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May 28, 2009 2:30 PM

NBA Officiating Becoming an Epidemic

For years everyone has complained about officiating in the NBA. Preferential treatment for stars. Inconsistent calls. Varying the contact allowed in a game. Too many flagrant and technical fouls. And nothing has changed.

Even after the Tim Donaghy scandal, NBA officiating remains as awful as ever this year, and everyone is taking note. This postseason NBA officials are handing technical fouls out like condoms at a college health center.

Multiple columns have been written throughout the playoff about the issue of officiating, with three of the most read sports columnists in the world weighing in today. Gregg Doyel writes on the subject of too many techs being called this playoff season:

There are idiots here, make no mistake about that. But it's not the players.

It's the officials.

Which means it's the NBA. This is David Stern's fault.

The NBA has rescinded multiple technical and flagrant foul calls this postseason. As Doyel points out, Kenyon Martin has been called for five technicals, three of which have been rescinded. While it is good that the NBA realizes it made a mistake and took away the bad calls, they can’t take away the points they gave the other team, or the way they change the flow of a game.

Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant each have five technical fouls (in actuality, each have been called for six, but had one rescinded), and both are two techs away from being suspended for a game. Let’s imagine for a second, a Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Magic and Lakers, played without Dwight Howard or Kobe Bryant, because they decided to show a little emotion or got involved in a little pushing under the basket. Is that what the NBA really wants?

Basketball is a physical intense game. Players will push, they will stare at each other, they will scream. I understand the NBA wants to keep things from getting out of hand, but the urge for the quick whistle is not the answer. They are cutting off their nose to spite their face.

Jason Whitlock and Bill Simmons both add on, discussing how the refs are ruining the game. Simmons comments: "[A] league-wide objective to regulate physical play has inadvertently compromised a decent slice of competitive spirit.” While Whitlock says, "The refs are the freaking enemies. They’re the most-coddled creatures in all of sports. They have the most power, and no one wants to hold them accountable. They don’t have to explain their decisions to the media or the public."


The crack down from the league office on rough fouls and emotion from the players for fear of another Malice in the Palace incident has taken away so much of what makes the NBA great; and the NBA PR machine does its best to keep this fact hidden from the public.

Apart from the tendency of a quick whistle and overly harsh calls, the general inconsistency and quality of officiating is also a problem. All three authors agree: part of the dilemma is a lack of young referees. Doyel says, "Stern needs to hire some younger officials, people who don't seem so damn offended every time passion overflows." Whitlock agrees, feeling the separation between the players and officials is part of the problem.

The court is a police state, overseen primarily by three middle-aged white men intent on making sure the primarily black and foreign-born players don’t compete with the kind of aggression and emotion commonplace in football, hockey and baseball.
While Doyel and Whitlock seem to agree that older officials may not understand the younger player and be prone to call more technical fouls based on misunderstanding the youthful passion and emotion, Simmons believes that the lack of young refs is even a greater problem.
In the NBA, where officials are required to run or jog for 150 minutes and make split-second decisions on hundreds of plays, we're expected to believe that the aging process doesn't apply...

The NBA's failure to develop a new generation of decent referees might be its single biggest misfire of the past 20 years. You can't tell me that someone in their mid-50s or older has the same eyesight and reaction time as people 20-30 years younger. I can't think of another profession that works quite this way: No accountability, no repercussions, nothing.

Why can’t the NBA attract young talent into its officiating ranks? Simmons mentions one reason in his column. The NBA puts no money into developing officials; it’s so bad that you have to pay just to try out. Yes, you read that correctly: to try out to be a NBA D-League ref, you have to pay your own way to LA for the three-day tryout camp, and pay $550 to participate.

The NBA is home to the most athletic players of any sport in the world (in my opinion), yet it is controlled by 60-year old men and their whistles. Will multiple columns from some of the most popular columnists in the nation finally make David Stern and the NBA realize that there needs to be a major shakeup in its officiating? One can only hope.

Blowing the Whistle on the NBA's Flaws - Bill Simmons, ESPN
Some Technical Assistance? Call off Dogs, Commish - Gregg Doyel, CBS Sports
The Refs are Stifling the NBA - Jason Whitlock, KC Star

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