Marc Davis remembers the last time Chicago hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 1988. At the time, Davis, a graduate of St. Ignatius High School, was 21.
He remembers wanting to go so badly. Alas, he couldn’t get a ticket, so he watched the game from home.
But that won’t be the case for Davis this year as he’ll be one of the three officials to work the game Sunday at the United Center.
This isn’t Davis’ first time working an All-Star Game. The veteran referee, who has officiated more than 1,300 games over 22 seasons, was on the court for the 2014 event in New Orleans. But this one is more special to him given the fact it’s in his hometown.
“It just warms your heart to be able to be involved and engaged in this,” Davis said. “As a passionate Chicagoan, it would touch anyone’s heart [just to have it here] but then to actually have an opportunity to participate, it’s almost overwhelming when you think about it.”
Davis never really imagined himself becoming a referee. He always loved basketball, playing in high school and one season at Navy. He sort of just stumbled into an officiating role while working at HaleFranciscan High School on the South Side.
At the time, Davis was a substitute teacher who helped coach the freshman boys’ basketball team. When his teaching gig ended inNovember, the school’s athletic director told Davis he should consider being a referee for Public League games.
So Davis, who was 26 at the time, figured why not? He borrowed a white-and-black striped shirt and whistle from a buddy, who also had officiating experience.
From the first game, Davis was hooked.
“Afterwards, [the school] gave me my check, and when I looked at whatI got for that amount of time up against what I was getting to teach,I was like, ‘OK, this is something,’ ” Davis said. “And I really was bit by it.”
In 1998, just four years after his first Public League game, Davis made his NBA debut.
Every job has its challenges. Being the target of fans’ frustrations is part of the trade.
“By all metrics, there is nothing glamorous about being an NBA referee,” he said with a laugh. “I think we can all agree on that.”
But it is rewarding, though, it takes a special kind of person to handle the pressure.
“[This job] involves a lot of self-confidence [mixed with] the appropriate amount of objectivity in terms of your performance,” Davis said. “You have to be your own worst critic, and when you’re your own worst critic, you really aren’t focused that much on other people’s perceptions, in particular the fans. They’re not there to clap for the referees.”
Being an NBA referee is sort of like being a parent. You’re not going to please everybody, but you’re going to try to be as fair as possible.
In fact, Davis said being a father of three might be one of the best training methods for an NBA referee.
“At the end of the day, there must be a winner and there must be a loser,” Davis said. “And the reality of it is, the majority of the competition — you want to win. . . . Part of my job is I have to say no or respectfully disagree and the decision is final at that point.And so with that you have to take into consideration his thoughts, the emotions and still come up with a logical and effective solution to any kind of conflict that you’re dealing with.”
Davis, who still lives in Chicago, knows he’s not perfect and mistakes are bound to happen.
“Officiating is not about perfection,” Davis explained. “Officiating is about fairness. . . . If you’re looking for an official to be perfect . . . you know when I can be perfect? When there are no missed shots and there are no bad passes and there are no missed plays, and that’s not gonna happen.
“I’m not gonna be perfect either, but I’m gonna be excellent and being fair and officiating the games the way it’s been designed to be.”