What do you think of Scott Foster after reading this?

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When he was a cocksure 25-year-old, on the fast track to officiating big-time college basketball, Scott Foster was summoned for a sit-down with his dad.

They met at a bar, and his father, Dickie, brought along a family friend with experience in high-level sports. They were concerned about Foster, who was mulling a daring career move. It was 1992, and he had been offered a job in the Continental Basketball Association, then a training ground for the NBA, making $95 a game. But to do so, he would have to forgo his schedule — and career path — of officiating Division I games, which at the time were paying him $250 a game. His dad and friend couldn’t see the logic of accepting less money, less exposure and less stability.

His dad’s word carried a lot of weight, not just with Foster, but all around Maryland’s Montgomery County. Dickie Foster was a decorated assistant fire chief, an accomplished softball player and the pulse of the frequent parties at the Foster house. As people splashed in their pool, and his dad grilled meats, Foster says he can remember being cornered by firefighters passionately telling him stories about his dad’s heroics, his dad’s leadership and how much his dad meant to them.

“The only job cooler than a firefighter in my neighborhood growing up was Major League Baseball player,” Foster said. “So he was a big deal.”

But on this day at the bar, as his dad addressed Foster’s new job offer, Dickie Foster used words like “pipe dream” and “one-in-a-million” and “few-and-far between.” Foster remembers his dad’s final words on the matter: “Not everyone can be Michael Jordan.”

“But …” Foster remembers telling his dad, “what if I am the Michael Jordan of officiating?”

Today, Foster insists he said that in jest. But it is significant to note that more than 30 years later, he remembered that scene, and that line, enough to retell it. And it’s significant to note that more than 30 years later, Foster has ascended to Jordanesque stature among NBA referees.

The NBA employs 74 officials, and none can boast a résumé more impressive than Foster’s: he is the active career leader in playoff games (252, through May 19), NBA Finals games (24) and consecutive years officiating in the finals (16 and counting). As this season’s playoffs head toward the conference finals, Foster remains at the forefront with the most playoff assignments.

Many fans, players and coaches, however, have a different assessment of his work.

One NBA head coach, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution in future games, said he considers Foster among the worst of NBA referees, citing his arrogance, his unwillingness to listen and his tendency to incite, rather than defuse, conflict.

Some players, most notably stars Chris Paul and James Harden, have publicly criticized Foster, calling him rude and arrogant while suggesting he holds grudges. Paul, who served as the players’ union president from 2013 to ’21, has gone as far to say, multiple times, that Foster makes his games “personal.”

And there is an undercurrent of mistrust because of Foster’s ties with Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee who went to prison for his involvement in a betting scandal.

The gap between how Foster is viewed by some players and coaches, and how the league sees him, highlights an issue that has plagued the NBA for years and sharply escalated this season: the quality and consistency of the league’s officiating. The league this season levied $765,000 in fines to players and coaches for criticism and/or inappropriate conduct toward officials, up from the $385,000 fined last season. Postgame news conferences are often as notable for coaches’ denunciations of the referees as for commentary about the players.

Foster’s polarizing status derives from two of his definitive traits: His accuracy in calling a game and what is viewed as an unpleasant bedside manner. It has led to a complicated legacy, one that confuses and pains him.

“I would love it if I could be a cross between Joe Crawford, who was a strong referee, and Dick Bavetta, who was a beloved referee … but right now, that is not possible,” Foster said.


Scott Foster (right) celebrates with his mom, Pam, and dad, Dickie, after working a game as a rookie in December 1994. His dad is wearing the first referee jacket issued to Scott. (Courtesy of Scott Foster)

Tommy Foster estimates he was 14 when he and his friends happened upon his older brother, standing in front of a mirror. The neighborhood kids all looked up to Scott, who was four years older. Tommy calls his oldest brother his “protector” and the “leader of the family,” but on this day, the group of teenagers couldn’t believe their eyes.

There was Foster, in front of the mirror, practicing the nuances of his latest job: basketball referee. Every time he blew his whistle, he would practice a different signal. (Whistle) … raised hand for a foul … (whistle) … a rolling of the arms for travel … (whistle) … rigidly placing his hands on his hips for a blocking foul. Tommy and his friends were gobsmacked.

“We were like … ‘You’re a weirdo,’” Tommy said. “‘Get out of the mirror, psycho.’”

