Sailor is No. 1 referee in Japan’s basketball league
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sometimes becoming too old to do what you love to do can be the best thing that can happen to you.
For Timothy Greene, his love of playing basketball had always been a burning passion. Between his family, his Navy career and playing ball, Greene thought he had it all — then he became older.
At the ripe-young age of 37, and with only a few years left of active-duty service before retiring, the first class petty officer from Commander, Naval Forces Japan, realized that change was upon him.
He was concerned about what he would do after the Navy. And when he “hooped,” he noticed that he wasn’t the teenager he used to be. In fact, it was getting hard to keep pace with the younger players.
“About age 34 or 35, I noticed that my game was losing a step,” Greene said.
Resourcefulness and a willingness to embrace change were attributes that had helped Greene throughout his military career. Now, they would serve him again in his journey to remain active in the sport he loves, and reveal what lies on the other side of retirement.
Since he was struggling to keep up on the court, but wanted to to stay a part of the game, Greene said he began refereeing games at Yokosuka Naval Base. And he loved it.
That was the beginning of an unexpected journey that eventually saw Greene being named the Japan Professional Basketball League’s 2005-2006 Referee of the Year.
Greene still is amazed at his jump from refereeing games on a military base to ones in a professional league.
“I just can’t believe how fast things have happened,” Greene said. “I had always been a basketball player. But when I tried becoming a referee, I discovered that I had a real talent for it. All of a sudden I was the No. 1 rated referee in Japan.”
When Greene was still refereeing on base, he heard about referee camps that were sponsored by the Japanese American Sports Officials Association. Fellow referees told him these camps were a good way to hone his skills and network.
Little did Greene realize that over the course of several JASOA camps, he had caught the eye of someone who would change his life forever.
Also attending the camps was Dave Law, commissioner of the JASOA and a referee for the JBL.
Law spotted something in Greene that made him stop and watch.
“Greene possesses an uncanny ability to place himself in the right place, at the right time,” Law said. “He sees things two or three steps ahead. It’s like he is able to anticipate the play without anticipating the call. That is a very rare talent.”
These days, Greene spends six months out of the year as a JBL referee. During the season, he spends his days as a CNFJ logistics officer, and some of his nights and weekends traveling Japan as a professional referee.
According to Greene, the level of game play in Japan is on par with Division I play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
And the language barrier isn’t as big as a problem as one might imagine.
“For the most part, the English of coaches and players is better than my Japanese,” Greene said. “Besides, whistles and signals translate well into almost any language.”
“This is great,” Greene said. “The JBL takes great care of me. I am respected by all of the players and most of the coaches. I try to know every player by their first name — as a show of respect.
“I get paid to stay in five-star hotels doing something I love to do. I’ve got 17 years in the Navy, so I am coming up on the end of my military career, but my second career is just beginning.”
This summer, Greene is scheduled to referee in the National Basketball League developmental league back in the United States.
Greene plans on to continue refereeing long after retiring from the Navy.
“I would like to referee National Basketball Association games back in the States, but you know, to keep it real I’ll most likely try to referee for the NCAA.”
But that doesn’t mean he won’t make it to the NBA.
“I have always said, ‘some people have it, and some people don’t,’” Law said. “Greene has it.”