The Charge Call: How to change the game of Basketball


Joe Franco

The home team is making a late-game surge and has gone on an 11-3 run to tie the game. The opposing team’s starting point guard drives to the lane and collides into the home team’s center, and the crowd becomes irate. What do you call?

For former University of Nebraska at Omaha Maverick Joey Crawford, the answer is easy: blow that whistle, take a couple hops and thrust your right arm to the opposite hoop. Charge.

Crawford, 65, spent 39 years of his life officiating the National Basketball League. He’s infamously known for his spontaneous pranks and horrible calls, but Crawford owes all his fame to a recent fad that is the charging call in basketball.

“Anytime you’re officiating at home and it comes down to the wire, it’s the ref’s responsibility to keep that momentum up,” Crawford said. “And the best way to do it is to call an obscene charge call to keep the cheers going.”

Most basketball fans know the dreaded, heart-breaking charge call will inevitably change any game, no matter how incorrect the call may be. With March Madness coming to an end, there are only a few games left for college refs to blow their whistle and draw the attention of thousands of paying fans to focus in on them for a brief second.

“You want to be the first one that jumps on that call,” Crawford said. “That way, you have more time to create your own spin on a charge call for fans to remember for the remainder of the game.”

There are many styles in drawing attention to oneself as a referee, but Crawford envisions the call well be-fore it happens late in the game.

“I just picture myself as an outfielder seeing a slow one roll up to me with a guy rounding third, ya know,” Crawford said. “My eyes light up, I take a nice crow hop, and throw everything I have in that charge call because I know it will steal the show.”

Naturally, the home team in any basketball game will get a few calls from the refs for some “home-cooking” as some like to call it. But for Crawford, the taste of evil is almost as succulent as playing the hero in a crucial game.

“I’ll admit I might have gotten a call or two wrong to favor the home team,” Crawford said. “But every now and then, I like to call one for the away team. It can be fun playing the villain in front of an entire crowd. We call that ‘turning heel’ in the show business.”

After finishing his degree from UNO in 1974, Crawford made his way to the NBA and instantly stole the hearts of fans. The Philadelphia native has ejected legends like Phil Jackson and Tim Duncan, but he claims he doesn’t want to toss anyone if he doesn’t have to.

“The point of being a ref is to captivate the audience,” Crawford said. “These athletes can only provide so much entertainment, and if I throw one of them out of the game, it puts more pressure on me to make an outlandish call to boil the blood in the fans’ veins.”

For Crawford, he claims that the charge call is the most important call in the game for the fans, the players, but more specifically, the refs. The charge, which is always a coin-flip of a call, can change momentum with one whistle blow. For Crawford, that’s what drew him to officiating.

“When you stop the game with less than a minute left to go, you are literally changing the game based off of your opinion,” Crawford said. “There’s really no better feeling in sports.”