Greg Willard, NBA referee and Long Beach State alum, dies from cancer

Got the news everyone around the league had been dreading for months. Greg Willard, who officiated 1,494 games in the NBA, died Monday after a fight with pancreatic cancer. He was 54. Willard lived in Huntington Beach and attended Long Beach State. He also officiated high school football in Orange County before joining the NBA 24 years ago. He refereed 136 playoff games, two NBA Finals and the 2006 All-Star game.

“The entire NBA family joins me in mourning the loss of one of our own, Greg Willard,” NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “Greg touched all those with whom he came in contact thanks to his extraordinary spirit, dedication and hard work. As a Finals referee, he reached the highest level of his profession while at the same time demonstrating a strong commitment to his family and his community. Our thoughts are with his wife, Laurie, their children and the rest of the Willard family during this difficult time.”

There will be a moment of silence before all games played around the league Tuesday night, including the Lakers’ contest against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center. In addition, the league’s referees will wear wristbands or patches with Willard’s No. 57 for the rest of the season, according to the NBA.

Willard learned he had cancer last year while working the Western Conference finals series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. He worked one final game, an exhibition between the Lakers and the Utah Jazz in October at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Kobe Bryant spent a few private minutes with Willard after the game.