“Never Be Average” is a motto that NBA referee Bob Delaney has lived his entire life. Whether it is on the court as one of the NBA’s best game officials, as one of New Jersey’s finest as an undercover police officer, or in his personal life, Delaney is always way above average.
On the court, he is tough, but fair. If someone like Rasheed Wallace, the sometimes turbulent 6’11”, 230 lb. Detroit Pistons forward, doesn’t agree with one of Delaney’s calls, and tries to intimidate him by bumping chests or yelling at him, the 6’ 1”, 190 lb. Delaney stands toe-to-toe with him and doesn’t back down.
Off the court, he is a man’s man, the kind of guy you would want to go golfing with or have a few drinks. There is nothing weak or contrived about him. He seems always to be in a good mood. But his true character comes out by what he does with his free time. He and his wife, Billie, are often seen at charitable or fundraising events. Whether it is participating in a fundraising marathon or just taking a group of underprivileged teens out for pizza, the Delaneys believe that service is essential to living a full and happy life.
Bob Delaney grew up in New Jersey with a love of sports and an understanding of the importance of service. His dad taught him about helping others at an early age. After Delaney made the most prestigious baseball team in his town, the St. Mary’s Blues, his dad, who took over as the coach of the Blues early on in his son’s first season, recognized that there were many other kids who didn’t make the team. So, he organized another team, the St. Mary’s Whites. However, the new team had no equipment or uniforms. No problem for Delaney, Sr. He organized several church fundraisers to get the uniforms and equipment for the kids.
His dad’s example of service also influenced Delaney in school and his career choice. He graduated from New Jersey City University with a degree in criminology and then became a New Jersey state trooper, the same job his father had for 30 years. However, it was not only his father’s career as a police officer that influenced him, but it was his own recognition that he could serve people best as a law enforcement officer.
One of the greatest acts of service he performed as a law enforcement officer happened in the mid-1970s. Delaney and a group of dedicated New Jersey police officers burrowed deep within the New Jersey organized crime scene as a part of “Project Alpha.” They posed as businessmen in the trucking industry trying to get out from under the pressures of union interests. They knew that this particular scenario would open an association with the crime families who would alleviate their business pressures from the unions…for a price.
As he commenced business with several crime families, he had to assume a different identity and personality. Bob Delaney became Bobby Covert, a catchy name for an undercover cop; but in reality, Robert Alan Covert – born around the same time as Delaney – had passed away in New Jersey and Delaney assumed his identity. He had to talk like the mobsters, dress like them, drink and eat with them, and sometimes think like them. While doing all this, he had to maintain a profile as a reputable business owner and keep in mind his primary responsibility as a police officer. One drink too many or one relaxed comment would have been deadly for him and fatal to the operation.
Project Alpha came to an end in 1977 when Delaney failed to check in with his commanding officers because he went on a business trip for his pseudo-trucking company. As soon as his superiors realized how entrenched he had become in the pretended reality and organized crime world, they decided to terminate the operation and return Delaney to his “prior” life.
It was a rough transition. For almost three years, he was not Bob Delaney, but Bobby Covert. Although he was not a “made man,” he had earned their trust and opened a door for them to share their secrets…and their crimes. During his undercover assignment Delaney witnessed and participated in criminal activities. He would have to laugh it off in front of the other guys, and then deal with the intense emotional consequences in private. Was the puking by the side of the road worth it? Could he ever be the same again?
After a few years restored as Bob Delaney, he proved that he could be the same again and that his efforts were worth it.
In 1981, Delaney testified before the United States Senate, which was then conducting hearings on organized crime, about his experiences exposing and bringing down some of the most powerful organized crime syndicates in New Jersey during the unusually long three year undercover operation. He discussed numerous accounts of extortion, murder, and other serious crimes. He also empathized with real businessmen who had money and hard work invested in their respective companies, and who sought to run a successful business and support their families. However, they soon found themselves threatened by tyrannical mobsters who suffocated their businesses and constantly threatened their lives.
Delaney testified that over 100 cases against the mobsters were opened in state and federal courts as a result of Project Alpha, and that the majority of those charged either ended up in prison, on the run, or dead. The intelligence gathered during Project Alpha was of great assistance to law enforcement officials, and it was the sacrifice of men like Delaney that made it possible.
It is his crime-fighting background that helped Delaney develop the attributes of integrity, diligence, strength, and grit as he participated in one of the longest and most in-depth organized crime undercover police operations in U.S. history.
After his career as a law enforcement officer, he went back to the other career he loved – basketball. He re-entered the basketball arena as an official in the early 1980s. He officiated in high school and semi-professional leagues for a few years. Then in 1983, he began officiating in the Continental Basketball Association, where he stayed for three years. He gained the attention of NBA referee scouts and was asked to make his move to the NBA in 1987. He has become one of the best, most respected, and well liked referees in the NBA.
Today, Delaney travels the country and speaks to hundreds of people in corporations, conferences, and communities about the importance of being a strong influence for good in society. Because of his long tenure as a professional basketball referee, the initials NBA and the name Bob Delaney are often bundled in the same sentence or uttered in the same breath. While many assume that NBA refers to the National Basketball Association, those who really know Delaney feel it means Never Be Average.