Longtime NBA referee and Clark Atlanta University (CAU) alum, Tony Brown has passed away from pancreatic cancer at age 55.

According to NBA.com, Brown officiated 1,110 regular-season games and 35 playoff games in 20 seasons as an NBA staff official. He made his debut as an NBA Finals referee during the 2019-20 season. A graduate of CAU, Brown was a member of the crew that officiated the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, which honored HBCUs.

“Tony Brown was one of the most accomplished referees in the NBA and an inspiration to his colleagues,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in an official statement from the NBA. “After his pancreatic cancer diagnosis early last year, Tony fought courageously through countless rounds of treatment to return to work this past season at the NBA Replay Center, demonstrating the dedication, determination and passion that made him such a highly respected official for 20 years. The entire NBA family mourns Tony’s passing and we send our deepest condolences to his wife, Tina; their children, Bailey, Basile and Baylen; and his fellow referees.”

After experiencing some stomach discomfort Brown was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in April 2021.

A fighter till the end, Brown returned to work this past season with the blessing of his medical team, the NBA, and his family after more than a dozen rounds of intense chemotherapy.

“I haven’t had time to sit around and be like ‘Why me?’ or ‘What am I going to do?’” Brown told The Associated Press earlier this year in regards to his decision to return to work.

“Me not fighting would have made me feel like I was letting people down. What kind of example was I going to be to my kids if I just laid in this bed and let it overtake me? I had to show my kids that there’s nothing in life that you can’t challenge and overcome if you have a positive mindset.”

– Tony Brown on returning to work after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

He worked his way through Clark Atlanta after transferring from Florida A&M where he had a scholarship. He worked as a Delta Air Lines employee cleaning planes, and driving passenger carts, then became a flight attendant and remained employed by Delta until retiring in 2007.

Admired and loved by many, there has been an outpouring of condolences for Brown and his family, including from NBA superstar Lebron James, who shared his fond memories with Brown in a touching tweet.

During the final days of his life, Brown was focused on helping others.

His family and friends worked to fund The Tony Brown Basketball Program Scholarship Endowment, a scholarship for Clark Atlanta basketball players.  Earlier this month, the Clark Atlanta community visited Brown in hospice and presented him with a special team jersey to say thank you, as well as honoring him during the Clark Atlanta University Homecoming Basketball Game.

“Tony Brown embodies everything it means to be a Clark Atlanta basketball player,” Clark Atlanta coach Alfred Jordan said. “His hard work, determination, and perseverance are what set him apart from the rest because those qualities are hard to come by these days.”

On October 1, Brown’s family launched a 10-day campaign to raise $100,000 for the endowment. The original goal was met in about 30 days and they now have surpassed it, raising $114,115.

Coach Jordan told 11 Alive News, that the endowment will give athletes at CAU more opportunities, helping them to graduate on time and hopefully give them an early start in getting their master’s degree while they’re enrolled at the university. 

In an effort to keep Brown’s memory alive, CAU’s basketball team will honor him by having a patch with his jersey number six added to their uniforms, according to 11 Alive News.

“We definitely want to send our condolences out to his wife, Tina, and children. And we want them to know that here at CAU, that they’ll forever be a part of our family. If they need anything, we’re here; we’re open and helping them. We want to keep Tony Brown’s legacy going from here until the end of time,” Coach Jordan said.