Mendy Rudolph

Last updated
Mendy Rudolph
Born(1926-03-08)March 8, 1926
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died July 4, 1979(1979-07-04) (aged 53)
New York City, New York
Nationality American
Occupation Sportscaster (1975–1977)
Spouse(s) Susan (1973–his death)
Basketball career
Position NBA referee
Officiating career 1953–1975
Basketball Hall of Fame

Marvin "Mendy" Rudolph (March 8, 1926 July 4, 1979) [1] was an American professional basketball referee in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for 22 years, from 1953 to 1975. Regarded as one of the greatest officials in NBA history,[ citation needed ] Rudolph officiated 2,112 NBA games (a record held at retirement) and was the first league referee to work 2,000 games. [1] He was also selected to referee eight NBA All-Star Games and made 22 consecutive NBA Finals appearances. [1]

Basketball team sport played on a court with baskets on either end

Basketball is a team sport in which two teams, most commonly of five players each, opposing one another on a rectangular court, compete with the primary objective of shooting a basketball through the defender's hoop while preventing the opposing team from shooting through their own hoop. A field goal is worth two points, unless made from behind the three-point line, when it is worth three. After a foul, timed play stops and the player fouled or designated to shoot a technical foul is given one or more one-point free throws. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins, but if regulation play expires with the score tied, an additional period of play (overtime) is mandated.

Official (basketball) official who enforces the rules and maintains order in a basketball game

In basketball, an official enforces the rules and maintains order in the game. The title of official also applies to the scorers and timekeepers, as well as other personnel that have an active task in maintaining the game. Basketball is regarded as among the most difficult sports to officiate due to the speed of play, complexity of rules, the case-specific interpretations of rules, and the instantaneous decision required.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is a men's professional basketball league in North America; composed of 30 teams. It is widely considered to be the premier men's professional basketball league in the world. The NBA is an active member of USA Basketball (USAB), which is recognized by FIBA as the national governing body for basketball in the United States. The NBA is one of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. NBA players are the world's best paid athletes by average annual salary per player.


Following his career as a referee, he was a color commentator for CBS Sports's coverage of the NBA on CBS for two seasons from 1975 to 1977 and he appeared in a television advertisement for Miller Lite. He was a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2007. [2]

Color commentator Sports commentator who assists the play-by-play announcer

A color commentator or expert commentator is a sports commentator who assists the main commentator, often by filling in any time when play is not in progress. The phrase "color commentator" is primarily used in American English; the concept may also be referred to as a summariser or analyst. The color analyst and main commentator will often exchange comments freely throughout the broadcast, when the main commentator is not describing the action. The color commentator provides expert analysis and background information, such as statistics, strategy, and injury reports on the teams and athletes, and occasionally anecdotes or light humor. Color commentators are often former athletes or coaches of the sport being broadcast.

CBS Sports is the sports division of the American television network CBS. Its headquarters are in the CBS Building on West 52nd Street in midtown Manhattan, New York City, with programs produced out of Studio 43 at the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street.

<i>NBA on CBS</i> television series

The NBA on CBS is the branding that is used for weekly broadcasts of National Basketball Association (NBA) games produced by CBS Sports, the sports division of the CBS television network in the United States. CBS aired NBA games from the 1973–1974 NBA season until the 1989–90 NBA season.

Personal life

Early life and family

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rudolph was raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. [3] His father, Harry Rudolph, was a prominent basketball referee and baseball umpire. [4] Mendy Rudolph played basketball as a child and eventually chose the same profession as his father. [5] Upon graduating from James M. Coughlin High School, [3] he began officiating basketball games at the Wilkes-Barre Jewish Community Center and later worked scholastic games. [6] At age 20, he was recruited to referee games alongside his father, who served as Eastern Professional Basketball League (Eastern League) President from 1956 to 1970. [4] [7] During his career in the Eastern League, he officiated his first Eastern League President's Cup championship series in 1948 and was selected as a referee in at least one game in every President's Cup playoff and championship series between 1949 and 1953. [7] At the same time, he also served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. [8]

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

Pennsylvania State of the United States of America

Pennsylvania, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state located in the northeastern, Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The Appalachian Mountains run through its middle. The Commonwealth is bordered by Delaware to the southeast, Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, Lake Erie and the Canadian province of Ontario to the northwest, New York to the north, and New Jersey to the east.

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania City and County seat in Pennsylvania, United States

Wilkes-Barre is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Luzerne County. It is one of the principal cities in the Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Located at the center of the Wyoming Valley, it is second in size to the nearby city of Scranton. The Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 563,631 as of the 2010 Census, making it the fourth-largest metro/statistical area in the state of Pennsylvania. Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding Wyoming Valley are framed by the Pocono Mountains to the east, the Endless Mountains to the west, and the Lehigh Valley to the south. The Susquehanna River flows through the center of the valley and defines the northwestern border of the city.

