The stirring anthem ended and those in the large Saturday night crowd, some clutching programs, took their seats. Steve Javie, a top-tier NBA referee for 25 seasons, moved into position and got ready once again to interpret the rules.
But this was Mass at St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in Newtown (Bucks County), not a basketball arena. Javie was wearing a green chasuble and white cassock, not the NBA’s two-tone officiating uniform. And the rules he was about to address in one of his first homilies as a permanent deacon in the Catholic church were eternal, not subject to collective bargaining.
“People ask me if there are similarities between being a deacon and a referee,” Javie said before that recent 5 p.m. Mass. “It’s funny because people used to think they could tell me how to do my old job. That hasn’t changed, except now people are telling me how to preach.”
A Montgomery County native who pitched at Temple and briefly in the Baltimore Orioles organization, Javie was destined to be a sports official. His father, Stan, was a field and back judge in the NFL, and his godfather, John Stevens, a longtime American League umpire.
Javie, 64, consistently was rated as one of the NBA’s top referees. He worked more than 1,500 games, including 200-plus in the playoffs and 20 in the Finals.
“Steve was the best referee I ever worked with, and I reffed with everybody,” said Joe Crawford, a friend and former NBA colleague. “He knew the rules. He got plays right. And he had [guts]. He was very aggressive but always under control.”
Bad knees finally forced Javie to limp away after the 2011 season, his last assignment being the decisive sixth game of that year’s NBA Finals.
By then, he was on a spiritual quest. Thanks to his wife of 28 years, Mary Ellen, he’d rediscovered a faith he’d virtually abandoned as a young man. The couple had started a charity benefiting underprivileged children in Montgomery County and Philadelphia. But he needed more.
Read on to learn what he found and how.