Not many athletes both play and officiate at the highest level of their sport, but Bernie Fryer is one of the few. He played in the NBA and ABA from 1973-75, but he left his mark on the league as an official over a 30-year career from 1978-2007.
Born on Christmas Day 1949, Fryer earned all-state honors as a football and basketball star at Port Angeles High School. He scored 57 points in the community college title game to lead Peninsula College to victory and also spent time at University of Washington before playing two years at Brigham Young University and earning All-WAC recognition.
A 6-foot-3-inch guard, Fryer was drafted in the seventh round of the 1972 draft by the Phoenix Suns, although he never played for the Suns. During his two-year pro career, he played for Portland and New Orleans in the NBA and the St. Louis Spirits of the ABA. Perhaps the biggest moment of his professional playing career came when he was sitting on the bench in New Orleans and realized, as he later told Sports Illustrated, that “I would never become the best player, but I might become the best official if I put in the effort and the years.”
He put in both the effort and the years, and sure enough, Fryer is now considered among the best officials in league history. He called 1,696 regular season games, 157 playoff games, and 12 NBA Finals games, making headlines in 2007 when he quit after Game 3 of the Finals in a move interpreted as expressing displeasure with the way the NBA oversaw and managed officials. He proceeded to serve as the NBA Vice President and Director of Officials from 2008-11 and later served as an adviser to the league.