Rudolph was married twice during his life. His first marriage was to his childhood sweetheart and together they raised three children. But the relationship became troubled and eventually ended. [9] In 1961, Mendy Rudolph met Susan, a receptionist at the WGN office in New York City, while both worked for the station. [9] At the time, Rudolph worked at WGN as an additional job outside of officiating, which was common among referees from his era. [10] Mendy and Susan Rudolph were married in 1973. [9] Two years later, their first child, Jennifer Rudolph, was born. [9]


A receptionist is an employee taking an office or administrative support position. The work is usually performed in a waiting area such as a lobby or front office desk of an organization or business. The title receptionist is attributed to the person who is employed by an organization to receive or greet any visitors, patients, or clients and answer telephone calls. The term front desk is used in many hotels for an administrative department where a receptionist's duties also may include room reservations and assignment, guest registration, cashier work, credit checks, key control as well as mail and message service. Such receptionists are often called front desk clerks. Receptionists cover many areas of work to assist the businesses they work for, including setting appointments, filing, record keeping, and other office tasks.

WGN-TV Independent TV station in Chicago

WGN-TV, virtual channel 9, is an independent television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States. It serves as the flagship television property of the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of Tribune Media and is one of the company's three flagship media properties, alongside news/talk/sports radio station WGN and local cable news channel Chicagoland Television (CLTV). The station's second and third digital subchannels respectively serve as owned-and-operated stations of Tribune's two national over-the-air multicast services, classic television network Antenna TV and movie-focused general entertainment network This TV, both of which are headquartered at the WGN studios.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Gambling problem

Throughout his life, Rudolph suffered from a gambling problem [11] and was labeled a "compulsive gambler". [12] He would often spend his leisure time placing bets at race tracks and Las Vegas, Nevada and Puerto Rico casinos. [9] At that time, NBA referees were allowed to gamble, but this practice has since been prohibited. [13] As he incurred gambling losses, Rudolph was once offered by a Las Vegas gambler to erase his outstanding debt by participating in point shaving. [9] However, he refused to accept the offer and said to his wife, "It goes against all my principles. I love the game too much, respect it too much. I couldn't do it to you. I couldn't do it to the memory of my father, and I couldn't do it to myself. If I have to go into bankruptcy, something I'd hate to do, I'd do it," according to in a 1992 New York Times interview with Susan Rudolph. [9] Rudolph had cashed in his $60,000 pension fund to pay debts and he still owed an additional $100,000. [14] While he refused to seek professional help, Rudolph cut back on his gambling habit later in his life. [9]

Race track Facility built for racing of animals, vehicles, or athletes

A race track is a facility built for racing of vehicles, athletes, or animals. A race track also may feature grandstands or concourses. Racetracks are also used in the study of animal locomotion. Some motorsport tracks are called speedways.

Puerto Rico Unincorporated territory of the United States

Puerto Rico, officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and briefly called Porto Rico, is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the northeast Caribbean Sea, approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km) southeast of Miami, Florida.

Casino facility which houses and accommodates certain types of gambling activities

A casino is a facility which houses and accommodates certain types of gambling activities. The industry that deals in casinos is called the gaming industry. Casinos are most commonly built near or combined with hotels, restaurants, retail shopping, cruise ships or other tourist attractions. There is much debate over whether the social and economic consequences of casino gambling outweigh the initial revenue that may be generated. Some casinos are also known for hosting live entertainment events, such as stand-up comedy, concerts, and sporting events.

NBA officiating career

Early years

Rudolph was recommended by Eddie Gottlieb, coach and owner of the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors at the time, to then-NBA commissioner Maurice Podoloff, after observing Rudolph officiate an exhibition game. [3] [4] Rudolph was hired by the NBA in February 1953, [3] midway through the 1952–53 NBA season and he became the youngest official in the league. [15] In his early years with the NBA, Rudolph quickly became an established official as he worked playoff games within his first two years in the league. [16]

Eddie Gottlieb Ukrainian-American basketball coach

Edward Gottlieb, known as "Mr. Basketball" and "The Mogul", was the first coach and manager of the Philadelphia Warriors in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the former owner and coach of the team from 1951 to 1962. A native of Kiev, Ukraine, he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor on April 20, 1972. The NBA Rookie of the Year "Eddie Gottlieb Trophy" is named after Gottlieb.

Maurice Podoloff was an American lawyer and basketball and ice hockey administrator. He served as the president of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) in 1946–1949, and the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949–1963.

The 1952–53 NBA season was the seventh season of the National Basketball Association. The season ended with the Minneapolis Lakers winning the NBA Championship, beating the New York Knicks 4 games to 1 in the NBA Finals.

