Sunday, February 8, 2004

A quick chat with ... Mike Mathis

By Colleen Kane
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati native Mike Mathis spent 26 years on the basketball court as an NBA official. But after two years of retirement, he's finding other ways to play the game of life - golfing, being a fan, and focusing on his life's "passion," his family's local foster care and adoption agency, Mathis Care, and his charity, Mathis Foundation for Children.

Q: How's retirement?

A: Wonderful. I'm able to devote time to my charity.

Q: How is your charity going?

A: We've had 100 foster children and nine adoptions in about seven years. ... This past summer, Brian (O'Neal), our foster child who played on a football scholarship at Penn State and played in the NFL for a few years, came back and has been running it since August.

Q: Do you watch basketball anymore?

A: Oh yeah, I get my basketball fix. My son Monte coaches at Ohio State, so I get my college fix. I don't watch much pro ball now. I just root for my son. I'm hoping he becomes a head coach someday.

Q: Do you find yourself making the calls when you watch the games?

A: Oh yeah, and I'm the one that gets the phone calls after games - "Did you see that call?" But we go over the calls and I say what were the wrong and right calls.

Q: What do you miss most about life in the NBA?

A: I'll tell you what I don't miss - the travel. But I guess like in any profession of 30 years, I miss the camaraderie and the good guys.

Q: Best game you ever officiated?

A: I worked 12 NBA Finals, and I was on the floor three of the times when Chicago won six. I guess the most thrilling was when Chicago played Phoenix and John Paxson hit that 3-pointer to win the game and the championship. I was a few feet away from him, and I always kid him, "Remember when we made that shot? You shot it, and I signaled it was good."

Q: Which player or coach talked the most?

A: Kevin Loughery, he was a tough coach. He always had that snowball effect. He'd remind you of the first call and then the second and then the third. ... In the old days, veteran coaches were very tough on young referees, especially one like me that came in and was still going to take charge. I guess that's why I had the most technical fouls in my first years in the league.

Q: Which player did you get along best with?

A: I guess Larry Bird.

Q: What players and coaches do you talk to still?

A: A lot. A lot of old players and coaches come to my golf tournament. (I've made) a lot of friendships that you can't have during your working years, that the league frowns upon. ... But I hear from several general managers and coaches that support my charity.

Q: Any grandkids yet?

A: No, none yet. ... All my grandkids are my foster kids.

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