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Changing His Stripes

Feb. 11, 2008
Feb. 11, 2008

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Feb. 11, 2008

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Changing His Stripes

An undercover cop turned NBA ref tells his tale

COVERT
by Bob Delaney with Dave Scheiber
Union Square Press
$19.95, 276 pages

This is an article from the Feb. 11, 2008 issue

SHOULD YOU one night notice Bob Delaney engaged in heated debate with, say, Rasheed Wallace, the oft-angry Pistons center who is a foot taller than the NBA referee, rest assured that Delaney is not intimidated. In his previous life as an undercover state cop who infiltrated organized crime in New Jersey, he had daily dealings with mobsters such as the one who described a nonexistent dental plan to an employee thusly: "The dental plan? That's designed to keep your own f-----' teeth. Any more questions?"

There was indeed a strong (though dark) comedic element to Delaney's surreptitious life in the mid-1970s as a "trucking executive" in a world inhabited by all manner of reprobates, and that tone is present in his book, Covert. Delaney watched in amazement and amusement (obviously both restrained) as the criminals he was trying to bring down aped The Godfather movies. Delaney learned how one of his most feared "associates" in the trucking business had managed to have sex with his girlfriend during a prison hitch—he and the woman, uh, sat in a chair ringed by the convict's associates.

But what makes Covert stand out is Delaney's evocation of the cocktail of fear and guilt that he choked down each night. He was terrified of the people he was dealing with, but he also noticed that a form of Stockholm syndrome began to take hold. To infiltrate, he had to identify with his colleagues and, at some level, become one of them. "Without realizing it, I had started to change," Delaney writes. "I was thinking like a real Mob guy, seeing everything through a prism of paranoia."

Delaney's tale is told with understated style and is all the more dramatic for it. It has a triumphant denouement—he is one of the NBA's top refs and has refused, as he told SI, "to go into hiding and give the bad guys power over me that they don't deserve." But if anyone picks up the film option to Covert, trust me, it won't look like Forget Paris.

The Pop Culture Grid

View this article in the original magazine

How do sports stars fit in?_______ is my American IdolHow big is the largest TV in your home?How many pairs of shoes do you own?Best way to stay warm during the winter?Favorite classical musician?
DAVID WEST Hornets FMy father, Amos60 inches40Wear a big coatOtis Redding
MARC SAVARD Bruins CTeammate Jeremy Reich62 inches20Stay in bedNo one
DESHAWN STEVENSON Wizards GMy mom, Genice Taylor70 inches600A mink coatFrank Sinatra
MARISSA COLEMAN Terps G/FPeyton Manning50 inchesAt least 75Stay indoorsI don't have one
PHOTOSCOTT BOEHM/GETTY IMAGES (TROPHY)PHOTOBOBBY BANK/WIREIMAGE/GETTY IMAGES (GANDOLFINI)PHOTOTOM STRATTMAN/AP (DELANEY)LAW MAN Ex-cop Delaney has been an NBA ref since '92.PHOTOPHOTOFEST (SINATRA)PHOTODAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP (WEST)PHOTODALE ZANINE/US PRESSWIRE (SAVARD)PHOTODARRELL WALKER/ICON SMI (STEVENSON)PHOTOJAMES LANG/US PRESSWIRE (COLEMAN)PHOTOBOB ROSATO (MANNING)THREE PHOTOS