Daily Sports Smile: NBA referee Tony Brown returns to work eight months after cancer diagnosis

Referees Jacyn Goble, left, and Tony Brown (6) review a play during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Detroit.
Jaylon Thompson
USA TODAY Sports+

NBA referee Tony Brown is beginning his triumphant return to the hardwood. According to the Associated Press, Brown will work in the NBA Replay Center for two nights. It will be his first NBA assignment since being diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in April.

Brown has undergone 14 rounds of chemotherapy. He is still receiving treatments and fighting the cancer each step of the way. In consultation with his doctors and family, the league agreed to assign him NBA Replay Center duties.

His comeback began Monday night.

In an interview with Associated Press reporter Tim Reynolds, Brown is excited to return. He wants to show that cancer won’t keep him down.

“I haven’t just been fighting for just me,” Brown said. “I’ve felt like I’m fighting for everybody that has love and respect for me. And that’s just makes you fight even harder.”

Brown has officiated 1,109 regular season games in his career. He also has NBA All-Star Game experience and was a referee in the 2020 NBA Finals.

The NBA has been supportive throughout his cancer fight. The league released an official statement when Brown first learned of the cancer diagnosis.

“Tony is a beloved member of the NBA family, and in particular, our officiating family,” NBA Senior Vice President, Referee Development and Training Monty McCutchen said.  “In addition to exemplifying what it means to be a world class referee on the court, Tony also touches so many lives off the court. The NBA officiating family and the entire NBA family stand behind Tony with thoughts and prayers as he embarks upon this courageous battle."

The National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network also partnered to raise awareness in supporting Brown. Several NBA members wore special purple t-shirts in honor of Brown this summer.

Brown was overjoyed with the support. Several people checked on him regularly and his status is improving. Doctors are encouraged by recent scans that show his tumors are shrinking.

There is still a long way to go. But Brown told the Associated Press that he is thankful for everyone that has been by his side.

“This is something you cannot face alone,” Brown said.