In a recently issued Sportsnet magazine called Greatest Uniforms, there is an image of a young Michael Jordan soaring to the hoop wearing his University of North Carolina Tar Heel blue jersey and shorts.
At first glance, Ron Foxcroft didn’t notice himself in the bottom left corner of the image. The grey-glad referee with the whistle half-falling out of his mouth in awe sort of disappears into the image. But he jumps off the page once you know the significance of Foxcroft to basketball in Canada and around the world.
That whistle in Foxcroft’s mouth would serve as the inspiration for the Fox 40 International brand. In 1987 Foxcroft and his sons established the Fox 40 whistle that was first used at the Pan American Games that summer and would redefine the key tool for officials worldwide.
"I always had a problem with whistles," Foxcroft explains on his website. "They have a cork pea in them and when you blow a pea-whistle really hard, nothing comes out. When they're frozen or wet or get some dirt inside, they lose their efficiency."
The Hamilton-native was one of the earliest Canadian referees in the NCAA, and the only one at the time the photo was taken. Because of his perceived neutrality, he was assigned to referee the pre-season match between the Tar Heels and the Yugoslavian national team.
Foxcroft wasn’t using his patented creation yet, it wouldn’t hit the market for another nine years. The “pealess” idea came to him after he was unable to sound his whistle in the 1976 Olympic gold medal basketball game in Montreal. His idea came together around 1984 when he began to produce the superior design that was quickly adopted by many.
After going through 14 prototypes in the design process the finished product is much like a harmonically-tuned instrument, because it produces three slightly different frequencies simultaneously. According to the Fox 40 website, “the different frequencies are superimposed on one another out of phase, and thus alternately reinforce and cancel each other out. The result is a loud, piercing vibrato that has no moving parts to get stuck.”
The Fox 40 Whistle is now the standard for referees in numerous professional sports leagues including the NBA, NFL, NHL, CFL, FIBA, FIFA, NCAA, and the Olympic Games. They are also used around the world by for search and rescue, marine, outdoor and personal safety and the line has expanded to include whistles in a variety of styles.
Foxcroft officiated basketball games in over 30 countries in his career. He was named by Referee Magazine as one of the 52 most influential referees in North American history. He has also been recognized as one of the top 30 officials who have made a difference by the National Association of Sports Officials and was the only Canadian appointee to the National Association of Sports Officials board in the USA. He was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
As for that 1981 game where Foxcroft first saw Jordan play, he told Scott Radley of The Spec; “I turned to Coach Smith just after Mike had made his first steal. I said, ‘That 23 from Wilmington is some player.’”
Jordan would, of course, go on to become the undisputed greatest basketball player of all-time. And the other guy in the photo? He changed the game, too.
Regular stories commemorating our 90th anniversary will appear on the 90 Years in the Making series archive. We would also like to reach out to those who have been involved in the Canadian basketball community over the years. If you have a story to share, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and join the conversation on twitter with #CB90