Former longtime NBA referee Hugh Evans, a member of the 2022 class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, died Friday morning, his wife, Cathy, told ESPN’s Andscape.
He was 81.
Evans was officially named to the hoop hall April 2, on his third try. He was an NBA referee from 1973 to 2001 who officiated 1,969 regular-season games. Evans also refereed 170 playoff games, 35 NBA Finals contests and four NBA All-Star Games. He was ranked as the second-best official in the league by coaches, general managers and the NBA senior vice presidents during the 1995-96 season.
After retiring in 2001, Evans worked as an NBA assistant supervisor of officials for two years. He also is a member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame and North Carolina A&T Hall of Fame. Evans, one of six NBA referees to be named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, will be inducted posthumously Sept. 9-10 in Springfield, Mass.
When asked about being named to the Hall of Fame earlier this year, Evans said: “I still haven’t put into perspective what it means. I am still processing it. Every time I hear it, you get chills, I get tears, I get happy, and I just know that I am special. I was chosen to be special by God.”
Evans became the second NBA referee from a historically Black college or university, after starring in basketball and baseball at North Carolina A&T. The first was Ken Hudson, who attended HBCU Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and refereed in the NBA from 1968 to 1972. Nine of the 73 NBA referees during the 2021-21 season were from HBCUs, according to the National Basketball Referees Association.
Evans said he took pride in being an NBA referee from an HBCU. The biggest challenge he had being a Black NBA official was becoming widely respected and overcoming institutionalized racism, he told Andscape in 2021. He said his professionalism on and off the court, which included his storied sharp dressing to games, eventually got him that respect.
“Being accepted by the coaches, players, fans and general managers was difficult,” Evans said. “They didn’t think we [Black referees] could do the job. I was the first Black to work past the first round of the playoffs. I went on to do the Finals. After a while they said, ‘This guy is good. We will give him space.’”