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NBA Finals referee Tony Brown has died at the age of 55.

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Tony Brown has always embraced a challenge.

When he was not given a scholarship, he worked at Clark Atlanta University. He climbed the basketball refereeing ladder and eventually became one of the best referees in the NBA. Even in the last days of her battle with pancreatic cancer, she was trying to help others.

Brown, who has played more than 1,100 NBA games in almost two decades, passed away Thursday, his family said. He was 55 years old.

“Tony Brown was one of the most successful referees in the NBA and has been an inspiration to his colleagues,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Brown was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in April 2021 and has recovered to the point where he was able to return to work at NBA re-centre last season. His family said he had recently entered a nursing home in Atlanta.

Brown’s family – his wife Tina Taylor-Brown and their children Bailey, Basile and Baylen – said in a statement, “We have stood and continue to be continually overflowing with love and support throughout this journey of fostering strength, acceptance and peace.” . It is in this spirit that we ask you to join us as we prepare to celebrate Tony’s life. We would like to express our deepest gratitude to our family and friendly village, near and far, old and new. Your love is immeasurable.”

Brown was selected to officiate a pair of NBA All-Star games and also worked in a match between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat at the 2020 NBA Finals. She also played in championship games for the CBA and WNBA and was a WNBA All-Star official before moving to the NBA in 2003.

The native of Tallahassee, Florida was diagnosed after suffering some stomach upset, which he initially attributed to what he thought was bad sushi. After more than a dozen sessions of intense chemotherapy, Brown was feeling well enough to return to work with the support of his medical team, NBA, and family.

“I sat down and said, ‘Why me?’ I didn’t have time to be like or ‘What am I going to do?'” Brown told the Associated Press earlier this year. “Not fighting made people feel like I was letting them down. What example would I be to my children if I lay in this bed and let it take over me? I had to show my children that if you have a positive mindset, there is nothing in life that you cannot challenge and overcome.”

A gifted high school basketball player, Brown accepted a scholarship from Florida A&M and eventually decided to transfer to Clark Atlanta University, now known as Clark College. There were no scholarships for him there, so Brown worked throughout school as an employee of Delta Air Lines. He cleaned planes, drove passenger cars, then became a flight attendant and worked at Delta until his retirement in 2007.

By then, his NBA career was in full bloom. He worked at the 2018 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, then was selected to work on the 2021 game relocated to Atlanta. Fellow referees for this 2021 game were Atlanta residents Tom Washington and Courtney Kirkland, who, like Brown, graduated from historically Black colleges and universities, a game the NBA has committed to showcasing HBCUs and raising more than $3 million. for scholarship funds.

“The most important part of this whole game for us is that we have to be representing NBA officials and do an outstanding job for them,” Brown told the AP before the game. “We represent each other every night we go up to that floor. And that is the greatest reward and achievement we can have in doing our job.”

Even in the last days of his life, Brown’s focus was not himself. His family and friends worked fervently to provide scholarships to Clark Atlanta. Actors in the days before his death. Earlier this month, some Clark Atlanta players visited Brown in his nursing home and gave him a jersey to thank for his efforts.

Attorney Mawuli Davis, one of the principal organizers of the scholarship effort, said the family is still pursuing the $100,000 goal, which Clark Atlanta hopes to present a check for at the men’s basketball season opener on November 7.

“Tony Brown embodies what it means to be a Clark Atlanta basketball player,” said Clark Atlanta head coach Alfred Jordan. “What sets him apart from the rest is his hard work, determination and perseverance because these qualities are hard to achieve these days.”

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

On December 30, 2020, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was very upset that he was not fouled on a drive by DeMar DeRozan, who was playing for the Spurs against the Los Angeles Lakers at the time. Brown fired Popovich for his outburst, and Popovich signaled the Spurs to take over then-assistant Becky Hammon.

With this, Hammon became the first woman to lead a team in NBA history.

Earlier that year, Brown made his only appearance on the field in the NBA Finals. He had been in the league resumption bubble at Walt Disney World for several weeks, and when he received the news that he was one of the 12 referees selected for the title series, he said that his mind immediately went to how his family would react to the news.

“I was speechless when I found out,” Brown said. “The first thing I experienced on this journey was the sacrifices my family made to stand by my side. More than anything, I was happy for my family.”

In addition to expressing their appreciation for their caregivers, Brown’s family publicly thanked the NBA and the National Basketball Referees Association for their support, as well as the Lustgarten Foundation, an organization dedicated to the fight against pancreatic cancer, and PanCan.

“Keep striving for treatments,” her family said.

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