Steve Javie, the pride of La Salle High and Temple, is going to the NBA referees' training camp tomorrow hoping against hope that he can work a 25th season.

He can't be certain whether he will be able to work, in his words, "one game or 51," or whether he'll be able to work at all. But his goal when he entered the league in 1986 was to make it through 25 seasons, and something inside him tells him he at least must try.

He was close to retiring, because he has no cartilage in his right knee. His alternative was to have a knee replacement, which would have been fine if all he wanted was to walk up and down stairs comfortably, maybe play some tennis and golf.

"But that procedure," said Javie, 55, "isn't really good for my line of work, which involves pounding on it, running up and down the floor 6 to 7 months of the year."

He had to stop officiating last December, but didn't comprehend that his problem was career-threatening. He annually has been one of the league's best referees. He has worked more than 1,400 games, more than 200 playoff games and two All-Star Games. He didn't want to give it up.

"Like anybody else, I wanted to go out on my own," he said.

That apparently is Mark Wunderlich's stance, too. Wunderlich, from Lansdowne-Aldan High and Albright, reportedly is coming back from microfracture surgery on his knee and could be out until December or January.

Wunderlich, 52, would be starting his 21st season and has worked more than 1,000 games, more than 60 playoff games and two Finals.

At least now, reality has set in for Javie. He has had a series of injections, designed to regenerate or stimulate cartilage. He worked all offseason to try to strengthen other parts of his body, but didn't try jogging on a treadmill until last week. So far, he said, there has been no pain or swelling.

"I have good days and not-so-good days, but no bad days," he said. "I know the knee is not as normal as it should be, but I'm going to take my physical and my stress test and see how things go."

He is scheduled to work his first preseason game Oct. 7, and has been advised by doctors to handle no more than two games a week. But, to him, a reduced NBA schedule is far better than none.

"I keep the league advised as to how I'm doing," he said, adding that a 25th season would be "monumental."

"I didn't miss it that much during the season, but I did when the playoffs came," he said.

He debuted in the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome in 1986, the Detroit Pistons vs. the Chicago Bulls. A few days later, he got a letter from supervisor of officials Darrel Garretson, who graded him 40 out of 100. He was despondent until refereeing partner Joe Crawford told him, "They didn't hire you to fire you."

"I look back at my career now, and it doesn't seem like it was me," Javie said. "I didn't think I was that good, but that I was a byproduct of the people who taught me - Joe Crawford, Darrel Garretson, Ed T. Rush, Jack Madden, Jake O'Donnell, and others."

Hopeful of entering his 25th season, the best Steve Javie can offer is, "I'm cautiously optimistic." *

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