I first watched the NBA in 1976, I was 10, and was a big fan of Dr. J, one of the all-time elite players. After watching a few years, I became familiar with the rules of the game, and, as all fans, of all sports do I took note of how the games were officiated. In short, I have come to believe that the biggest issue most fans have with the NBA is the officiating. There is no consistency, at all, ever! The calls are all over the place. The difference between a block and a charge? Who knows, the only difference seems to be the whim of the referee. Instead of calling fouls by the rule book, it seems the refs call them, or don’t according to how big a star commits the foul, what quarter it is, somehow what IS a foul in the first half, is NOT in the 4th quarter. Frankly, it is a joke, and has been for a long time.
BC, at I’m a Man, I’m 41 got me thinking about this today. Go read his post, and his link to this book for more like this
Relationships between NBA players and referees were generally all over the board — love, hate, and everything in-between. Some players, even very good ones, were targeted by referees and the league because they were too talented for their own good. Raja Bell, formerly of the Phoenix Suns and now a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, was one of those players. A defensive specialist throughout his career, Bell had a reputation for being a “star stopper.” His defensive skills were so razor sharp that he could shut down a superstar, or at least make him work for his points. Kobe Bryant was often frustrated by Bell’s tenacity on defense. Let’s face it, no one completely shuts down a player of Kobe’s caliber, but Bell could frustrate Kobe, take him out of his game, and interrupt his rhythm.
You would think that the NBA would love a guy who plays such great defense. Think again! Star stoppers hurt the promotion of marquee players. Fans don’t pay high prices to see players like Raja Bell — they pay to see superstars like Kobe Bryant score 40 points. Basketball purists like to see good defense, but the NBA wants the big names to score big points.
If a player of Kobe’s stature collides with the likes of Raja Bell, the call will almost always go for Kobe and against Bell. As part of our ongoing training and game preparation, NBA referees regularly receive game-action video tape from the league office. Over the years, I have reviewed many recorded hours of video involving Raja Bell. The footage I analyzed usually illustrated fouls being called against Bell, rarely for him. The message was subtle but clear — call fouls against the star stopper because he’s hurting the game.
If Kobe Bryant had two fouls in the first or second quarter and went to the bench, one referee would tell the other two, “Kobe’s got two fouls. Let’s make sure that if we call a foul on him, it’s an obvious foul, because otherwise he’s gonna go back to the bench. If he is involved in a play where a foul is called, give the foul to another player.”
Similarly, when games got physically rough, we would huddle up and agree to tighten the game up. So we started calling fouls on guys who didn’t really matter — “ticky-tack” or “touch” fouls where one player just touched another but didn’t really impede his progress. Under regular circumstances these wouldn’t be fouls, but after a skirmish we wanted to regain control. We would never call these types of fouls on superstars, just on the average players who didn’t have star status. It was important to keep the stars on the floor.
Tell me you NBA fans have not noticed this, go on tell me, that is what I thought. How about maker-up calls?
I remember one nightmarish game I worked with Joe Crawford and Phil Robinson. Minnesota and New Orleans were in a tight game going into the last minute, and Crawford told us to make sure that we were 100 percent sure of the call every time we blew the whistle. When play resumed, Minnesota coach Flip Saunders started yelling at us to make a call. Robinson got intimidated and blew the whistle on New Orleans. The only problem was it wasn’t the right call. Tim Floyd, the Hornets’ coach, went nuts. He stormed the court and kicked the ball into the top row of the stadium. Robinson had to throw him out, and Minnesota won the game.
Later that week, Ronnie Nunn told me that we could have made something up at the other end against Minnesota to even things out. He even got specific — maybe we should have considered calling a traveling violation on Kevin Garnett. Talk about the politics of the game! Of course the official statement from the league office will always read, “There is no such thing as a makeup call.”
The NBA really needs to address this issue.