Greg Willard Rumors
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle offered his condolences after former NBA referee Greg Willard died Monday night at the age of 54 because of pancreatic cancer. “We’ve all known about Greg Willard’s situation for many months,’’ Carlisle said after Tuesday’s shoot around at Loyola Marymount University. “We followed the situation closely and we’re all very sadden that he’s passed. “The hope is that this will bring more attention to one of the most aggressive and under-screened diseases that we have.’’
Saw referee Bill Spooner in Detroit last Friday for the first time in a long time and when we were catching up before the game, he mentioned that former ref Greg Willard was having a terrible time fighting pancreatic cancer that hit him last year. I got to know Greg just a little bit over the years in various Marriott concierge lounges and he was a very nice man and a fine referee. That’s what made it hard last night when I got news that he’d passed away; six months younger than I am and a terrible, terrible loss.
LeBron James: RIP to one of our NBA refs Greg Willard due to cancer! Prayers goes out to his family and friends #NBAFamily
Kurt Rambis: Honored to introduce top #NBA referee Greg Willard at the @PanCAN Pancreatic Cancer gala tonight. He’s receiving the ‘Spirit of Hope’ award
Talking with Willard, catching up, made me feel better. It was our longest conversation since college. We spoke again Tuesday night after the exhibition in Anaheim. I looked into his eyes and he looked into mine. I knew he knew I knew. It was tough. I wasn’t sure what to say. He assured me he was hanging in there. I wanted to cry. He was thin, gaunt. I put my arm around him and told him, “If there’s anything I can do …” I wasn’t alone in wishing him well, and took some comfort in that fact.
Longtime referee Greg Willard, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June, had just taken the court and officiated the game even as his body showed the ravages of the pernicious disease. The Lakers had already sent the game ball to the referees’ locker room. Several had shook Willard’s hand after the game. Bryant stopped by for a visit on his way out. “He’s an extremely good ref,” Bryant said of Willard, 53. “He doesn’t hold grudges. He just makes the call in front of him. “Honestly, tonight I wanted him to T me up for old time’s sake. I didn’t want him to have any kind of special night. I wanted it to be just like it’s always been. I wanted to drop a couple F-bombs to him. “I wanted it to be like how it’s always been. That’s the best way. ”
The officiating roster stands at 62, including one surprise: Greg Willard, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last June, attended referee camp and said he plans to work as many games as he could this coming season, even as he undergoes treatment. The league plans to accommodate him. Willard, 53, is one of the league’s best referees, working the N.B.A. finals every year since 2009. He was scheduled to work the finals last June but had to withdraw when he learned of his illness.
Since we never spotlighted him in a broadcast let me tell you a bit about the 24 year NBA veteran. He has called over 1,500 NBA games, 120+ playoff games and been honored to call NBA Finals games. He is a Southern California native who went to Long Beach State and officiated in the Pac-10 before the NBA. He is married and the father of three. His biography says he is active coaching in youth leagues and like to swim, surf and ski.