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Get to know Tommy Nuñez, the first Hispanic official in any major league sport in the United States.
Nuñez talks about his career in the NBA, growing up in Phoenix, and foundation he started to help young people.


José Cárdenas: Tommy Nuñez retired after 30 years with the National Basketball Association. He is the first and only Hispanic official in any major league sport in the United States. Tommy Nuñez is now giving back to the community with his foundation to help encourage young people to reach their goals. Joining me now on tonight's "Get To Know" segment is Tommy Nuñez. Tommy, welcome to "Horizonte." Thank you for having me. It's a honor.

José Cárdenas: Your son is the second official.

Tommy Nuñez: I was the first Mexican-American official in any sport in the history of the country. My son is the second one.

José Cárdenas: In the NBA.

Tommy Nuñez: In the NBA or any other major league sport.

José Cárdenas: Give us a little bit of your background. You're a Phoenix native. Came up the hard way.

Tommy Nuñez: I grew up on 9th Street in east Washington and lived in a housing project and was not an outstanding student in high school and got kicked out of a couple and joined the marine corps 10 days after I turned 17 and got my high school degree in the marine corps and that's my formal education.

José Cárdenas: There was a suggestion that you should join.

Tommy Nuñez: I didn't have much choice and I was gone, like a said, at an early age but probably the best thing that happened to me.

José Cárdenas: That turned your life around.

Tommy Nuñez: No doubt about it.

José Cárdenas: How did you get in the NBA?

Tommy Nuñez: I started working with my cousin who were high school officials and the reason they were high school officials because the commissioner of basketball was their football coach at Phoenix college and talked them into reffing to make extra money. And I got pretty good at it and I met a few people along the way and during the course of my high school days, I met some people, that eventually went to work for the Phoenix Suns when they became a franchise in 1968. Bob Mason, who I did high school basketball with became ticket manager and 1970 I did a rookie game for the Phoenix Suns with another referee they were going to recommend. I wasn't very good. He was worse. I met Daryl Garrison in 1971 and he encouraged me --

José Cárdenas: And he was the head of --

Tommy Nuñez: He was a referee, a fifth year and came and worked a rookie game in 1971 and he encouraged me along with others and I ended up getting invited to a camp in below, New York, in 1972 and signed my first contract in 1973. I never worked major college ball. I worked junior college ball.

José Cárdenas: '73 was when you -- and Garrison became --

Tommy Nuñez: He became my supervisor.

José Cárdenas: What was the first game like?

Tommy Nuñez: It was like a fog. I got three whistles in the first half and Bobbie missed two of them. And I worked with Jake O'Donnell that game and told them I was ready. Didn't really respond to anything. I've never seen such great basketball players in my life. I wasn't mentally prepared but I worked five preseason games in '72 and signed my first contract in 1973 and spent 30 years on the floor.

José Cárdenas: And then after you got off the floor, you were still involved.

Tommy Nuñez: I spent five years working with the young referees and observing games and grading and things like that and it was a good 35-year run with the NBA.

José Cárdenas: During that time you got to know and officiate games involving some of the greatest in the NBA.

Tommy Nuñez: I worked with the greatest players of all time. Larry Byrd and --

José Cárdenas: Here's Larry Byrd.

Tommy Nuñez: He's upset with me. He took a shot and got hit and I missed a call.

José Cárdenas: So you're not kissing there?

Tommy Nuñez: Not at all. Just exchanging pleasantries.

José Cárdenas: As I understand, this ticket has particular significance, the one with Larry Byrd to him.

Tommy Nuñez: He told me that's one of the pictures he ever put in thinks office. This is Charles Barkley, one of the all-time greats in rebounding. He always had comments to make but he was not hard to REF for.

José Cárdenas: Anything you found distracting?

Tommy Nuñez: Not at all. You reach a point where you hear what you want to hear and you go from there. And they don't get that personal. Or profane. Michael Jordan, probably the best one who ever played the game. Assists and rebounds, he's a legend. The best ever.

José Cárdenas: And you still think that?

Tommy Nuñez: Yeah.

José Cárdenas: And this guy, known for his antics on and off the floor.

Tommy Nuñez: A lot of was superficial. Part of his overall persona. He did a lot of crazy things. He was a great rebounder and never a problem for referees.

José Cárdenas: there were famous incidents, the one where he kicked a photographer.

Tommy Nuñez: I seen one of the clips and it was -- he almost got hurt tripping over this fellow and sometimes they get a little bit too close to the sideline and they get a lot of traffic in there and these players are so big and physical and sometimes out of control and they don't within the to get hurt. It's like infringing on their turf.

José Cárdenas: Two things I want to talk with you. The one who caused a stir about the allegations of gambling and about your foundation.

Tommy Nuñez: It's been overblown. He did not fix a game or do anything to cause the outcome of game. He was --

José Cárdenas: A lot of allegations, though.

Tommy Nuñez: A lot, but most of meaningless. He was guilty of betting on games with illegal book makers which is a federal offense and that's what he went to prison for. He fixed nothing.

José Cárdenas: But he's tarnished the image of the referee.

Tommy Nuñez: His life is going to change and I don't know the outcome down the road, but it's unfortunate.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about your foundation. Doing a lot of great things.

Tommy Nuñez: We've had a foundation in place for 29 years, two golf tournaments and basketball tournaments and Hispanic hall of fame we started six years ago and focused on raising money for kids in the Latino community throughout the state of Arizona, plus other southwest states also. We give scholarships and trips and buy clothes and sports equipment and buy -- we buy shoes for entire basketball teams. Different high schools, our inner city schools and play games at inner city schools. And we're involved with all of the local high schools in all sports but it's mostly about academics. We give scholarships for college and we're not concerned about if they're a straight A or --

José Cárdenas: May be another Tommy Nuñez.

Tommy Nuñez: I hope they weren't like me. I wasn't a good student.

José Cárdenas: We're going to have end the interview.

Tommy Nuñez: I appreciate your time.

Tommy Nuñez:Tommy Nunez Foundation;

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