was just I knew what he was all about. And he was just a difficult guy and he defied authority and no matter what I said to him — I used to try to massage his ego with child psychology and it never worked, in my whole career. So, Rasheed Wallace and I, no conversations.”
Especially not after Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010.