Tony Brown, the referee who was involved in the 2020 NBA Finals, has died at 55

His family announced that Tony Brown, who officiated over 1,100 NBA games in 20 years, died Thursday after a long battle with pancreatic carcinoma. He was 55.

Brown was diagnosed in April 2021 with Stage 4 pancreatic carcinoma. He was able to recover and return to work at the NBA replay center last season. His family reported that he entered hospice care in Atlanta recently.

Brown’s family, Tina Taylor Brown and their three children Bailey, Basile, and Baylen, said that they are and have been sustained through the constant outpouring of love, support, and strength throughout this journey to develop strength, acceptance, and peace. As we celebrate Tony’s passing, we ask you to join us in this spirit. We are grateful to all our family and friends from near and far. Your love is unmeasurable.”

Brown was chosen to officiate two NBA All-Star games and a game in the 2020 NBA Finals between Los Angeles Lakers & Miami Heat. Before joining the NBA, Brown worked in championship-round games in both the WNBA and CBA.

After experiencing stomach discomfort that he initially thought was caused by bad sushi, the native of Tallahassee Florida was eventually diagnosed. Brown felt well enough to go back to work after undergoing more than 12 rounds of intensive chemotherapy. This was with the blessings of his medical team and the NBA.

“I don’t have the time to sit and wonder ‘Why me?’ “What are you going to do?” Brown spoke to The Associated Press earlier in the year. “Me not fighting could have made me feel like people were letting me down,” Brown said to The Associated Press earlier this year. How would I set a good example for my children if I just sat in my bed and allowed it to take over? My kids needed to see that there is nothing you can’t overcome or challenge in life if you have an optimistic mindset.

This was his story. He was open to new challenges.

Brown was a talented basketball player in high school. He accepted a scholarship from

Florida A&M and then decided to transfer to Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University. Brown was denied a scholarship, so he worked as an employee at Delta Air Lines while completing school. He drove passenger cars, cleaned planes, and became a flight attendant, which he continued to do until his retirement in 2007.

His NBA career was already in full swing. After working the 2018 All-Star Game, he was selected to work the 2021 Atlanta game. He was joined by fellow Atlanta residents Tom Washington, and Courtney Kirkland, as referees in the 2021 game. Both were graduates from historically Black colleges and universities. The game featured HBCUs and raised more than $3M for scholarship funds.

Brown stated that the most important thing about this game was that we were representing the NBA officials. He said that they must do an outstanding job for them. “Every night we go to that floor, we are representing one another. That’s the most prestigious and satisfying achievement we can achieve, just by doing our job.

Brown was a person who put others first, even in his final days. In the days leading up to his death, Brown’s family and friends worked tirelessly to provide a scholarship for Clark Atlanta football players. As a token of appreciation, Clark Atlanta players visited Brown at the hospice earlier this month and gave him a jersey.

Mawuli, an attorney and one of the main organizers of this scholarship, stated that the family is still trying to reach the $100,000 goal. She hopes to present a check for the amount to Clark Atlanta during its men’s basketball season opener on Nov. 7.

Clark Atlanta coach Alfred Jordan stated that Tony Brown “embodies all it takes to be a Clark Atlanta Basketball player.” His hard work, determination, and perseverance set him apart because these qualities are rare in today’s world.

Brown was also part of a historic night in the NBA.

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio’s coach, was furious that DeMar DeRozan was not penalized for a foul on DeMar DeRozan’s drive. DeMar DeRozan was playing for the Spurs against the Los Angeles Lakers. Popovich ejected Brown for his outburst and pointed to Becky Hammon, then-Spurs assistant, to take control.

Hammon was the first woman to lead a team in NBA history.

Brown was the only one to make an appearance on the court at the NBA Finals that year. Brown was at Walt Disney World’s restart bubble for several weeks when he heard that he had been selected as one of 12 referees for the title series. His immediate thoughts turned to his family and how they would react.

Brown stated that he was “speechless” when he found out. “The first thing that I had to go through was the sacrifices my family made for me during this journey. My family was the reason I was so happy.

Brown’s family expressed appreciation for his caregivers and publicly thanked PanCan and The Lustgarten Foundation, which are both dedicated to fighting pancreatic carcinoma, as well as the NBA and National Basketball Referees Association.

His family stated, “Keep trying for the cures.”

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