The 1969 Chronicles: A Sports Writer's Notes  By Stan Isaacs

I enjoyed watching and writing about the style of referee Mendy Rudolph. I like to think that nobody ever went into such detail about a referee in action as I did here with Rudolph.

February 26: Rudolph in Action: a Graceful Figure

The National Basketball Association has a rule against revealing the names of officials who will work particular games.It's a common sense provision protecting the officials from any needless pressures. Even though the officials are as clean as a hound's tooth, there's no reason to announce their presence beforehand. Nobody ever pays to see the officials

For all that it's a bonus to see a basketball game worked by Mendy Rudolph. The tempation is to call Mendy Rudolph "The Valentino of the Courts," but that would be a bit off the mark. Though Rudolph is dark and good looking and meticulous, he is no ham. He deals in understatement.

Rudolph is among the most graceful figures in the arena. There is a quiet elegance about the way Rudolph heel-and-toes on the fringe of the action, quick, alert, constantly on the move, and always with an economy of motion that is the mark of a stylist.

Rudolph may be the most respected of all pro referees. The respect is evident in the way the players respond to his calls. Pro basketball is an impossible game, with the physical contact coming so hard and fast it's almost impossible to define the nuance between a foul and a near-foul. Players are all too often moved to take out their frustrations on the officials. When Rudolph and a few other outstanding officials are in control, players restrain their cry-baby instincts because they accept that the calls are fair and equitable.

Rudolph is 42. He has been officiating in the NBA since the 1952-53 season. In a sense he was born to officiate because his father, Harry Rudolph, was a referee. His dad worked in the Eastern Basketball League, of which he is now president. Mendy started by working kids games in the Wilkes Barre, Pa. YMHA where his father was the director. He then mopved up to scholastic games.

Before he could move on to college, his dad recruited him into the Eastern League.He worked his first game there with his father. The Rudolph Father & Son act didn't last long because Mendy soon moved up to the big league.

Technically, he is quite proficient. So are all the officials to one degree or another. Aesthetically, though, Rudolph stands out. In this sense his actions ought to be fair game for a dance critic.

First off, Rudolph is immaculate. He is well groomed, neat down to the absence of a single bit of stubble on his chinny chin chin. His black hair, with flecks of gray, is always in place. More than that, it's as if somebody carrefully placed the white hairs in his scalp for the precisely right effect. He has mature-man swarthy good looks.

Rudolph has great wrists. A lady of my acquaintance watched him for a few moments and said his hand movements had some of the quality of a male Kabuki dancer. She said, "He moves them in the mannered way a Kabuki dancer does, as if he's telling a story. And I suppose the way he moves his hands does convey a foul action."

He has this unconscious habit of pulling up his beltless pants with the heels of his hands, the way a man uses his hands when he does not like to get them dirty. It has a slight resemblance to the way Jimmy Cagney did it in the movies. Rudolph frequently wipes the sweat from his wrists and brows,and when he does it, there is a hint of the flourish of a pinky. Yet it is all masculine.

On the court his actions are complete. The body movement is light, the hands go through a complete arc. At rest he is calm. He stands erect in one place, holding the ball and looking off into space. For the few moments pause Rudolph appears oblivious to the players, the coaches, the fans. People in the arena are always intersting to look at when at rest; Rudolph conveys a deep calm.

As a senior official, Rudolph is one of those who works with the younger officials. "We aim to conduct ourselves with calm and professional dignity, and convey a quiet sense of authority," he said. "There are certain basics about movement and position, and making the calls the same all the time--home and away, the first period or the last period. It's a bit like teaching a guy to waltz or tango. You watch his movements and see if he's doing them right, but there is room for his own personal style.

Rudolph is a good athlete. He pitched in a softball league in Central Park for a number of years. He plays a good game of golf. Rudolph is also a good dancer. "I dance quite well as a matter of fact," he said.

Of course.

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Norm Drucker Symphony: 120 Irritating Whistles 11. Political Baseball

Chapters
Home Page
Introduction
1. The Amazing Mets
2. Yankee Fans
3. Music to My Ears
4. Ali & Friends
5. People Are Funny
6. The Poetry Corner
7. The Glorious Knicks
8. Bill Bradley & Others
9. Horsing Around
10. An Angry Mother
 
  • All Those Army Courses Qualify Orville for Open
     
  • Even Caddies Have It Tough in the Open
     
  • On Campus: Up Character, Down Trees
     
  • Norm Drucker Symphony: 120 Irritating Whistles
     
  • Rudolph in Action: a Graceful Figure
  • 11. Political Baseball
    12. Fun and Games
    13. The Sweet Science
    14. Baseball, Gentlemen
    15. Some Immortals
    16. A Galleria
    17. Ladies First
    18. The Irrepressible Jets
    19. The Sporting Culture

    Email Stan Isaacs
    at sibelch@optonline.net