‘If I can ref here, I can ref anywhere’: Tim Greene traces success back to the Rumph

Tim Greene can see it all clear as day.

The 2011 edition of the Rumph Classic is in its final seconds. The crowd has created a halfcourt box around the action. 

As a young referee, Greene finds himself about to officiate a moment that will live on in Philadelphia basketball lore forever. He is not at all shaken.

For most, the recollection of Sharif Bray’s game winner is a legendary tale.

For Greene, it’s the moment he realized he belonged.

“I was like, ‘If I can ref here, I can ref anywhere,’” Greene said. “It was surreal. It was something that you have to go through as a ref to get that thick skin. If you can handle that environment, that pressure, that puts you in a situation where you can handle (anywhere).”

The road to this moment was non-traditional, to put it mildly.

During Greene’s two decades in the Navy, he found himself rehabbing an ankle injury in Japan when he was approached by a man who thought the way Greene saw the game matched that of a referee.

As a former player, trading in the ball and shorts for long pants and a whistle was not something he had any interest in.

“It took about six months for me to give in,” Greene said. “I was a player, I don’t want to be no damn ref.”

While he personally took a while to accept the reality of being a referee, the officiating world did not take long to notice him.

After less than two years of work, he was already in pro ball in Japan and he made quick work of becoming the highest rated referee in the league. 

Following his retirement from the military, Greene moved stateside and the NBA came calling.

Working inside the NBA’s training program for officials, Greene worked his way to the (then) D-League after one year and into the WNBA the next. He’s spent the last 14 seasons in the WNBA.

Also with his return to the United States, he received a call from the Rumph Classic.

“To be honest, this is where you mold your craft,” Greene said of the event. “To put yourself in this environment, it helps you communicate better.”

Much like many others who have been around since the days of playing the tournament at Mallery Rec Center, Greene sits in awe of how the event has grown.

He credits the basketball community of Philadelphia and the players who keep coming back with a lot of that growth. The weekend itself has become something that players, coaches and fans circle on their calendar.

But they’re not alone in scheduling their life around the Rumph.

“I basically talk about this (event) eleven months and three weeks of the year,” Greene said. “The referee community, NBA refs, WNBA refs, everyone from all (avenues) have questions about this and make plans for me to bring them here all year long.”

In bringing them to the Rumph Classic, Greene hopes to accomplish a few things.

Introduce them to an event that features so many people that he considers family, show them some great basketball and, hopefully, get them something close to the experience that he had as a referee for that legendary game in 2011.

Above all, however, he wants to tell them the story of the event.

“We all know what Danny (Rumph) means to the world,” Greene said. “I’ve never met Danny personally, but I owe so much to Danny. It’s unreal … I’m sure he knows it above, what he’s done for me. If I could shake his hand, (I would) and I’d take him to dinner for a week.”