Memorable NBA Finals games

Rudolph officiated the 1955 NBA Finals between the Syracuse Nationals and Fort Wayne Pistons, which was notable for its actions by fans, fights between players, and attacks on referees. [17] Game 3 of the series, played in Indianapolis, Indiana, was interrupted by a fan who threw a chair on the floor and ran on the court to protest calls made by Rudolph and referee Arnie Heft. [17] Six years later, he made history by officiating the entire 1961 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks with his colleague Earl Strom. [13]

Rudolph and Strom officiated another notable game in the 1964 NBA Finals. [18] In Game 5 of the championship series, Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the San Francisco Warriors, knocked out Clyde Lovellette of the Boston Celtics with a punch. [4] Celtics head coach Red Auerbach stormed onto the court and demanded that Chamberlain be thrown out of the game. [4] The latter told Auerbach if he did not "shut up", he would be knocked down to the floor with Lovellette. [4] Auerbach countered the threat, "Why don't you pick on somebody your own size." Rudolph intervened the discussion and told Auerbach, "Red, do you have any other seven-footers who'd like to volunteer?" [4]

Head of officials

As his career progressed in the league, Rudolph took on responsibilities beyond officiating. In 1966, he was named referee-in-chief and worked alongside Dolph Schayes, who was hired as the league's supervisor of officials that year to replace Sid Borgia. [19] In this position, he oversaw areas that pertained to referee mechanics, techniques, and rule interpretations. [19] It was in this role that he authored the NBA Official’s Manual and Case Book. [13]

While he served as head of officials, the NBA lost four veteran officials—Norm Drucker, Joe Gushue, Earl Strom, and John Vanak to the rival American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1969 over salary and benefits. [20] At the time of transaction, Rudolph told Strom, "(Deputy Commissioner) Carl [Scheer], (NBA Commissioner) Walter [Kennedy], and I were prepared to offer you guys the greatest contract in the history of pro basketball." [20]

By the early 1970s, Rudolph successfully encouraged the league to adopt a plain gray referee uniform over the traditional "zebra" shirt to de-emphasize the presence of officials in games. [21]

Final years

By 1975, Rudolph's health condition began to deteriorate and he was forced to retire after suffering a blood clot in his lung during a 1975 NBA playoff game between the Buffalo Braves and Washington Bullets, played April 25, 1975. [3] In his final game, he had to be carried off the court. [9] On November 9, 1975, Rudolph officially ended his career as a referee in the NBA, in which he officiated more games (2,113) than any official in league history at the time. [22] Earl Strom later broke Rudolph’s record and officiated over 2,400 games in his 30-year career. [22]

Post-officiating career


Following his officiating career, Rudolph transitioned to a career in broadcasting. During the 1975-76 and 1976-77 NBA seasons, he worked as a television analyst for CBS Sports covering The NBA on CBS . [23] During his first season, he was paired with Brent Musburger and Rick Barry for the 1976 NBA Finals. [23] This championship series was most memorable for a triple-overtime Game 5, which has been labeled the "greatest game" in NBA history. [24] In this game, Celtic John Havlicek made an apparent game-winning field goal at the conclusion of the second overtime. [25] The game clock had expired, but Rudolph, along with Musburger and Barry, noted that the shot was made with two seconds remaining. [25] Referee Richie Powers, however, decided that one second remained in the second overtime period. [24]

Television commercial

In 1976, Rudolph was featured in a Miller Brewing Company television advertisement along with then-Celtics head coach Tom Heinsohn to promote Miller Lite's "Tastes Great, Less Filling" advertising campaign. [26] Rudolph and Heinsohn debated whether Miller Lite was less filling or tastes great in a bar room scene. After Heinsohn refused to agree that Lite was, first and foremost, less filling, Rudolph threw his thumb in the air and screamed, "You're out of the bar." [26] [27] This advertisement popularized Miller's campaign slogan [26] and the campaign was named eighth best of the 20th century by Advertising Age in 1999. [28]


Rudolph died on July 4, 1979 from a heart attack in New York City. [3] [8] Mendy and Susan Rudolph were standing outside a movie theatre entrance when Mendy collapsed. [9] After unsuccessful attempts at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he was taken to a hospital where he died an hour after arrival. [9] At the time of his death, then-NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien said of Rudolph, "Mendy's contributions to the integrity of pro basketball are legendary." [14] Officials wore a patch with Rudolph's uniform number, 5, on their sleeves the following season after his death, the 1979-80 NBA season, to honor him. [1] No other official in the NBA has worn this number to the present day. [1]

Known for his charisma, personality, and iconic stature on the court, Rudolph symbolized NBA officiating during the early years of the NBA to fans of professional basketball [1] and became the most recognizable official during the NBA's first four decades. [11] Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe said of Rudolph, "If any man other than Red Auerbach ever earned the title of NBA institution, it was certainly Mendy Rudolph." [15] Upon retirement, he set a precedent for the standards that future referees are judged. [1] Early in his officiating career, Joe Crawford (later hired by the NBA in 1977) attended games that Rudolph worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and studied his style and approach. [29] Earl Strom credited Rudolph for being an influence on the development of his career in the NBA. [30] In his autobiography, Calling the Shots, Strom described Rudolph as "one of the most prominent referees because of his style, courage, and judgment. He had excellent judgment. He made the call regardless of the pressure, whom it involved, or where it was." [30] Strom later told The New York Times that "Mendy Rudolph was simply the greatest referee of all time." [9]

Strom was also an advocate to get Rudolph enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. [4] On April 2, 2007, Rudolph was announced as one of the seven members of the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2007 to be enshrined in September 2007, [13] twenty-eight years after his death. It was reported that the length of time for Rudolph to become elected was the result of his gambling lifestyle. [31] [32] He became the thirteenth referee to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. [33]

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