Credit: Bill Moore photo

Family and friends gathered last Friday at the National Black Theatre in Harlem to help celebrate the 80th birthday of William “Bill” Modeste, one of New York City’s most distinguished basketball officials and one of its undisputed gentlemen.

Modeste has been a member of SUBOA, an organization of referees since its inception in 1968. Recruited by its founders, he became certified in 1970. They’ve officiated Division 1 NCAA games as well as games in summer youth leagues. Modeste, still reffing, has probably never made a bad call, and if he has, he more than likely apologized afterward. 

“I started officiating after college,” he said. “At my height, I wasn’t tall enough for the pros. A few guys I knew were doing it.” 

Born and raised in Harlem, Modeste played for Shaw University in North Carolina. “I had officiated some intramural games while at school,” he said. “At my height, I realized I wasn’t tall enough for the pros. I knew some guys who reffed here in the city. It was something for me to do at the time.” 

Modeste went on to become an academic and career counselor in the Percy Sutton Seek Program at Queens College. “I advise and assist students in their academic progress and performance, as they pursue their majors and careers.” Officially retired, Modeste still counsels in an adjunct capacity.

Colleagues also joined the filled-to-capacity party hosted by his wife, Cassandra, and daughters, Nia and Zakiah. The celebration was also attended by Barbara Williams-Emerson, daughter of civil rights leader Hosea Williams, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and former WNBA all-star Chamique Holdsclaw.