This may be hard for you to quantify, but what was the single most dangerous experience you faced?
It wasn't one particular situation. It's an ongoing thing. I'm wearing a wire in a jock strap between my legs everyday, knowing that if it's found on me ... in that world, informants die. You live with that cloud over you. If one wire wiggles out of place, if someone pats you on the belly or back, they find that thing. It's not like I had surveillance teams on me. In deep cover, that's impossible. And I have no credentials saying that I'm a cop. My identification said my name was Robert Allen Covert.
Covert. Wasn't that a bit of a risk?
It's a catchy name for an undercover guy, but back in the '70s before Watergate, that word wasn't common. It wasn't like we were being cutesy. We took a guy who died at birth, and I became that person. But today, it's obvious that people will think that's a pretty cool undercover name.
You put a lot of people away. Do you have any fear of retribution?
I'm no different than any cop who put someone away. Retribution could happen. I'm not naive. But I'm aware of my surroundings. I have security in place that I'm not going to discuss. Also, even though I work for the NBA, I have strong ties and still consider myself a part of N.J. state police. They're very helpful, as are other agencies, in terms of intelligence information and awareness of my situation.
In what ways did this experience make you a better referee?
The challenge is very similar: There's pressure, a lot going on, and decisions have to be made very quickly. Apparently, I'm attracted to that lifestyle. [Laughs] Also, I have an awareness that comes from my law-enforcement base: I recognize when the crisis may escalate, or players are at a point where it may become a fight. And people aren't happy to be arrested, nor are they happy to have a foul called on them, so I'm used to working with people who aren't pleased.
It's no secret that many ballers have an affinity for gangster tales like "The Godfather" and "Scarface." Do players ever ask you to regale them with stories?
Oh, yeah. After a game in L.A., I was doing tape review, and after I call a foul on Kobe, the announcer says, "Kobe's giving Delaney an earful about that call." In reality, Kobe came over to me during free throws to say: "What was it like wearing those wires all time? That must've been wild." And when Grant Hill was in Orlando, he came up to me and patted me down. He's like, "You still wired?" I'm like, "Yeah, and the last time I was wired, 30 people went to jail." You gotta laugh in this world, man. [Laughs] Shane Battier will always ask about what's real and what's fake in movies like "Training Day" or "The Departed."
That's pretty impressive stuff... It's always interesting to know more about the people you are used to booing.