A little dishing on sports

NBA Refs: Deaf, Dumb, Blind or All Three?

The combatants in the 2010 NBA Finals are doing the league proud.  The series is tied at 2-2, and has been very competitive.  Kobe Bryant has been the best player on the court, except when it’s been Derek Fisher or Lamar Odom or Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen or Glen Davis.  The ratings are pretty good, for an NBA Finals and the coaching has been solid.  So what’s the problem?  Well, if you’ve been watching, you know that the officiating has been horrific, even for the NBA, which is saying something.

NBA referees have been the worst thing about the NBA since the day George Karl bought his first suit and ditched the track outfits.  I’m not sure where to start.  How about here: over the last decade, the Dallas Mavericks have won roughly 6 out of every 10 of their playoff games.  That number drops to 1 out of 10 when Danny Crawford is one of their referees. Joe Crawford once ejected Tim Duncan from a game for laughing with teammates on the bench, continuing a long simmering feud with the player. And then there is Tim Donaghy.   Donaghy was convicted in 2008 of betting on games in which he officiated.  He has since gone on the record regarding abuses of authority by NBA officials, spotlighting individual biases, and generally confirming everything any observer of the NBA has long suspected.  Yes, it’s certainly true that Donaghy has a credibility issue, but then so does the league, doesn’t it?  Before you answer that, go watch the 2002 playoff series between the Kings and the Lakers,  a game on which Tim Donaghy allegedly wagered successfully after learning the identity of the officials.  If you haven’t seen it, check out Donaghy’s game-by-game analysis of the Finals.

I could offer a billion examples of poor NBA officiating over the years, but why bother?  If you watched game 3, you saw three instances where the NBA’s instant replay rule came into play in the final minutes.  In all three instances, the replay mandated a reversal of the official’s original call.  In one of those cases, replay showed an obvious missed foul call that could not be addressed by replay.  That’s 0 for 4 for officials, if you’re scoring from home.  NBA officiating is bad and the league’s integrity is at stake as long as the David Stern and his minions fail to address the problem.

But I’m not here just to bitch and moan.  It’s Saturday afternoon and I am in too good a mood for that.  I am here to be constructive.  A good jumping off point is Jack McCallum’s column just this week about how the NBA might go about improving officiating. Of course, we’ll just ignore the fact that the title of McCallum’s article suggests we blame the rules and not the refs.  I mean, if you didn’t have to call stupid things like fouls and violations, referees would be so much more effective.  Wait, stop, I’m in positive mode.  Ok, let’s look at Mr. McCallum’s suggestions:

  1. Make most block-charge situations a no-call – Wow, that’s really dumb, isn’t it?  If that’s the expectation, as a defender, wouldn’t you be incredibly aggressive about trying to take a charge?  That much contact is going to cause the offensive player to miss the shot most of the time, so even if you get a no-call, big win for the defense, plus now you are encouraging more and more violent contact.

Jack, work with me here, buddy, I’m trying to stay on the positive tip.

2. Enforce some kind of penalty for flopping – I actually like this in theory.  There’s not much I hate more than seeing “crafty” players like Derek Fisher act like they’ve been shot when they get a toe stepped on and then smile mischievously after the call goes their way.  The problem: I’m loathe to entrust more opportunity for judgment to the stripes, who I don’t trust anyway.

3. Reduce off-the-ball grabbing – We have a winner.  Forget reducing it, though.  Eliminate it.  Then it’s not a judgment call.

4. Give some of those slow-footed centers a break. – McCallum wants to let them bang the screeners.  Um, no.  Setting a pick is a skill and when done properly it should be rewarded and when done badly it should be punished.  It’s very simple.  A.  Run to a fixed point.  B.  Stand there.  Ok, it’s a simple skill, but it’s apparently really difficult for NBA big men.  Make them learn.

5. Enforce some kind of replay-challenge limit, as in the NFL – I can rock with that.

    6. And really, really think about taking commentator Jeff Van Gundy’s suggestion seriously about eliminating the six-foul rule – Not sure what I think of this one.  I guess it depends on what comes of the two suggestions I have.

    As I’ve already written, this is a dramatic problem and needs a radical solution, so I suggest:

    1. Better training and supervision of referees overseen by an independent body not affiliated with or beholden to the NBA.  This is a no-brainer, right?  The impartial arbiters of the games should not ever be worried about whether the league would prefer a Lakers-Celtics final or that David Stern really doesn’t want to have to hand the trophy to Mark Cuban.  This is a billion dollar business.  Let’s treat it like one.  Wait, scratch that last sentence.  Thanks, BP.
    2. Four officials.  The league went from two to three officials as athletes got bigger, stronger and faster.  It’s time to add another set of eyes.  You need one official just to navigate the thicket of bodies in the paint, make block-charge calls, watch the jockeying on the low-post and cut the clutching and grabbing and illegal picks and screens on the baseline.  It’s well past time this extra official was added.  But again, only do this when we can be more comfortable that the officials are properly trained and objective.

    Sheesh.  Now I think I’ll watch a tournament with no flopping whatsoever.  World Cup, baby!


    One Response to “NBA Refs: Deaf, Dumb, Blind or All Three?”

    1. The NBA is a joke.

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