Foster was 18, and beginning to look at officiating as more than just a way to make spending money. He first put a whistle in his mouth when he was in high school. He coached both of his younger brothers, Tommy and David, and a requirement at the Montgomery Rec Center was for coaches to stay after their game and referee the next contest. He says he still remembers his first correct call in one of those youth games, a baseline drive that was disrupted by too much contact from the defender. The sequence of blowing the whistle, raising his fist and reporting the foul to the scorer’s table gave him a feeling of accomplishment.

“To do all that, it felt good,” Foster said. “So I said, ‘I want to do this all the time.’”

In retrospect, Tommy says it makes sense that his oldest brother went into officiating. Ever since they were kids, Scott was the one who upheld the sanctity of the Candlewood Park neighborhood games in Derwood, Md. Whether the kids were playing Wiffle ball, football or basketball, Tommy said Scott’s words held weight not only because he was the oldest, but also because he was the most honest.

“I was a cheating little s—,” Tommy said. “I just always wanted to win. And because I was the youngest, I was always on my brother’s team. So there would be times like, even though I knew I only got one foot in bounds on a catch (in football), I would argue that I got both feet in. And we would go on and on, until Scott would come in and be like, ‘We’re not cheating here. Your guys’ ball.’ His integrity … he always wanted to do the right thing.”

Foster’s dedication to officiating at such an early age was consistent with his work ethic growing up. At 16, he bought a red 1967 Ford pickup for $250. It had a rusted bed, three-on-the-tree transmission and a tailgate that only Foster knew how to close. The truck came in handy when he took to cutting neighbors’ lawns. Soon, he was canvasing more customers, and with the added income he bought a trailer and more mowers. Then he added biweekly trash disposal to his offerings. Foster’s Maintenance was born. At its height, Foster’s Maintenance had 25 residential customers, seven banks and a memorable reprimand from the Magruder High School office.

The school parking lot was once littered with garbage, courtesy of crows that had raided Foster’s pickup bed.

The crows ended his practice of waiting until after school to dump his customers’ trash, but it wasn’t until he was 18 that he passed the business down to his middle brother, David, who is three years younger.

“It was the day I reached into a trash can and came out with a hand soiled by a baby diaper,” Foster said. “Later in the day, I took a load to the dump and maggots got all over my legs. That was my official thought of, ‘I should go to college.’”

He went to the University of Maryland and attended basketball games at Cole Field House not so much to watch the players but rather the mannerisms and mechanics of legendary ACC referees Lenny Wirtz and John Moreau. He also went to catch glimpses of Paula, the cheerleader he would later marry. It was 1988, and as he worked high school games in Washington D.C., he dreamed of one day officiating one of college basketball’s most famed matchups: Duke versus North Carolina.

Little did Foster know, but once he decided to adopt a whistle as his trade, there would be worse days ahead than baby diapers and maggots, and bigger games on the horizon than Duke versus North Carolina.


In his perfect world, Foster imagines being anonymous. Nobody knows him, nobody has even heard of him. But he lost that privilege in 1996, his second NBA season.

While working his first nationally televised game, Foster ejected Lakers star Magic Johnson for bumping him, earning Johnson a three-game suspension and a $10,000 fine. Famed Lakers fan Jack Nicholson went onto the court and gave Foster the choke sign — two hands around the throat. Announcer Bob Costas analyzed the ejection at halftime.

“It was like Kennedy got assassinated again,” Foster said. “It was brutal. That was probably the first time people heard my name … but it’s not like I said ‘Thank god, that put me on the map.’ The last thing I wanted was to be the lead on SportsCenter and CNN news.”

It was a referee’s nightmare: he had become part of the story.

“You never want to be known,” Foster said. “Everybody thinks I love the spotlight, and says, ‘We didn’t come here to see you’ and I’m like, ‘I know. I get it. I don’t want you to come see me. I’m not worth seeing, to be honest with you.’”

Yet, Foster has had a difficult time avoiding attention. Since the Magic ejection, he has weathered a confrontation in an arena garage, an FBI investigation, two NBA investigations and a list of what detractors say are quick technical fouls, vindictive whistles and arrogant indifference — all delivered with a look as if he just encountered another soiled diaper.

The conflicts and confrontations have led to what Foster calls “the noise.” Criticism that he is arrogant. Complaints that he refuses to communicate with players and coaches. Insinuations that he cannot be trusted. And the insistence that he holds grudges.

