Tony Brown has officiated 1,109 regular season games and 25 more in the playoffs, during 17 seasons as an NBA referee.

He’s also worked two NBA All-Star Games and made his NBA Finals debut in 2020.

Prior to joining the NBA, he worked for four seasons in both the NBA G League and the CBA, and for 3 seasons, in the WNBA.

So, it should come as no surprise that Tony Brown, 54, typically wouldn’t be too excited about being assigned a shift as one of the refs working in the NBA’s replay center.

Kind of like a “DNP-CD.”

A ‘Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision.’

Well, Tony’s not belly-aching about it, truth be told.

Earlier this year, the longtime official was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

He was cleared to return to work in late-November, after eight long months.

First step?

Two nights in the replay center, the start of a comeback.

Thank God.

How does this kind of thing happen?

Let’s spare each other, and ourselves, shall we?

We can think about it — all of it, or as little of it — as we choose.

Rhetorical question, really.

Up to God.

“I haven’t had time to sit around and be like ‘Why me?’ or ‘What am I going to do?’” Brown volunteered in an interview with the Associated Press.

“Me not fighting would have made me feel like I was letting people down.

What kind of example was I going to be to my kids if I just laid in this bed and let it overtake me?

I had to show my kids that there’s nothing in life that you can’t challenge and overcome if you have a positive mindset.”

Pretty selfless.



And so very true.

“A positive mindset.”

We’ve all had our problems.



Life-threatening, even.

Brown’s case?

The American Cancer Society estimates that 3% of patients diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer live five years after being diagnosed.


97% don’t make it that long.

But Tony Brown’s workin’ it.

He’s undergone 14 rounds of chemotherapy — each involving infusions of 3 different drugs in the hospital (seven hours) followed by two more days of treatment at home through a port in his chest.

Two more rounds of chemo remain, but his doctors are encouraged by scans which show steadily shrinking tumors.

“I’ve gotten better results than what’s been expected,” Brown offered.

“This is something you cannot face alone,” he added.

As it turned out, a bad batch of sushi while on the road in Miami, may have saved Brown’s life.

What was thought to be food poisoning led to a battery of tests which detected cancer.

Within a week, he was undergoing aggressive treatment, and has been seeing highly regarded doctors from both Emory University in Atlanta and the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston since.

“I hope it just sends a clear message,” Brown said.

“Just go and get some type of early detection.

It’s worth it, because you just never know.

And time is of the essence.”

Brown’s goal is to get back on the court this season, possibly not long after the All-Star break.

Immersion in the game during his absence — watching and studying — along with dedication to increasing his fitness level, are key parts of his therapy.

“I haven’t just been fighting just for me,” Brown remarked candidly.

“I’ve felt like I’m fighting for everybody that has love and respect for me.

And that just makes you fight even harder.”

Amen to that.

And Godspeed, Tony Brown.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in December 2021.]




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Peter J. Kaplan

Peter J. Kaplan

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