Growing up, Marat Kogut dreamed of sharing the floor with professional basketball’s biggest stars, but not as a player. Marat wanted to be an NBA referee, a career goal he achieved in 2009 with more than a little support from his father, Leon.
Leon Kogut knows something about chasing dreams — in 1979 he immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine with his wife and three kids. Marat was just a newborn then, and the family landed in a homeless shelter before Leon found work as a barber. Today, Leon owns his own barbershop in Brooklyn.
At StoryCorps, father and son talked about Marat’s own journey to the NBA.
Click here for the transcript.
Leon Kogut: When you told me someday you’re gonna be an NBA referee, I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’
MK: You were always supportive, no matter what I said. If I told him I wanted to be a ballet dancer he would say, ‘Oh, good!’ But mom was totally against it.
LK: She wants to see you as a doctor, as a lawyer, ya know.
MK: Her main concern was to marry me off: Who’s gonna take a guy like that who’s gonna be a referee, what kind of a job is that?
LK: I always remember when you ask me, ‘How many lawyers do we have in this country, what do you think?’ I said, ‘I dunno, maybe 3, 4 million?’ ‘How many doctors?’ I say, ‘About 6, 7 million doctors.' 'How many NBA referee? I’m gonna be one of them.’ Since that I said to your mom, ‘Don’t bother him any more. He going to be NBA referee.’
MK: My first official game for the NBA, my partner gave me the ball, and I’m the one that got to throw it up to start the game. I was so nervous, up until I finally released the ball in the air… I’m like, ‘This is just another game between two teams. Let’s go to work.’
Do you remember when New Jersey played Milwaukee?
LK: The whole family went. A lot of customers went to the game also.
MK: There was a hell of a turnout. They just filled up a whole section, and they were embarrassing me. My partners were looking at them like, ‘All those people are here for you? You have more fans than the players do.’
LK: [LAUGHS] I never miss even one game yet. I watch every game, it doesn’t matter if you work in the West, and the game start 10 o’clock, finish 1 o’clock in the morning, I still watch to the last minute. My son is in the arena and he blow the whistle there! It’s incredible feeling, incredible. The dreams comes true.
MK: I still go to your barber shop to get haircuts because you give me the family discount. [LAUGHS] And every time there’s a customer, you say, ‘Hey this is my son,’ and the first things that come out of their mouth is, ‘Oh your father always talks about you.’
LK: Of course. I’m proud of you, that’s why. I feel very very proud of you. Very proud, all the family proud.