He says he can handle “the noise,” in part because it’s part of the job and in part because he is held in the highest regard by his peers. His in-game grading has annually rated him at the top of the profession, according to Monty McCutchen, the head of NBA officials. Referee Tyler Ford, in his ninth NBA season, says Foster is the “elite of the elite.” And Ashley Moyer-Gleich, in her sixth season, said, “Scott isn’t one of the best. Scott is the best.”

Even the most decorated of the profession, including retired referee Danny Crawford, who officiated in 23 consecutive NBA Finals, say Foster is exceptional.

“Scott Foster is by far one of the top referees in the game, if not the top referee,” Crawford said. “As far as his personality and people not liking him? It’s because he takes no flack. If you come at him in an unsportsmanlike manner, you are going to pay for it.”

As much as Foster says he can handle the noise, it became apparent during an extended interview with The Athletic that Foster has been pierced by a trident of accusations. He calls them the “Three Things” and referenced the “Three Things” three times throughout his interview, which was monitored by a communications official for the NBA.

Foster’s “Three Things” are always in the same order:

1. The 134 phone calls Foster exchanged with referee Tim Donaghy during a seven-month span when Donaghy was betting on NBA games and providing inside information to bookies.

2. Friction with Paul, the All-Star guard, which has included veiled accusations by Paul that Foster made things personal in the wake of a postgame encounter in 2015 with Paul’s young son.

3. A collection of anonymous player polls, one by The Los Angeles Times in 2016 and one by The Athletic in 2023, in which players voted Foster the worst referee in the NBA. In a 2019 poll by The Athletic, players voted Foster the second-worst ref behind Tony Brothers.

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“People want to grasp onto the negative and use three things that discredit Scott Foster … so now, you can take those three things and basically say, ‘Look at all this proof!’” Foster said. “But anybody who studies and looks at the number of plays I call for this team, and that team, and how fair I am … and basically I think every coach in this league would agree that I have the courage to do what is unpopular, but what is hopefully right.”


Chris Paul and Scott Foster


In three of the past four seasons, Scott Foster has officiated only one of Chris Paul’s regular-season games. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

If Magic Johnson first put the spotlight on Scott Foster in 1996, Chris Paul has made sure Foster remains under scrutiny.

At least four times since 2018, Paul has publicly claimed that Foster is out to get him and the team for which he plays. Paul has voiced a wide-ranging list of complaints — from unprovoked technicals in 2019, to Foster allegedly making inappropriate comments before a 2020 playoff game, to pointing out in 2021 that he had lost 11 consecutive playoffs games in which Foster officiated (a streak that would reach 13 before it ended in 2023). Also, in November, Foster ejected Paul with consecutive technicals at Phoenix. After the game, Paul said Foster years ago was involved in an incident with his son, Chris Paul Jr.

“We had a situation some years ago, and it’s personal,” Paul said in November. “The league knows, everybody knows, and it’s been a meeting and all that. It’s a situation with my son.”

The tension stems from an incident on April 28, 2015. That night, Foster officiated Game 5 of the first-round playoff series between Paul’s Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 111-107. Although Paul was given a technical in the fourth quarter, it was issued by Josh Tiven, and the game didn’t feature any egregious advantage from a foul or free throw standpoint.

The Spurs were whistled for five more fouls than the Clippers, and the Clippers attempted five more free throws. Of the 59 fouls called in the game, Foster whistled 23, Tiven 21 and Bill Kennedy 15. Of Foster’s calls, 12 went against the Clippers, including two of Paul’s three personal fouls.

After the game, Don Vaden, then the NBA’s director of officials, loaded into an SUV with the officiating crew. Vaden said Paul saw them getting into the car, and as Foster started the vehicle to drive out of the arena, Paul positioned himself in the middle of the exit lane, blocking their departure. As he did this, Paul turned his back to the car while holding the hand of his 5-year-old son.

As Foster idled, unsure what to do, Vaden said he summoned a security guard to ask Paul to move. As the security guard was talking to Paul, Foster tapped his horn, and Paul acted surprised before moving to the side.

“I got home the next day and was told there were accusations made that I did something unprofessional,” Foster said. “The NBA did an investigation and found there was nothing found that needed to be discussed or anybody talked to. And that was the end of that.”

Did he ever say something to Paul’s son?

“Noooo,” Foster said.

Was there any interaction at all with the son?

“Nope.”

