Tony Brown, a 20-year veteran referee for the National Basketball Association, has died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 55.
NBA reporter Chris Haynes announced the news on Twitter. “NBA veteran official Tony Brown passed away today following a hard-fought bout with cancer. He was one of the best running the sidelines and one cool brother. Rest In Peace,” Haynes wrote.
Brown’s family expressed their appreciation for the love and support they’ve received since he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in April 2021.
“We are and have been sustained by the consistent outpouring of love and support through this journey in developing strength, acceptance and peace,” Brown’s family said in a statement. “We ask that you join us in that spirit as we prepare to celebrate Tony’s life. Our biggest thank you to our village of family and friends, near and far, old and new. Your love is immeasurable.”
Here are 5 things to know about Tony Brown’s life.
Brown worked his way up the elite NBA-referee ranks to have a storied career during which he officiated more than 1,100 games – including the 2020 NBA Finals. He also officiated All-Star, WNBA and CBA games.
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Brown’s career reflected how he lived his life, according to his obituary by The Associated Press.
A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Brown worked his way through Clark Atlanta University (then Clark College) after choosing to turn down a basketball scholarship at Florida A&M University.
“No scholarship was available there for him, so Brown worked his way through school as an employee of Delta Air Lines,” NBA.com wrote. “He cleaned planes, drove passenger carts, then became a flight attendant and remained employed by Delta until retiring in 2007.”
Brown underwent chemo to fight against the disease and was healthy enough to return to work last season at the NBA Replay Center.
“I haven’t had time to sit around and be like ‘Why me?’ or ‘What am I going to do?’” Brown told The Associated Press in Nov. 2021. “Me not fighting would have made me feel like I was letting people down. What kind of example was I going to be to my kids if I just laid in this bed and let it overtake me? I had to show my kids that there’s nothing in life that you can’t challenge and overcome if you have a positive mindset.”
Until his last days, Brown sought to give back as he and his wife, Tina, also a Clark graduate, worked to raise $100,000 in funds for a scholarship for CAU basketball players. Some of those players visited Brown in hospice days before he died.
“Tony Brown embodies everything it means to be a Clark Atlanta basketball player,” Clark Atlanta coach Alfred Jordan said. “His hard work, determination, and perseverance are what set him apart from the rest because those qualities are hard to come by these days.”
NBA teams, players, coaches and fans paid tribute to Brown after his death.
“Tony Brown was one of the most accomplished referees in the NBA and an inspiration to his colleagues,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “After his pancreatic cancer diagnosis early last year, Tony fought courageously through countless rounds of treatment to return to work this past season at the NBA Replay Center, demonstrating the dedication, determination and passion that made him such a highly respected official for 20 years.”
“The entire NBA family mourns Tony’s passing and we send our deepest condolences to his wife, Tina; their children, Bailey, Basile and Baylen; and his fellow referees,” Silver continued.
“Rest in peace to veteran NBA referee Tony Brown! Thank you for everything you did for the game. Sending prayers to the entire Brown family!” Magic Johnson tweeted.
“R.I.P. Tony man!! Great ref but greater dude! Loved when I ran on the court for warmups and he would be on the game that night! Your smile & laugh will be missed tremendously here in our sport!” LeBron James tweeted.
Several teams – including the Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks and Warriors – held a moment of silence for Brown before their games following his death. The Bucks and Sixers wore purple wristbands that read “6 STRONG” to honor Brown’s referee number.
“I just wanted to send condolences to Tony’s family. It’s shocking news a couple of years ago when he came out with cancer, and it’s been tough to not see him out there at games,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s a great ref,and he made an impact on this league and everybody liked him. He’s just one of those faces that you associate with this league; and this journey that we’re all on. We’ve missed him the last couple of years and the news yesterday really hit home for all of us – players, coaches [and] entire organizations.”
In lieu of flowers, the Brown family requests donations are made to the endowment at Clark Atlanta University.
PHOTO: Referee Tony Brown runs on the sideline during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors, March 17, 2021, in Detroit. Brown, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in April 2021, died Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. He was 55. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)