Dick Barth, the Miami Heat’s official timekeeper for 23 years and a longtime figure in South Florida youth and collegiate basketball, died unexpectedly on Saturday at his home in Kendall.
“Father Time,” as he was known in Heat circles, and “Mr. Basketball” among community teams, apparently succumbed to complications of diabetes, said Marta Barber, the widow he married in 2004, a year after the death of his first wife.
“He never missed a [home] game except when his wife died and when he fell in March,” said Barber, a former Miami Herald arts editor. “Just Thursday, he was measured for his second [championship] ring.”
Born Richard Bernard Barth in Malden, Mass., on Feb. 5, 1937, the U.S. Army veteran was 75.
He came to South Florida in 1961, the year he married his first wife, Muriel Cohen, but “he would turn on the Boston Red Sox station like he still lived there,” said son Michael Barth.
An accountant by trade who graduated from Boston’s Northeastern University, Dick Barth was commissioner of the mostly-Hispanic Tamiami Youth Basketball League in the 1970s, overseeing its growth from 100 to 600 players.
He also had been involved with the Miami Tropics of the United States Basketball League and the Pharmed NCAA Summer League, when the Heat tapped him for time-clock operator in 1988.
A 1989 Miami Herald story noted that in the previous year, Barth had been timekeeper not just for the Heat, but the University of Miami and Florida International University, and he had worked three Carol City-Miami High games in the Miami Arena, and the Harlem Globetrotters game.
“If there’s a basketball bouncing around Miami, he will be there,” said UM coach Bill Foster.
Heat score table and statistics crew chief Jim Cox said that Barth “had a passion for the Miami Heat. … He was tireless. … He easily did 900 [Heat] games,” including playoffs, exhibition games and the 2009 NBA Finals.
“Nobody deserves to be called Mr. Basketball more than he did,” Cox said.
Cox, a former Miami-Dade College sports information director, worked with Barth in youth ball before they both joined the Heat in 1988. Cox called him “a connoisseur of all sports — hockey to football to baseball to basketball.”
He said Barth trained to keep his reflexes sharp.
“There’s a green tab for ‘start,’ a red tab for ‘stop.’ Dick would sit there and practice his reaction time. You have a 10th of a second to respond.”
Andy Elisburg, senior vice president for basketball operations/assistant general manager, said Barth “had a passion for the game of basketball and really took an ownership of caring about the game and what happened, making sure the game was called right.
“You’d come to games hours and hours early and he was one of the first ones in the building making sure the equipment was working right,’’ Elisburg said. “He embraced all the technology. He cared.’’
Barth loved the work, said his son, who also has an NBA ring, having worked for the Houston Rockets in 1994.
For his dad, “that was a way to appreciate and participate in these grand events without having the God-given skill to be able to [play] at that high level.”