The incident remained sensitive enough that a meeting was set up the following season, in the spring at the Clippers’ practice facility. In attendance were Foster, Paul, Paul’s father, then-Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Bob Delaney, a former referee who had moved into NBA management overseeing officials. Delaney could not be reached by The Athletic.

Paul has three times referenced the meeting in interviews, and in April, when asked by The Athletic about specifics about the meeting, Paul declined to elaborate. He repeated that as an active player, he was unable to say anything about Foster, citing the fear of a fine or retaliation from Foster’s colleagues.

“I gotta wait … I can’t say nothing,” Paul said.

Foster acknowledged that he was present at the 2016 meeting and participated in the dialogue with Paul, Paul’s father and Rivers.

“I was told that meeting was private, and that it would stay private forever, and that’s what I’m sticking to,” Foster said. “The fact that people know about it is too bad. I think it was a good idea. There was probably a small honeymoon period or something like that, and I think it helped as far as trying something.”

Whatever happened in the meeting, it didn’t resolve the tension.

In the 2017 playoffs, as the buzzer sounded after Paul’s Clippers lost Game 5 to Utah, Paul faked throwing the ball at Foster, causing Foster to flinch with his hands and legs. Foster said he has no recollection of the incident.

One year later, Paul would join Houston, and his clashes with Foster would follow.

During a January 2018 game against Portland, Paul was whistled for a foul by Foster, then approached referee Courtney Kirkland, saying, “That’s Scott … that’s Scott …” Foster overheard the comment and gave him a technical foul.

“Scott Foster at his finest … just … never fails,” Paul told reporters while shaking his head. Later he added, “There’s history there. But that’s Scott, you know, he ‘The Man.’ That’s who they pay to see.”

The next season, Paul and Rockets teammate James Harden complained about Foster after a 111-106 loss at the Lakers, in which both fouled out. Of the six fouls administered to each player, Foster called two on Harden and two on Paul. Foster also gave Paul and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni technical fouls with 33 seconds remaining.

“Scott Foster, man,” Harden said after the game. “I never talk about the officiating, but just rude and arrogant. I mean, you aren’t able to talk to him throughout the course of a game, and it’s like how do you build that relationship with officials?”

When asked if he thought Foster was making it personal, Harden was emphatic.

“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “For sure it’s personal. For sure. Like, I don’t think he should even be able to officiate our games anymore, honestly.”

Paul was more reserved but exasperated.

“Uh, I mean, I don’t know what else to do,” Paul told reporters. “Met with the league with him before and all this stuff … I don’t know what else to do.”

Foster insists the public criticism from Paul, Harden or any player does not affect the way he calls games. Throughout questions about Paul, Foster was reserved and composed, and his voice never changed in volume or octave.

“I was hoping all this would all go away that day, the day of the meeting,” Foster said.

In 2020, Paul alluded that Foster made an inappropriate comment to him before his Game 7 playoff game. ESPN reported that Paul said Foster made a point to tell him he refereed his last Game 7, a loss when Paul was with New Orleans in 2008.

Foster remembers the interaction differently.

“During that season I had, in my mind, found some common ground, and pretty good interaction between the two of us,” Foster said. “And in an attempt to further build a bridge and find common ground, I mentioned to Chris prior to the game that my first Game 7 I ever worked was that game (in 2008). The conversation seemed like a pleasant exchange among the two of us. I figured all Game 7s are something to remember and cherish, and I just shared that was the first I ever worked.”

What Foster says bothers him more than anything is the social-media narrative built by “the people with the stats” who have attempted to “build a case” that Foster is against Paul. Paul’s teams are 4-18 in playoff games refereed by Foster; 3-17 in games Paul played. Paul is 73-56 in playoff games not officiated by Foster.

“I went back and tried to figure out some of these games,” Foster said. “Like, one was a game in New Orleans, I think they were playing Denver, and they lose by like 50 (it was 121-63). Like, in what world can you put that on me?

“I mean, really? In what world can you put that on me?’


NBA referee Ashley Moyer-Gleich, pictured with Foster (left) and Curtis Blair, says: “Scott isn’t one of the best. Scott is the best.” (Gary Bassing / NBAE via Getty Images)

Player and/or team feuds with referees are part of NBA lore.

Scottie Pippen insisted Hue Hollins was out to get him. Clyde Drexler and Jake O’Donnell were so frosty that O’Donnell once refused to shake hands. Tim Duncan accused Joey Crawford of challenging him to a fight. And Danny Crawford said, “Dallas used to hate my guts,” because the Mavericks once lost 16 of 17 playoff games he officiated (Dallas was 6-17 in playoffs officiated by Crawford).

