Starting his career as a referee by calling youth games four years ago, the former NBA champ was one of over 60 officials honing his craft at TBL referee camp
From his college days at Fresno State in the late 90s, to starting his playing career in the Continental Basketball Association with the Yakima Sun Kings, to the International Basketball League, Venezuela, the early days of the NBA D-League with the Columbus Riverdragons, being called up to the Los Angeles Clippers, to winning an NBA Championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004, suiting-up with the Indiana Pacers, and finally closing out his playing days back in the D-League with the Florida Flames and Dakota Wizards in 2007, Fowlkes donned numbers ranging from #32, to #24, #25, and #3.
Fast forward 16 years later and the former second round pick by the Denver Nuggets (1998, 54th overall), was back in a gym in Indiana for a weekend of basketball at TBL’s Draft Combine held at The Factory D1 Training facility.
Here he wore a new uniform and number.
Instead of a jersey with bold stitched digits, it was a referee’s shirt with #51 safety-pinned to his back.
“Some guys were asking me if I was going to throw a jersey on and start playing,” Tremaine Fowlkes said with a laugh.
“I don’t think my body would let me do it, but officiating keeps me close to the game. I am really enjoying this part of life.”
At 6-foot-8, Fowlkes is still hard to miss. He certainly looks like he could still go to work on the court, but since injuries forced him to hang it up from playing in 2007, the Crenshaw native still calls California home. Living now in Sacramento, Fowlkes began refereeing youth basketball games at the recommendation of a friend four years ago. Since then he’s grown accustomed to throwing on his “zebra” top and grabbing his whistle to officiate high school basketball games, Pro-Am and Drew League summer games, and has aspirations of working his way up the new career ladder.
“When I first started, I was really just trying to help out but then realized this might be something I could get into. My focus is on growing my knowledge and getting better at this. Doing things like officiating these games helps me grow and improve how I see and call the game.”
During the Draft Combine weekend, Fowlkes was one of over 60-plus aspiring officials who traveled from all over the country to both watch and learn their craft. The collective group had the perfect opportunity to be students of one of the best to ever do it as a referee: Ronnie Nunn. Now the Director of Officials for The Basketball League after 19-seasons in the NBA, Nunn was present for leading instruction sessions and working with up and coming referees on how to officiate a game.
“The thing about Ronnie is, he’s just so calm and melo. How he is in everyday life is the same way he is on the court. That’s how I want to go about it, “Fowlkes added.
Along with Nunn, Fowlkes and the rest of the officials in attendance learned from Dan Beauchamp, Jerry Middleton, Mike Bobiak, Joshua Koch, Phil Woodland, Peter Kowalski, and Doug Rogan (Yogi Glazier and Seth Middleton arranged scheduling of games) who provided insight and feedback with officials before and after each scrimmage. Much like the over 130 basketball players who competed in the Combine in hopes of being selected by a TBL team, the officials were also on-hand at a shot of turning pro. With multiple referees in the NBA pipeline or NBA program, former TBL officials who have moved on to officiate NBA G League and NBA games includes JB DeRosa (NBA), Jason Goldenberg (NBA), Rachael Rayford (G League ), Matt Rafferty (G League), Kenneth Gardner (G League), Grant Detrick (G League), Leah Lanie (G League), and Erik Aellig (G League).
While former NBA player Smush Parker has also officiated TBL games and is trying to work his way up to the NBA, we can also now add Tremaine Fowlkes name to that list, with Fowlkes prepared to officiate his first TBL games in California this season.
“By attending this referees camp, they throw a lot of information at you which is great. The more I can learn, the better I will be. I am just trying to improve. What I have been working on lately are things like my placement on the court and being in the right spots to make correct calls. I feel like I am a rookie all over again. I am back in study mode,” said Fowlkes.
An OG of the NBA Development League – the precursor to the present-day G-League – by playing for the Columbs Riverdragons, the former Pac-10 Freshman of the Year at Fresno State knows a thing or two about working his way up from the very bottom to the top of the NBA and hanging a Championship banner.
“It feels like basketball have come back full circle for me,” he started.
“Guys are out here as players attempting to start their careers. We didn’t have anything like this when I started turning pro and in the NBDL with the different pay levels. Same with us who are out here as officials. We want to improve and get better at what we do. Just like I do today, I appreciate the game the same way I did when I was playing.”
Well said #51.
We can’t wait to see Mr. Fowlkes officially officiating TBL games.
Wendell Maxey is the author of Around The Basketball League and has written about professional basketball and sports for 19 years. He’s been featured on NBA.com, ESPN.com, USA Today, FOX Sports, and SLAM Magazine among other publications and media outlets. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or read through his archive on Linktree.