He was a 25-year referee in the National Basketball Association, sharing the glistening floors of 20,000-seat arenas with the likes of Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. He earned the 2003 Gold Whistle Award from the National Association of Sports Officials. He was part of the play that led to television replay being used in the league (his crew got the call right on that play, by the way).
He showed no fear in a job that chews up and spits out the faint of heart. He stared down the pit bulls of the NBA and retired as one of the most respected refs in the game.
Crazy thing is, in the wild and wooly life of Bob Delaney, those were the boring years.
Prior to the NBA days, you see, Delaney was a New Jersey state police officer, during which time he was recruited to lead an unprecedented joint undercover operation with the FBI to infiltrate the Mafia operating along the New Jersey waterfront. Here’s a Wiki snapshot:
Project Alpha was an investigation into the New Jersey organized crime scene. Delaney and a group of undercover officers posed as businessmen in the trucking industry trying to get out from under the pressures of union interests. This would open an association with the crime families who would alleviate their business pressures from the unions for a price. Delaney would assume the identity of “Bobby Covert,” a deceased resident of New Jersey, for his protection. While doing all this, he had to maintain a profile as a reputable business owner and keep in mind his primary responsibility as a police officer.
I suppose when you leave the world of Bobby Covert, the occasional “I’ve seen better refs at Foot Locker” heckle probably doesn’t leave any permanent emotional scars. In fact, it was the old emotional scars he was able to escape when he joined the NBA … but more on that later.
So where am I going with all this? I’m going here: On the occasion of our 12th wedding anniversary, which was Sunday, Aug. 7, The Beautiful Heth and I had the privilege of spending some quality time with Mr. Delaney, and his wife Billie, at the Basketball Hall of Fame, where an event coincidentally named “Hoops & Heroes” was holding its second annual tournament to benefit the Massachusetts Special Olympics. Mr. Delaney was the event’s honorary guest, and I was there as the guy shooting a few free throws. As the Hall of Fame is the spot where we intend to make No. 1 million on Veterans Day, tournament organizer John Evon figured it would be a good idea to have Hoops For Heroes down to join Hoops & Heroes and get in a few practice shots.
So TBH and I joined John, his wife Beth, HOF President John Doleva and the amazing Hoop Hall team for the tournament reception Saturday night and the final three games of the tournament on Sunday. My official business was to say a few words and make 100 free throws in five minutes prior to the championship game, but the thrill of the weekend really was spending some time with Bob Delaney.
We’ve mentioned the state police career, and the NBA career (although we overlooked the 34 points per game he scored during one of his high school basketball seasons) … bringing us up to the present, which is where Bob Delaney makes sense of it all: putting his experiences — in particular his own Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered as a result of his undercover years — to good use. How? By working with law enforcement agencies and the military regarding undercover operations, surveillance and educating others on the warning signs, outreach and treatment for those who are at risk and suffering from PTSD.
He’s also written a pair of books: “Covert: My Years Infiltrating the Mob” published in 2008, and the recently released “Surviving the Shadows: A Journey of Hope Into Post-Traumatic Stress.”
His thesis is one I happen to believe in deeply based on my own journey in recovery: Fellowship is the key. As Mr. Delaney would say, it is peer-to-peer therapy — gaining strength and hope by sharing with those who have traveled a parallel path — that creates the best chance for healing. Great as the professional community can be, there are some things that do not translate from the theoretical. Common experience wins out, every time.
As Bob writes in “Surviving the Shadows”: Although I recognize all the important medical treatments available, I view peer-to-peer therapy as the first line of defense in dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: cops need to speak to cops, firefighters to firefighters, soldiers to soldiers, combat spouses to combat spouses, and accident victims to accident victims.
PTSD has a true champion in Bob Delaney, and he’s sharing that message around the world.
On Sunday, however, TBH and I had the good fortune that he was sharing other stuff, stories, while we watched basketball together at the Hall of Fame’s center court.
Like the time he was hearing from Knicks fan Spike Lee about a questionable call, to which he responded, “I’ve seen all your movies, Spike. They weren’t all hits, either.”
He told us about the mental stop sign that he trained himself to see whenever he found himself becoming a fan while doing his job. He told us about going to a few games a year simply as a fan to remind himself of the big picture: “It’s our office, but for them it’s entertainment, and it’s important to remember that.”
I could have listened to Bob Delaney talk shop all day long.
When it came time to play our role in the festivities, just before the final game, I said a few words about Hoops For Heroes, and in addition to the usual description of what we’re doing, I was compelled to mention two things:
1. Watching the Special Olympics exhibition game moments earlier was … well … amazing. When the defense is high-fiving the offense after a hoop and everyone is cheering every play, I know I’m in a good place.
2. Thirty more families had received unthinkable news from Afghanistan just a day earlier after an American helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. I don’t understand enough to have an opinion on the merits of or justification for war, but I can say that in my gut it just doesn’t make sense … and less so when yet another family is changed in this way. It’s a headline to most of us. For them, it’s a world turned forever on its head.
When shooting time arrived, Bob was gracious enough to be the transfer guy, taking the passes from rebounders Pete Lambert and Chase Bourdo. Maybe it was in the professionalism of the handoff (from a guy whose done that a few times before), or maybe it was those soft Hall of Fame rims, but whatever the case, the shooting went pretty darned well — 100 for 109, in about 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
Shortly thereafter, Bob was ceremonially deputized by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, and shortly after that, the Air Force team whooped the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department to earn the biggest, baddest recreational-level trophy you’d ever want to see, and shortly after that, TBH and I said our goodbyes and headed for Route 91 North.
Noah and I will be heading back in a few days for the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. Cannot wait.
Big thanks to John Evon and Paul Lambert for their orchestration of the event, John Doleva for the invitation … and to Bob Delaney for being one serious, stand-up kind of dude.
For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.