“Every era has the referee who everybody hates,” said former NBA referee Bill Spooner, who retired in 2020 after 32 seasons. “But guess what? They are the ones working the big games. Earl Strom, Jake (O’Donnell), Joey Crawford … everybody hated those guys. Same with Scott. But if it’s a big game, and the league wants somebody to run the game, Scott is going to be on it. Because he is a damn good referee.”

The latest chapter between Foster and Paul — when Paul was ejected in a November game against the Phoenix Suns — is notable because it was the last time the NBA assigned Foster to a game involving Paul’s Warriors. Foster officiated 61 regular season games this season and called the games of all 30 teams, including some teams as many as seven times, and some teams as many as six times. Golden State is the only team Foster officiated once.

It is the third time in the past four seasons that Foster has officiated only one of Paul’s regular-season games. In the four seasons prior, Foster refereed Paul an average of four games per regular season, including six in 2017-18.

McCutchen, the league official who oversees referees, acknowledged the friction between Paul and Foster, but he said he would never intentionally keep a referee away from a team because of conflict.

“Anytime there is some high-level tension, we give it some breathing room,” McCutchen said. “We don’t have a set time on that. What I can tell you is I didn’t tell our scheduler, ‘Don’t give Scott Foster any more Golden State games.’ That I can tell you. If I didn’t trust to assign a referee to a team or a player, then we shouldn’t avoid assigning them to that team, we should fire that referee. Because if you can’t assign every referee with confidence because of an integrity question, then those referees should be fired.”

McCutchen said the 144-day gap of Foster last working a Golden State game is not unusual. He cited 34 instances this season of an official having 144 or more days between working a team. He also said of 16 crew chiefs, 10 this season either saw a team one or zero times. He said if the Warriors had made the playoffs, “Scott would have seen Golden State.”

Foster said he merely goes where he is told.

“Obviously, I noticed I didn’t go back (to a Warriors game),” Foster said. “But there’s been lots of years that I don’t go back to places. But I’m not naive enough to think that there wasn’t some motive, reason.”

The three former referees interviewed for this article, each no longer under the watchful eye of the league, note that the Paul-Foster feud has been narrated from one side. The NBA largely restricts officials from speaking to the media, so the only vantage of the conflict, they claim, has been through Paul’s lens.

Spooner, the retired ref with 32 years in the league, said he thinks Paul has been building a calculated campaign against Foster.

“I’m going to tell you, and I know you are recording me, but I get asked all the time: ‘Who are some of the tough guys, some of the bad guys?’ And when I tell them that Chris Paul, in my 32 years in the league, was one of the biggest a–holes I ever dealt with, they say, ‘Not Rasheed Wallace … or da-da-da?’ Nope. Nothing like (Paul),” Spooner said. “And they are like, ‘Oh, he seems like such a nice guy.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, he’s a great image cultivator.’”

Foster said he has tried to review how he comes across when he levies fouls and technicals. He said he has never been reprimanded by the NBA, but he and McCutchen noted the two have had discussions about his body language and how his demonstrative and authoritative ways are received by coaches and players.

“One of the things we teach around here is that calling a technical foul should be the same thing as calling a travel, or a forearm check. We have a standard,” McCutchen said. “If you are ever giving a technical foul with the idea that ‘nobody talks to me that way’ … this has nothing to do with you. The NBA has a standard of what is a good or not a good technical foul. It’s important we hold people to that standard … Scott has really grown to applying the standard now.”

While Foster has his detractors among NBA coaches and players, he also has the respect of others. Chauncey Billups has experienced Foster from two perspectives: as a Hall of Fame player during his 17-year career and as Portland’s head coach for the past three seasons.

“I think Scott is an excellent official,” Billups said. “He’s not going to put up with any s—. He’s an old-school guy in the way that I like officials, like Joey Crawford, Steve Javie … they are not going to take nothing, whether you are the best player or a player up from the G League. It’s the same respect given. So I’ve always respected that about him.”

Billups said he thinks what hurts Foster is his body language and his natural affectation. Billups said Foster often looks aggravated or in a bad mood, and noted he rarely, if ever, smiles. It took years for him to conclude that it’s just Foster’s natural look.

