The 12 referees who work the NBA Finals will wear No. 57 on their jerseys as a show of recognition to colleague Greg Willard, who has pancreatic cancer.
A 24-year veteran, Willard is one of the NBA’s top officials, having worked the last two NBA Finals, the pinnacle of officiating. He was still working in the early rounds of this postseason before pulling out with an undisclosed illness.
The gesture was arranged by the National Basketball Referees Association with the NBA’s cooperation.
“Greg’s professionalism and integrity have made him a role model within the NBA community,” said Lee Seham, general counsel for the NBRA. “We want him and his family to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
While Willard, 51, has much more pressing issues, his absence leaves the championship round short one extremely solid referee. Earlier this season, we discussed the transition that has taken place at the top of the profession over the last five years.