Darell Garretson, who helped shape NBA officiating as one of the league's most recognizable referees over a 31-year career in professional basketball, died in his sleep Monday at his home in Mesa, Ariz. He was 76.
His health had been in decline after recent surgery and various illnesses, the National Basketball Referees Assn. said in a statement without elaborating.
"We are saddened by the passing of Darell Garretson," NBA Commissioner David Stern said Wednesday. "Darell was a man of extraordinary character, who touched many lives during his 31-year tenure as an NBA official and supervisor of officials."
Garretson was a referee for more than 2,000 NBA games from 1967 to 1994 and spent 17 years as the league's chief of officiating staff. After retiring as an active referee, he continued in his role as an officiating supervisor until 1998.
Garretson helped increase the NBA's officiating crews to three from two in 1988. He also helped scout new referees and instituted summer training programs.
In 2000, Garretson was one of several NBA referees who pleaded guilty to fraud in a plea bargain involving an airline ticket scam. According to federal prosecutors, the referees were reimbursed for first-class airline tickets by the NBA then purchased less expensive tickets and pocketed the difference without reporting it as income.
His son, Ron, is an NBA referee who most recently worked Game 1 of the playoff series between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets on Saturday.
Born March 18, 1932, in Long Point, Ill., Garretson attended what is now Illinois State University and served in the Navy, stationed in San Diego.
After his discharge in 1960, he and his wife, Jeanne, moved to Long Beach and then Westminster, where he helped coach the Bolsa Little League all-star team to the Little League World Series in 1968.
He worked as a salesman and refereed basketball games in recreation leagues and at the high school and college level before jumping to the pros.
In addition to his wife and his son Ron, he is survived by another son, Rick, and five grandchildren.
Services will be private. Instead of flowers, his family requests donations to the Darell Garretson Memorial Charity Grant, c/o National Basketball Referees Foundation, 1455 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 225, Washington, D.C. 20004.