“If you don’t know him, it looks like there is a level of arrogance with him,” Billups said. “And I’m not going to tell you that I know him well, but I’ve been in enough games with him to know that’s not the case. It’s his look (he chuckles) … seriously, though. But if you don’t know, and you have social media out here, and you look at him, you can just run with that narrative that he is angry and arrogant. He’s not.”

Spooner said he and other referees teased Foster about his take-no-flack reputation. He remembers hearing Darell Garretson, the former head of referees, telling the troops that they need to be able to adopt a different personality when on the floor.

“Garretson would say, ‘You have to be willing to go from zero to a—hole in a heartbeat,’” Spooner said. “And I used to joke, ‘Well, you’ve got that part down, Scott.’”

Some unease about Foster goes beyond his temperament. One player who just completed his sixth NBA season, and who requested anonymity for fear of violating the league’s policy on criticizing officials, said Foster’s friendship with Donaghy, and the 134 phone calls exchanged between the two, is brought up among players. They wonder if Foster was involved in the betting scandal.

“There’s speculation about that,” the player said.

This season, that speculation was on display courtesy of Minnesota center Rudy Gobert. He was fined after a regular season game in March and again in the playoffs for making a gesture after being called for a foul: rubbing his forefingers to his thumb, insinuating that money is on the line. In both games, Foster was crew chief.

“I wouldn’t say it offends me, but it definitely affects me, where I go, ‘Wow, man. Like really?’” Foster said of Gobert’s gesture. “I mean, come on. That’s not what we are about. You’ve got to be kidding me you think that. I just think that has become a symbol of disrespect, or a way you disrespect an official.”

But there it is. For everyone to see. The No. 1 thing of the “Three Things.”

“I talk until I’m blue in the face, and either people are going to believe me, or they don’t,” Foster said.


The voice on the telephone is uneasy, and reluctant to talk. It is a voice from Scott Foster’s past, a voice with which Foster no longer communicates.

“Does he know that you were calling me?” Tim Donaghy asked. “How come the NBA is letting you do a story on him? They usually don’t allow that …”

Before Donaghy served a prison sentence for his role in a gambling scheme, he was friends with Foster. Close friends.

“We were like brothers,” Donaghy said.

In 2003, Donaghy named Foster the godfather of his daughter, Molly. Shortly after, Foster named Donaghy the godfather of his oldest son, Kyle.

Today, Donaghy said he has lost touch with his godson. And he has not spoken to Foster since 2007 when Donaghy knew he was about to be arrested and called Foster to tell him he couldn’t play in a golf tournament.

Donaghy had placed bets on NBA games, including ones in which he officiated, and had provided confidential information, such as player injuries and referee assignments, to bookies. Donaghy pleaded guilty to two felonies: conspiracy to commit wire fraud by denying his employer the intangible right to honest services and conspiracy to transmit wagering information.

Foster became publicly embroiled in the controversy in 2008 when it was reported that he and Donaghy exchanged 134 phone calls during the time Donaghy was working with his co-conspirators. Many of the calls lasted no longer than two minutes and were placed in the hours before or after games, and some of the calls were made shortly before or after Donaghy spoke to one of his co-conspirators.

In August 2007, the FBI contacted Foster and interviewed him over the phone.

“I remember having a conversation with one of the FBI agents, and they said they turned his life upside down,” Donaghy said of Foster. “And they actually felt bad for everything he went through, just because he was associated with me. It obviously didn’t look good, the phone calls didn’t look good, but I can just tell you Scott wasn’t involved in any way, shape or form. I don’t care what anybody says. I know the true story.”

While the FBI was investigating Foster, the NBA hired former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz and his law firm to conduct a review of the league’s officiating. The Pedowitz report was 133 pages, with seven devoted to Foster. Pedowitz noted that during the 14-month investigation, Foster provided phone records from December 2006 through June 2008.

In his report, Pedowitz said Foster and Donaghy exchanged 170 phone calls during the timeframe of Donaghy’s involvement with his co-conspirators. Pedowitz also reported he found that volume wasn’t unusual among NBA referees.

“That’s how we communicated in 2007,” Foster said. “Anytime somebody wants to discredit me, or question my integrity, they draw this conclusion from this 134-phone-call article… and it’s like, ‘That’s the proof!’ There is no proof. Because it didn’t happen. Today, when people hear anybody called someone 134 times, it’s like ‘Wow! That’s weird.’ Because it is weird. I didn’t have text messaging in 2007. I had a Motorola Razor, which if you wanted to text ‘Yes’ in a text message it was 23 keystrokes or something crazy like that.”

