Joseph J. Gushue, 64, Former Nba Referee

Posted: November 14, 1996

Joseph J. Gushue, 64, who went from officiating playground games to becoming a full-time referee in the National Basketball Association for more than 20 years, died of heart failure Tuesday at his home in the Northeast.

Mr. Gushue had been battling colon cancer for nearly a year, his family said, but it was his heart that failed due to radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

He continued to follow sports while undergoing treatment and even attended the Sixers' season opener two weeks ago.

And last month, he and eight buddies from North Catholic High School traveled to South Bend, Ind., for the Notre Dame-Air Force football game.

``Joe in his heyday was truly one of the best referees in the NBA,'' said Rod Thorn, the league's senior vice president for basketball operations. ``He had a good relationship with the players and was just outstanding.''

It was while officiating a summer league game in Wildwood that Mr. Gushue caught the eye of an NBA scout who was looking to fill one spot on his roster of referees.

``The scout invited him to New York for a tryout in 1961 and he was hired on a per-game basis,'' said his daughter, Nancy Jelen. ``There was one spot open, and it was between my father and Tommy Lasorda [recently retired manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers].

`` `It was the best thing that ever happened to Tommy,' my father used to say. `Look where he wound up.' ''

Early in his NBA career, Mr. Gushue was paid $50 per game, plus minimal expenses.

``There were fewer teams then and only two referees per game,'' his daughter said. ``The league told him to keep his daytime job because they could only give him two to three games a week, mostly on weekends.''

Mr. Gushue was a carpenter, and worked as his trade until two years ago. He still maintained his union card, his family said.

As the NBA expanded, Mr. Gushue was given more games to officiate, and eventually, refereeing became his full-time job, earning him more than $75,000. For playoff games, his family said, he was paid $500 per game.

Occasionally, Mr. Gushue would take his wife and three children on long road trips with him, particularly if he had to officiate on Christmas in the West Coast.

But the grind of officiating 82 regular-season games exacted its toll. In 1982, Mr. Gushue underwent surgery on his knees, and he missed the entire season. He returned the next year, but his knees required additional surgery, and he retired after the 1984 season.

He returned to carpentry.

Besides Nancy Jelen, Mr. Gushue is survived by his wife of 40 years, Anna Mae Arndt Gushue; a son, Michael; another daughter, Carol Ann Kovacs; a brother; five sisters; and eight grandchildren.

A viewing will be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Burns Funeral Home, 9708 Frankford Ave. A Funeral Mass will be said at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Katherine of Siena Church, 9700 Frankford Ave. Burial will be at Resurrection Cemetery, Bensalem.

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