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NBA player to ref? Different uniform, same pep in his step for Workman


He never did it for the money, nor the ego, nor the fame. He did it for love.

Love of the game.

That's why Haywoode Workman said -- while sitting in the Sickles High bleachers watching son Bryce play -- that he could never see himself without basketball in his life.

The love, after all, is why he bounced basketballs through the 1970s and '80s as a boy in Charlotte, N.C. 

It's why he worked his tail off to make his high school team, before moving on to Winston-Salem State, then to Oral Roberts University for three years.

It's also why, at a mere 6 feet 2, he stuck with it after getting drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 49th overall pick in 1989 -- only to get cut six games into the season.

From there he played a year for the CBA's Topeka Sizzlers, obsessively searching for every edge. He caught on with the NBA's Washington Bullets for a year, but followed that with two years playing in Italy. 

Finally, he had a nice four-year run with the Indiana Pacers before …

Tearing the ACL in his left knee.

The next couple of years he played a handful of NBA games before playing for Hapoel Jerusalem in Israel, of all places.

After that, even though he relentlessly worked to stay in the game as a player, all the offers went away.

Suddenly, he was done.

"I thought, 'What can I do now?'?" said Workman, never taking his eyes off his son, posting up far below in the paint. "There was a void for me. I had always played." • •

Workman thought back to a hot summer day in 2001, when during one of his lonely, last-ditch workouts in Bradenton, he ran into NBA referee Bob Delaney, who off the cuff asked Workman if he wanted to be referee.

Referee?

The word felt weird. As a player he never thought about referees. He had more than enough to think about as a point guard.

"I never said a word to any ref when I played," said Workman, watching the refs circle his son's game. "I barely knew they were there."

Referee?

"But the more I thought about it, the more I thought I might be good for it," Workman said. "It was a way to keep me in the game. I thought I might really like it."

He loved it.

It didn't matter that he had to start reffing middle-school girls games before advancing to high school (working for the Tampa Bay area's West Coast Officials Association). It didn't matter that he paid money out of his own pocket to fly to Los Angeles for a month to ref pro-am games for "20 bucks a game."

It didn't matter that he helped run a pro-am league in Tampa, where with his sons Bryce and Nikolas, "the family Workman," managed the games. After taping the floors to NBA specs, Haywoode reffed while Bryce and Nikolas ran the shot clock and game clock.

For the next six years, Workman advanced to CBA games, NBA summer league games and NBA developmental league games.

Then finally in 2008, Workman, at the age of 42, was one of three referees hired for the upcoming NBA season, making him the third ex-NBA player to become a ref in the league. The other two are Bernie Fryer and Leon Wood.

Workman says some NBA players have asked him, "How could you go to the other side? You used to be a player." As if he has betrayed some sacred trust.

But overall, he says, the switch from NBA player to referee has never been an issue. In fact, he gets a sense that more NBA players might follow in his footsteps.

"If you love the game it's a great gig," said Workman, who two days before watching his son at Sickles was in Minneapolis reffing Dallas vs. the Timberwolves. "It's in the blood."• • •

Bryce says he gets it.

"The game is in my blood, too," said the 6-foot-7 junior, who averages 18 points and 10 rebounds a game for the 23-4 Gryphons. "My dad never pushed me to the game. I always just loved it like he did." 

Bryce said he loved it when he was only 6 years old working the clock for his dad's pro-am league. He said he appreciates it when his dad gives him advice because, "My dad knows everything about the game. I mean, he was in the NBA and now he's still in the NBA."

For Sickles coach Renaldo Garcia, Haywoode Workman has been nothing but an asset, offering sage advice to his players and taking some Gryphons to NBA games in Orlando when the schedule permits (Workman refs 10 to 12 NBA games a month all over the country).

"Because of Haywoode, these guys have met some famous players and coaches and that is an experience that can have a great impact," said Garcia, who added with a grin: "(Workman) has also given me some good advice on how to talk to referees.

"When Haywoode says something I listen. Why wouldn't I? He has a wealth of experience to draw from."

And so the love spreads.

Besides Bryce, who has gotten interest from several Division I-A colleges, sisters Breanna and Chasity Workman have also translated their love for the game into the flow of their lives. Breanna plays for the University of Arizona and Chasity is a former Oklahoma City University player.

Add it up and it's pretty much all basketball all the time in the Workman family, and that's just fine with them.

"It's the greatest game ever invented," Haywoode Workman said. "You have to love it."


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