By Earl Heath , Contributing Sports Writer
The sports world lost one of its best ambassadors recently as long time basketball official Booker Turner passed away at the age of 92 .
Turner had been a fixture with officials and coaches and fans around the country for several years.
Turner had likable demeanor where people enjoyed being around him asking him questions about the game and he didn’t mine answering.
He attended Roosevelt High in East Los Angeles.
After his retirement in 1991 He spent many years evaluating officials, men and women for the PAC-12.
“He became the right man for his time, he was born to be a referee,” said longtime friend and official Lo Clark. “His personality fit the game as soon as he walked in the gym he was respected by the coaches.”
In 1963 when his amateur basketball playing career ended due to a knee injury. That’s when Clark brought him in to officiating. He quickly rose through the ranks, moving from high school to community college to four-year college games at a rapid pace. The two were teammates on the same pro softball team. Sponsored by Broadway Federal BANK based out of Long Beach. Turner played centerfield and Clark was a first baseman.
“He (Turner) was a pretty good hitter, he was tough to pitch to,” said Clark.
Clark who had done 13 California Community College Championships along with several high school championships spent two years in the PAC-8.
At one point when only two-men worked a game Clark and Turner ended up on the same game San Diego played at Pepperdine. There was a delay before the game and neither could figure out what it was about.
The game started and finished without a hitch. Afterwards it was assigner’s trying to the stop two officials from working the game together.
“They were trying to stop two blacks from working together in the same game, they made an error and didn’t want that to happen, but it was too late to change it” said Clark.
In the early 70’s Turner was offered a job in the NBA. But, with two small children at home, he didn’t feel right about leaving his wife, Betty, alone for weeks at a time. He had a steady full-time job as a purchasing agent for a local meat company, He was content to earn extra spending money by officiating games in his spare time.
“Sad to tell that the GREAT Booker Turner passed away” said Ed T. Rush a veteran of 33 NBA finals said on social media. “Booker was one of the very best men in the history of our game. He made such a positive difference in the lives of many.”
In 1977 Turner who was a PAC 8 member at worked a NCAA tourney first-round games in Raleigh, North Carolina between North Carolina and Purdue.
That was followed by a game in College Park, Maryland as Carolina taking on Notre Dame. Coaches were Dean Smith and Digger Phelps (Notre Dame).
His reputation grew as an official that took no guff and was respected by big time coaches like Bobby Knight (Indiana), Smith (North Carolina) and the legendary John Wooden.
He became director of PAC 10 officials and helped pave the way for many minority officials.
“When Booker did that it became known As “The BLACK 10” said Clark. “Some Universities were not ready to see minorities come in working games.”
At that time early in the 1970’s pay was round-trip jet coach fare, $30 a day per diem and $200 for each game worked. Officials in the 2022 tournament earn as much as $3,500 per game.
Throughout his career Turner worked six NCAA Final Four games, including the championship contests in 1981 and 1984.
In the 1981 NCAA Tournament, Turner of the Pac-10 Lou Moser (ACC) and Kenny Lauderdale of the SEC were the threesome earned the right, through its graded performance system each round, to work the title game. It was Smith’s Tar Heels who lost 63-50 to Knight and Indiana.
It was a day of struggle for the country as earlier that afternoon President Reagan had survived an assassination attempt that day, and there was a question until early that evening whether or not the game would even be played.
In 1984 it was Georgetown and John Thomson taking down Houston and HOF coach Guy Lewis. Thompson became the first African American to win a basketball NCAA title.
I once asked Turner how John Thompson was during the game, he replied, “I had no problem with Coach Thompson.”
He stayed part of the game working clinics and giving seminar’s on officiating. He was a proud member of the California Basketball Officials Association LOS ANGELES Unit where he is a member of the Hall of Fame. It the same Unit produced Violet Palmer who was the first black female to join any professional league, the NBA and had a 19 year career there. She also is a member of the LA UNIT HOF.
Turner was preceded in passing by wife Betty and daughter “Danny” Turner. He is survived by his son Ronnie.
There will be a Memorial service held Tuesday April 5th 11:00AM at
Faith Central Bible Church-Tabernacle -321 N. Eucalyptus Ave. Inglewood CA. 90302