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Veteran Ref Joey Crawford will not return this season

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The NBA's longest-tenured official will not recover from a December knee surgery in time to take the court again during his farewell season.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Veteran NBA official Joey Crawford has officiated his last NBA game, according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.

Crawford announced in January that this would be his last NBA season. At the time of the announcement he was recovering from a Dec. 2 knee surgery, but was optimistic that he would be able to return to the court by March.The rehab process has not gone according to plan, however, and Crawford will not be ready before the end of the season.

"I was lucky. For 35 years or so it was only like, a calf [strain] here or there. But the last two years, my 38th and 39th, it just broke down on me. What're ya gonna do? You just move on," Crawford said to NBA.com.

Entering the season, Crawford was the NBA's longest-tenured official with 39 years of experience. He broke into the league in 1977 and has since officiated 2,561 regular season games, 374 playoff games, and 50 Finals games.

Early in his career Crawford was known for his fiery temper, but in recent seasons he earned the respect those around him. In 2014, three dozen players and coaches responded to an anonymous LA Times survey and voted that Crawford was the second best of the league's 64 officials.

One coach cited Crawford's unflappable attitude and openness to discussion as two reasons for his popularity:

"Once upon a time, you couldn't talk to Joey," an NBA head coach said. "He's cleaned that up — big time. He runs it when he's on the floor now. For me, that's big. I don't care if it's at home or on the road, he's not going to get intimidated by the crowd. To me, that's big with officials. You have guys that are homers, where the home crowd can sway them. But not Joey."

"There's no nonsense when Joey is doing stuff," one player said. "When Joey says, 'Ya'll been warned,' everybody stops."

Despite his recent popularity, Crawford has not escaped criticism and controversy over the course of his 39 seasons. Several media outlets have complained that his on-court style is unnecessarily demonstrative and detrimental to the league. The NBA's Front Office also suspended Crawford in 2007 for unnecessarily ejecting Tim Duncan from a game.

Crawford briefly resigned from the NBA in 1998 after being convicted of tax evasion. He, along with six other officials implicated in the fraud, was reinstated by the NBA at the start of the 1999 season.

Perhaps surprisingly, Crawford has had few notable run-ins with the Portland Trail Blazers over his five decades in the league. Rasheed Wallace did run afoul of Crawford in the early-2000s, but there were few officials in the league that Wallace didn't offend during that era.

Perhaps the Blazers' most memorable Crawford moment came in a 2010 playoff series with the Phoenix Suns, in which Crawford whistled Marcus Camby for his controversial fourth foul halfway through the third quarter.