In conclusion, the Pedowitz report said Foster’s phone records “do not in our view raise concerns about his integrity.”

Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison, but Foster said he feels like he is the one serving a prison sentence.

“I never, ever said I wasn’t friends with Tim Donaghy. I was,” Foster said. “But I want everyone to know I had no idea what was going on. (After Donaghy was arrested) it was the lowest morale of our staff, the lowest morale of my life. I lost a friend who I haven’t spoken to since then, not out of anything other than … that’s just how bad it was.”

Donaghy, who served 11 months, now resides in Florida, where he lives off the rent from 15 properties he bought in 2008 and 2009. He says he still watches the NBA, and he becomes sad when he sees Foster.

“One of my biggest regrets is that me and him were very, very close,” Donaghy said. “It’s upsetting to me knowing he is getting a lot of s— because of what our relationship was at the time. So, that’s tough … just tough when I think about that relationship. I wasn’t going to call you back, but I’m hoping at some point, when Scott steps away, we can talk. And I can apologize to him. You never know, maybe that friendship can be pieced back together. I’m not sure.”


Foster has officiated 24 NBA Finals games, more than any other active referee. (Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)

As his flight was preparing to leave Boston on May 8, Foster bolted to the plane lavatory. He needed to cry.

By nature, Foster is not emotional, let alone a crier. The last time he was moved to tears was before the 2023-24 season when the NBA referees gathered at their annual referee preseason meeting at a Brooklyn hotel.

Both times, he cried for the same reason: his father.

At the referees meeting, Foster was on camera for a promotional video about NBA referees receiving their white jacket, a keepsake given to officials when they work the Finals. The jackets are the holy grail of officiating. Foster has 16 of them, and what brought him to tears was remembering the first one.

It used to be such a cherished memory, that summer day in 2008 when Foster returned from Game 5 of the Celtics-Lakers Finals and walked down to his father’s Ocean City, Md., beach house with the jacket. For Foster, that first jacket represented a triumph in perseverance, a recognition of excellence, and it came on the heels of the Donaghy investigation, when he was at his lowest. When he presented his father the jacket, he told him he couldn’t have done it without him. In the following years, Dickie Foster wore the white jacket almost every time he left the house.

That memory for Foster had become heavy. His father was battling dementia, and Foster knew his condition meant the two would never share a moment like that again. As the cameras were rolling, he started bawling.

Now, eight months later, he was in the plane bathroom, losing it again.

Around 3 a.m., in the hours after he officiated Boston’s victory over the Cavaliers in Game 1, Foster learned his father had died. Dickie Foster was 79.

He thought he was prepared for the moment. It had been years since his dad was the vibrant, exuberant, friend-to-all, the one with a constant smile and unmistakable belly laugh. He repeated to Foster in the last couple of years that he was sorry for becoming a burden. Foster assured him he wasn’t.

Later that morning, as he called his dad’s friends, they all had the same reaction: sorrow but relief. Then, as Foster sat on the plane and delivered the news to one of his dad’s former softball teammates — “the coolest guy in my dad’s group of buddies” — the teammate started crying uncontrollably. Foster had to beeline to the bathroom to hide his emotions.

Foster began to wonder if he would be able to compose himself for his assignment the next day — Dallas at Oklahoma City. In homage to his father, Foster said missing the game was never a thought or an option. His dad often boasted he never missed a day of work at the fire department.

“My dad would have been really upset with me if he knew I did that because of his passing,” Foster said.

As he stood for the national anthem before Game 2 in Oklahoma City, Foster went through his normal routine: saying a prayer for all his family and friends who have passed (his mother died in 2016). He said he was worried he would break down in front of a full arena.

But then he remembered something his father always preached. Years ago, his father became enthralled with “The Precious Present,” a short story by Spencer Johnson. The story illustrates the value of finding happiness and contentment by living in the moment. His father over the years distributed dozens of copies to friends and family, and hung a sign on his porch that read “Precious Present.”

Foster blocked it all out … the noise … the three things … his father’s passing. He focused on the present.

When the anthem finished, Foster was composed and in the moment. He was right where he envisioned that day with his dad at the bar, so many years ago. He was in the NBA, at a big game, with a whistle in his mouth. He was at the top of the game.

(Photo illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; photo: Bart Young / NBAE via Getty Images)



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