William R. Saar of East Rockaway wore two uniforms — one with a shiny badge on the front and one with a number on the back.
He was both a New York City cop and a National Basketball Association referee, but he often wore both sets of digs on the same day as he raced from one pulse-racing gig to the other.
Saar, who made calls on the basketball courts for more than two decades for some of the best who played the game — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird — died Dec. 24 after a long battle with cancer. He was 87.
"Whoever he met, he always tried his best to help that person along in their career," said William R. Saar Jr. of Jewett, a son. "He was an absolutely fantastic friend to so many NBA referees. They have reached out during this period of sorrow and told me how much they loved him."
That 22-year career in the NBA was one of several, including a four-year stint in the Coast Guard during the Korean War, and it followed a young adulthood where Saar himself was full of promise as a baseball player.
Saar was born and raised in Ozone Park and attended John Adams High School, where he was a standout basketball and baseball player who was signed by the venerated Brooklyn Dodgers as a minor league player.
“When I was 18, I signed a minor league deal with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a catcher,” Saar was quoted as saying in an article written by a family friend for a sportswriting class in 2011. “But I never made it to the show, or majors.”
Still, he got a chance to catch for legendary pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale during his tenure in the farm system.
He tried his hand at refereeing soon after leaving baseball in the mid-1950s, when he started calling Catholic Youth Organization games, family members said. He worked for a Quaker Maid food company — and played baseball in the company’s league. But he decided to stay downstate when the company relocated to upstate Elmira, the article said.
That was 1963, when he took the exam to become a police officer. He worked the 106th Precinct in Queens, but also patrolled Harlem and later taught self-defense in the police academy, his son said.
He juggled crime-fighting with shot-calling as he moonlighted as a referee for high school games, then colleges — and it wasn’t long before the NBA gave him a call.
“I’d go from the station, to the airport, to the court and it was craziness,” he said in the 2011 profile. “One time I had trouble with my stomach because of stress and someone said, ‘Are you having some kind of stress?’ I said to him, 'If only you knew!' ”
Saar worked part time for the NBA from 1974-78 before starting full time. He retired from the court in 1996 — and spent much of the rest of his life doting on his grandchildren, his son said. He spent 15 years with the NYPD.
He shuttled from game to game, traveling extensively, and at one point was out of the house more than he was in it — some 22 days out of a month — much to the dismay of his wife, Louise.
“That was not too good on home life,” he said in the article.
His son said he was able to officiate at two All-Star games in the 1980s and went to Tokyo for a special overseas tournament.
Besides his son, William R. Saar leaves two daughters, Kathleen Morr of Rockville Centre and Patricia McFadden of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania; six grandchildren, William III of Smithtown, Emily Llobell of Long Beach, Thomas of Manhattan, Brian of Manhattan, Ryan of Washington, and Molly of Pittsburgh; and three great-grandchildren.
Visiting was held at Donza Funeral Home at 333 Atlantic Ave. in East Rockaway on Thursday and Friday. A funeral Mass is scheduled for Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Saint Raymond Roman Catholic Church at 263 Atlantic Ave. in East Rockaway. Burial will follow at Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital or Good Shepherd Hospice at Mercy Hospital.