Black History Month: Local NBA referee scores big with philanthropy and fine dining

Black History Month

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Building a legacy based on much more than basketball, Norfolk’s own NBA referee Tony Brothers is taking a shot at something new: fine dining.

Not eating in a restaurant — of course, he’s done that all over the world — but owning the restaurant.

As we celebrate Black History Month, the very busy NBA referee-turned-entrepreneur went on a fast break to give us the assist, talking about his new business and inspiring the next generation on and off the court.

Despite having to wade through the difficulties of a pandemic as a business owner, the ribbon has been cut and Brothers restaurant in Downtown Norfolk is making a full-court press.

What a life Brothers has lived from Norfolk, to the NBA court, and back.

“I was born in Norfolk,” said Brothers. “I live in Norfolk. And I will die in Norfolk. The more I kind of reflect on it the more I’m like this is really something that’s fantastic. It’s sort of like the crown jewel of the things that I have done over time.”

From Liberty Park, to living in Chesapeake for a bit before graduating from Booker T. Washington High School and Old Dominion University, he’s powered forward to his dreams. For nearly three decades, America has seen him on national television game after game, city after city, calling foul after foul on some of the NBA’s best. But what’s even more inspiring is that he’s taken a common love of the game and shown young people that there’s so much more they can do.

“All my life I have watched people start at the bottom and work their way and keep building on it,” said Brothers. “There’s only about 400 players in the NBA and all the kids want to play in the NBA. You can be a referee, own the team, player development, marketing. There are so many things you can do.”

Brothers is often called on for different events in Hampton Roads to speak to youth about the possibilities in life. He’s been on a mission for years to uplift the community. His nonprofit, Men for Hope Inc., supports underserved men, works with organizations providing services and resources for single women parenting young men, and promotes mentoring, education, financial literacy, and self-fulfillment.

“One of the reasons I started the nonprofit was because I realized that others don’t have that same opportunity, but they have the same circumstances,” said Brothers.

And thanks to his generous contributions, Room 149 in the Norfolk State University Student Center is now the Dorothy B. Brothers Auditorium, named after the single mother who molded him into the man he is today.

10 On Your Side asked Brothers about his legacy. He says he likes to focus on what’s next in life — not what he’s done — and most importantly, how many people he can help along the way. 

“I didn’t think that a kid with low self-esteem, which I had, would be sitting here with you talking about a restaurant with my name on it,” said Brothers.

But Brothers is now a place where he’ll continue to serve up inspiration one plate at a time.

The food is seriously a slam dunk, and while the pandemic prevents him from completely filling up the space just yet, word is spreading fast that the atmosphere at Brothers is full of good vibes.

He’s hoping that although Brothers is his first restaurant, it won’t be his last.

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