*SPECIAL FEATURE: The following interview can be found in its entirety in the current issue, Dime #68.*
There have been many great stories to come out of the game we all adore. Personal journeys and how different players and coaches have made it to the NBA are often covered in the media, and many of those stories are truly remarkable. But the story of recently retired NBA referee Bob Delaney is a journey of a different kind. With his most recent book, Surviving the Shadows, Delaney makes it clear that his life mission is now supporting those that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You may be asking yourself, “How does this relate to Bob Delaney?” or “Was the NBA that stressful for him as an official?”
What many do not know is that before Delaney was officiating under the bright lights with the best players in the world, he was a New Jersey State Trooper. From going undercover in the mob to a refereeing in the NBA, this is a journey unlike any other.
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Dime: What drew you to becoming a law enforcement officer?
Bob Delaney: My father was a state trooper, but for quite some time I had no idea what I wanted to do. I loved baseball and basketball but was realistic about either of them taking me to the pros, but I wanted to be involved in sports. At the age of 20, I was playing ball for Jersey City State College when I learned about the State Police test being offered and that it had not been offered for two years prior. I was concerned that it may not be offered again for a few years , so I came out early like many basketball players â€“ only for me it was for law enforcement, not pro hoops.
Dime: How were you selected to become an undercover officer?
BD: I was contacted by Lieutenant Jack Liddy with the Criminal Investigation Section of the State Police. He asked if I was interested in undercover work, and I said, “Yes, sir.” I was not on the force for that long and I had worked a union job during the summers; I had some knowhow in regards to how they work, so I was viewed as a good candidate. Project Alpha was an investigation being headed by the President’s organized task force in conjunction with the FBI and the New Jersey State Police. It was two troopers and three FBI agents with the goal being to infiltrate New Jersey organized crime operating near or on the waterfront.
Dime: Was an alternate life created for you?
BD: It was a new life. I became Robert Allen Covert, a.k.a. Bobby Covert. Robert Allen Covert was the name of a child who died at birth, which is where the name came from. We wanted to have the same first name and a similar age bracket. A cover story was created within the State Police that I had gotten involved in a crime and I was out of the picture and down in Florida. Bob Delaney disappeared, and Bobby Covert was born.
Dime: What was the journey into the criminal world like for you?
BD: It was a slow pace, as it had to be. I felt like I had cop written across my head every day. We started a trucking company, Alamo Trucking, in Jersey City. We had two partners â€“ the Genovese and Bruno crime families â€“ and 25 percent started being kicked back that was split between them. Each family wanted the company for themselves. We were getting billed by them for everything and anything, which had nothing to do with trucking. What the mob do is takeover businesses and bleed them dry.
Dime: Similar to the restaurant in Goodfellas that they end up burning down?
BD: Exactly like that.
Dime: Were there any moments where you were concerned for your safety and/or life?
BD: Almost everyday. What I mean is that the world I was a part of was very dangerous. There were hidden cameras in the trucking building and I was wearing a wire. The recorder was in my jock and the wire went up to my armpit. I would meet the wiseguys and be fine during the meetings, but when I would get two miles down the road, I would have to pull over to the side of the road and puke my guts out, or stop at a gas station because I had diarrhea because of the stress. I did not tell anyone that, because like most who wear uniforms, I wanted to think I could handle anything.