Sporting Chance

- Joaquin M. Henson -

Ex-PBA import now NBA ref

not_entSAN FRANCISCO - Leon Wood was one of three referees assigned to work the Saturday events at the recent National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Weekend in the Bay Area.

That meant the shaven-skulled Wood was on board for the 2-ball, 3-point shootout and slam dunk competitions.

Of course, you remember Wood. In 1994, he played for Purefoods in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Wood will never forget his PBA adventure because it marked his retirement from the game ... as a player. Just like another NBA guard Kevin Porter, Wood decided to end his pro career in the PBA.

Wood, 37, said after hanging up his sneakers, he immediately pursued a career as a referee. There aren't too many former players who made the switch. Wood and Bernie Fryer are among the handful of exceptions.

I sought out Wood at the end of All-Star Saturday's festivities and collared him outside the referees' dressing room at the Oakland Arena.

"Sure, I remember the PBA -- how can I forget?" said Wood who lives in Orange County with his wife and their two children -- a girl, 10, and a boy, 5. "That's where I last played the game. I played four years in Europe and I think I preferred playing in the PBA which is just like the NBA. In the PBA, you play four 12-minute quarters and the rules are almost exactly like the NBA's, unlike Europe. I would've loved to play in the PBA in my 20s instead of in my 30s. I think the league's format is ingenious -- that 6-4 height limit for imports was perfect for me."

Does he remember his former teammates?

"Alvin (Patrimonio) and Jerry (Codiñera) come to mind at once," he replied. "And we had a young coach -- Chot Reyes."

I told Wood that Patrimonio has remained at Purefoods but Codiñera now plays for Mobiline and Reyes has moved to Pop Cola.

Was it difficult making the transition from player to referee?

"Yes and no," he said. "Yes, because I've played at that level before. I played six years in the NBA. So I know all the tricks. No, because some of my former teammates and coaches are still around -- man, they get on me before a game. But it doesn't bother me. I just go out and do my job. They respect me for that."

In 1987, Wood participated in the first NBA 3-point shootout at the All-Star Weekend in Dallas. "For me to referee the same event where I was once a contestant means I went full circle," he said. "It sure brought back a lot of good memories of when I used to play."

Does he still play the game?

"Pick-up games, here and there," he said. "But the only practice I get lately is shooting hoops with my 10-year-old daughter who looks like she'll be a player. My 5-year-old son? I still don't know if he'd like to play -- that's up to him."

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