Jamaal Caterina on the court. photo/Tom Major
Players call Jamaal Caterina the best rec-ball league referee in the world.
“Jamaal’s the face of our basketball leagues,” said Pat Hackleman, founder of Casco Bay Sports (CBS). “Customers love him. He greets them, he helps them. … Some refs will just show up, do their job, get paid, and go home. But Jamaal knows that we’re exercise first, and we’re trying to treat everyone on an equal playing field, and he does a great job at that.”
Referees are often impersonal enforcers of rules. Players and fans curse those refs who pay too much attention, or too little, questioning their impartiality. The chirping, often bordering on verbal abuse, has led many folks to hang up their whistles.
Caterina has called games for CBS and other rec leagues for more than a decade. Hackleman estimates Caterina has refereed “north of three thousand games” for CBS alone. Dan Finnie, who administers CBS’s basketball program, said Caterina calls 12 games per weekend in the winter, and then another four or five every day during the week. That makes Caterina very hard to replace on the rare occasions he’s unavailable. (And hard to pin down for an interview; we had a brief, vague exchange between games, but nothing quote-worthy resulted.)
“Other refs give it a shot,” Finnie said, but “they don’t like being yelled at or condescended to by adults.” Caterina doesn’t let the chirping bother him. “With Jamaal, not only can he handle it, but there’s some level of respect and credibility,” Finnie added. “Everybody knows that he knows the game, and is very good at the game. … He’s a phenomenal player and a local legend. Everyone in the Greater Portland area from first grade through whatever level of rec basketball is reffed by him.”
At Portland’s Deering High School in the early 2000s, Caterina was the Scottie Pippen to Nik Caner-Medley’s Michael Jordan. As a senior, he averaged 24 points per game during the Rams’ undefeated regular season (their sole loss was to Brunswick in the state championship game). He was ranked among the top 100 players in the country and played Division I collegiate ball at American University. During his final college semester, Caterina played for the University of Southern Maine, averaged 22 points per game, made 91 percent of his free throws, and grabbed an average of 12 rebounds per game during the playoffs. After a brief stint playing for the Worcester Wolves in the United Kingdom, he played minor league pro basketball in West Virginia.
One former CBS player, Casey Brough, said he stuck with the rec league a year or two longer than he might have, just because Caterina made it so much fun. “I really liked playing because Jamaal was there,” said Brough. “He’s just a funny guy. We had a good rapport. He’d dap me up before the game. We’d crack jokes during the game. I’d question some of his calls and he’d give it right back to me. Part of me wishes there could be a forty-plus league that he could ref, because I miss him.”
“He’s got a different style of officiating,” Finnie said. “If you’re a good player and you take it to the basket and get hit, you might not get the call, because you should have made it. He’ll be like, ‘Nah, dawg, you gotta go stronger than that.’ Or if you have no idea what you are doing and you slam into somebody and expect a foul call, he’ll just go [disgusted eye roll]. Which, at first, people were like, Who is this guy? Now, I get random messages saying, ‘Hey, Jamaal does a great job. Here’s fifty bucks. Can you give him a gift card anonymously for us?”
Tom Major can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.