Nolan Fine brought a relaxed approach to his job as an NBA referee, his close friend and colleague Joe Forte said Tuesday, and it served him well in his 16 seasons officiating in the league.
So did his sense of humor. Forte recalled a game in Sacramento about 25 years ago, back in the low-tech days, when referees filled out their game reports and technical foul reports on paper and mailed them to NBA HQ. So when a courtside fan loudly wondered why Fine wasn’t T-ing up several obstinate players, the ref fired back “I can’t afford all the stamps.”
Fine, 60, died Saturday in Virginia Beach, Va., news that hit Forte hard. The men had been friends for three decades, dating back to their time together working college basketball games in the Metro Conference. When their performance in the 1987 NCAA tournament earned them, along with Joe Sylvester, the assignment of the Indiana-Syracuse championship game, Fine at 31 became the youngest referee ever to work that event.
“He stayed relaxed but his mind was really into the game,” Forte said by phone Tuesday. “He knew team fouls, personal fouls, time on the clock… He was a real journeyman referee whom you liked on the court and off the court. It was always a real pleasure to see his name on the assignment sheet next to mine.”
Of Fine’s passing, Bob Delaney, NBA vice president of referee operations, said: “Nolan Fine was a great NBA Official and an even better person. Nolan will be remembered for his passion and commitment to our profession. Every NBA referee, past and present, offers condolences to his family.”
Fine, born in Norfolk, Va., played varsity golf in high school and at Tulane University so well that Forte wondered why he didn’t try to qualify for the pro tour. Fine’s entry into basketball came from attending Virginia Squires games in the old American Basketball Association and becoming friendly with longtime NBA/ABA ref Joe Gushue. It was Gushue who helped Fine gets his start as a college referee.
Fine and Forte, 11 years older, moved to the NBA in 1988. After Fine exited the league a decade ago due to a back disability and Forte retired, Fine assisted his friend in supervising referees in the Big South Conference.
Two years ago, after an official ejected an especially abusive fan from an Old Dominion game, a Norfolk TV station sought out Fine as a local authority. He said such incidents are rare but acceptable, and he mentioned the 2001 game in Miami when an NBA ref tossed out singer Jimmy Buffett over a profanity-laced rant from his courtside seat. That referee was Forte.