Official Turner Makes a Whistle-Stop : Basketball: He will call it quits in March, but he continues to teach intricacies of trade to up-and-coming officials.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It looked like a convention of officials when Booker Turner ambled into the gymnasium at Cal State Dominguez Hills earlier this year.

About a dozen men in black and white striped shirts milled around, waiting to officiate a part of a Toro intrasquad scrimmage under the watchful eye of one of the game's best officials.

Appointed Pacific 10 Conference supervisor of officials in October, Turner will hang up his whistle in March after 21 seasons on hardwood floors. But even off the court his presence is expected to be felt because he is known as one of the best officials in the business.

In a press release announcing Turner's new appointment, Pac-10 Commissioner Thomas C. Hansen called him "an outstanding college basketball official on the national level."

"He has earned and enjoys the respect of players, coaches, fellow officials and administrators, a point which stood out during the search I conducted for a new supervisor."

The turnout at Dominguez Hills backed that up. Turner drew a diverse crowd of officials, most with high school or college experience. One man drove from Bakersfield for maybe 30 minutes of work. In fact, there were more men than necessary, yet Turner was pleased. He would like to expand these preseason study sessions, designing them after the ones he has organized with Dominguez Hills Coach Dave Yanai, a long-time friend.

"I try to do as many of these scrimmages as I can for the guys," Turner said. "It gets their legs in shape and gets them in contact with their jobs."

It also helps the players, he said.

"These (players) have been banging themselves around, calling their own fouls in the gym at practice for almost a month now," he said. "This gives them a chance to have someone else call their game."

A resident of the Athens area of Los Angeles County, Turner started his officiating career in 1963 when his amateur playing career ended because of a knee injury. He quickly rose to the head of his profession, moving from high school to community college to four-year college games. By 1969 he was doing Pac-10 games. He has worked six NCAA Final Four games, including the championship contests in 1981 and 1984.

Yanai said Turner has always been one of the best in the business.

"You don't see a lot of officials rise to the level of efficiency so quickly as he did," he said.

Turner suggests that the timing of his move into management seems right.

"Nobody is putting me out," he said. "This is me going out on my own. There is a time when enough is enough."

Turner speaks fondly of his career.

"I couldn't have asked for anything better," he said. "Basketball has been very good to me. I can't complain."

After a pause he said, "And I think I've been pretty good to it, too."

In 1971 Turner was offered a job in the NBA. But, with two small children at home, he didn't feel right about leaving his wife, Betty, alone for weeks at a time. Turner, who held a full-time job as a purchasing agent for a meat company, became content to earn extra spending money by officiating games in his spare time.

Turner anecdotes have been the subject of coaches' bull sessions for years. Turner particularly likes to tell a story about a televised game he did at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in the late 1970s.

"Vegas didn't have the teams then, like they do now and Vegas was getting blown out," he said. "Every time (myself and the other official) made a call, the fans threw things on the floor.

"At halftime we told the Vegas people that we were going to have to stop this game if they threw things on the floor again. Remember, this was a televised game and we were going to stop it."

The second half no sooner got under way when a foul was called on a UNLV player.

"Here came (things) out of the stands," he said. "They were throwing everything. So I stopped the game."

The crowd went wild, but the harassment of Turner didn't stop there. The officials were escorted out of the gym by police and driven directly to the airport.

"When we got to the airport, they must have been watching the game on TV," he said. "They wouldn't even serve us a drink."

Not all of Turner's experiences in Las Vegas have been that unpleasant. Actually, he is well-known there. Pit bosses have been known to kid him, "Hey, Booker, give us a break, will ya?"

Booker takes all that talk in stride, even laughing about it.

"In all my years of work, (coaches) may say that I was a hard-nose guy," he said. "But I did it my way and I had control (of every game)."

Turner said most fans, and even players, don't understand the game enough to comprehend all the foul calls. That's why he organizes practices like the one at Dominguez Hills each year.

"The purpose of working these scrimmages is to prepare the (players) and yourself for the season. When they cuss, I (call a technical foul on) them. It gets them used to it. In the long run, you might help the kid."

The most misunderstood rules involve defensive calls, he said. To demonstrate his point, he planted his feet two feet in front of a reporter's path.

"Look at me," he said. "Once a player has established position (in front of another player) he has the right to move."

Turner moved upward, then back and then side to side.

"A lot of people don't understand the charge call. But a defensive player can move anywhere he wants as long as he establishes position first."

Turner insists that the best officials are the ones who understand defense and watch play away from the ball.

"If you know how to work defense and off the ball, you got this game licked," he said.

But not every official achieves those goals.

"Some guys get to certain levels, like high school, but they can't make the adjustment to a higher level, where the players are better and the calls are more difficult," he said.

And Turner laid to rest the notion that basketball is not a contact sport.

"It's a physical sport," he said. "Not every contact is a foul. What we are looking for (in a contact foul) are advantage or disadvantage things."

As the scrimmage progressed at Dominguez Hills, Turner offered advice to fellow officials.

Pointing to a purple line on the court, he told a trail official on a team of three, "Never go deeper than this 28-foot line."

After a player made a long jump shot, Turner shouted to another official, who was signaling the basket was worth three points, "Make that call up here, babe, not down there."

He spoke of skip passes and throw-ins, and, while standing on the baseline, he singled out one official for his achievements.

"I think this man is going to be a good one," he said. "He'll be better off if I can convince him to stop playing the game. He still thinks like a player too much when he's out there."

Turner's turn on the court was eventful. He ran up and down the sidelines to get his legs loose before he jumped into the action. He carried a black whistle, which he shifted from hand to mouth. Sophomore center Vincent Washington didn't like one of Turner's foul calls and he protested.

Turner tooted the whistle.

"I got a technical foul on No. 25 white," he said, pointing at Washington.

And then, turning to Washington, he said, "I'm gonna learn you right."

Washington apologized and shook Turner's hand. They talked briefly and later, after his stint on the court was over, Turner explained: "I'll spend time talking to a kid if he wants help. I don't need to waste time on a kid who doesn't want help. He's a good kid."

Turner, his brow full of sweat, left the scrimmage before it was over. He was due at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion to observe other officials at another scrimmage and it was getting late.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
63°