A perfect match from opposite sides of the court

Street Stories

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Basketball referees and coaches are often like oil and water.

Central High School head coach Mike Reed and veteran referee David O’Connor have crossed paths in Rhode Island’s basketball universe for decades, and Reed’s brother and the man in stripes are good friends.

But, there’s this.

“We definitely don’t agree on a lot about basketball,” Reed said. “Not gonna lie.”

Despite all the games on their respective resumes, a recent Knights tilt was the first time O’Connor reffed a game with Reed as a head coach.

“It won’t be difficult reffing the game,” O’Connor said.

“I will ride him for every bad call he makes,” Reed said with a hardy laugh.

“In fact,” O’Connor opined, “sometimes coaches are doing it just to work the ref to get a call.”

It was more than a decade ago when Reed was battling renal cancer and needed a kidney transplant.

O’Connor told the coach he was ready to help.

“I appreciated the offer,” Reed said. “But I was looking at which one of my brothers was going to give me a kidney.”

Still, the ref had a feeling.

“I had a strong premonition,” O’Connor recalled. “I kind of laughed. I said, ‘you watch. It’ll be a perfect match.'”

In this one instance, Reed couldn’t argue with the official.

“Skin, blood, his temperament,” Reed said. “Psychologically? We’d like to check those tests. He was a perfect match. It was spooky.”

But, there were still three-plus years to go for Reed to wait to be cleared of the cancer before he could get a transplant.

“So, it gave him 39 months to waffle or change his mind,” Reed said. “But he never did. He was there every day, telling me how many days were left.”

The transplant was successful and time passed, leading up to the inevitable meeting on the hardwood. But the game did not offer any foul-fueled tirades.

“It’s not as acrimonious as some people would believe it to be,” O’Connor said.

And when the buzzer sounded, the two were on the same side of an important issue they both obviously believe in — organ donation.

They want their tale to motivate others to step up for a friend or a stranger.

“It’s the single greatest thing you can do for somebody,” Reed said.

“You can live perfectly fine and normal with one,” O’Connor said, referring to being a live kidney donor. “God gave us two. I was out of the hospital in less than 48 hours, and I was back refereeing in less than five weeks.”

Reed offered both a player’s and coach’s take.

“For all of those six referees who ejected me in my college games and the one guy I pushed, I’m sorry,” Reed said. “Let’s hope this kind of makes us even. This just tells you what kind of special guy [David] is.”

O’Connor and Reed also want to draw attention to other Rhode Islanders in need of kidney donors, including Sarah Masterson, the daugher of a local coach.

Masterson donor search: Become part of Sarah’s search.

Lifespan: Learn more about organ donations »

Email Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.

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