Friday, April 23rd, 2010 at 3:01 pm  |  40 responses

Links: Blame the Refs!

Fri-Day! Yes!

by Lang Whitaker

David Stern is tremendous. Last night reporters in Oklahoma City asked him about the fines he’s levied against Phil Jackson during the postseason, and Stern went the heck off:

“I wish I had it to do all over again, and starting 20 years ago, I’d be suspending Phil and Pat Riley for all the games they play in the media, because you guys know that our referees go out there and they knock themselves out and do the best job they can. We have coaches who will do whatever it takes to try to work them publicly,” Stern said. “What that does is erode fan confidence, and then we get some of the situations that we have. So, our coaches should be quiet because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families, and if they don’t like it, they should go get a job someplace else.”

Go get a job someplace else!

Stern said he understands tensions run high in the Playoffs, but added:

“And if someone wants to try me in the rest of these playoffs, you know, make my day, because the game is too important and I don’t think that the people who trash it are respecting it and we’ll do what we have to do — to players and coaches alike.”

Stern was being a little hyperbolic, of course — at least I think he was; I sure wouldn’t want to make his day — but does he have a point? When a coach criticizes referees, does it erode fan confidence?

Let me humbly submit that first of all, there might be something more obvious eroding fan confidence: poor officiating. Fans aren’t stupid. They see refs wait to see if a shot goes in before calling a shooting foul. They see certain players get more calls than other players. These are things that happen every night in NBA games. They happen in other sports, too: umpires not calling third strikes on batters with a reputation for having a good eye; veteran cornerbacks getting away with pass interference calls that younger players would totally get flagged for. Maybe it’s gamesmanship, maybe it’s veteran savvy, maybe it’s just ingrained in the unwritten rules of sports. Basically, officials sometimes make calls that aren’t consistent. And sometimes they make calls that we all want to assign some deeper meaning. For instance, last night, with the game on the line in Chicago, a close call went AGAINST LeBron James as he tried to drive to the basket. Moments later, Joakim Noah put LeBron in a headlock with no foul called while boxing him out on that final rebound. Suddenly, people wondered if the League wanted Cleveland to lose a game to draw out the series.

If Stern or the League office is genuinely worried about the eroding of fan confidence, a simple way to stop any erosion would be to have the referees make calls that don’t inspire doubt. Take the end of that Denver/Utah Game 1, for instance. The refs called a ton of fouls. It didn’t make for the most poetic athletic expression, but they called it evenly, tagging both team with offensive fouls down the stretch, even fouling out Melo with about 90 seconds left. I tweeted that I thought it had been an evenly reffed game despite all the fouls called, and nobody disagreed with me.

What the coaches and players have been doing is basically fanning the flames; they’re confirming fan’s suspicions that there actually just might be some kind of vast institutional conspiracy against their teams!

The truth is, I am sad to tell you, there isn’t any vast institutional conspiracy against any team. For years now people have talked about how the NBA must want bigger-market teams to be good because it would help “ratings,” even though ratings these days are all fractured and flipped by the internet and League Pass. Not to mention this theory makes no sense considering two of the biggest-market teams, the Knicks and the Clippers, have sucked for a long time while one of the smallest-market teams in all major league sports, the San Antonio Spurs, have churned out titles playing basketball that the general public mostly seems to regard as boring.

But it doesn’t stop fans, including myself, from sometimes wondering if there is or if there could be some directive not to call fouls on certain guys or certain teams in specific circumstances. And I don’t think it ever will. Questioning officials is as much a part of the game as eating hot dogs or standing in long bathroom lines. It’s just something you do, I think maybe because being a sports fan represents losing control.

The more devoted you are to a team, the more control you are asked to relinquish. You root for these players and coaches, but you have to trust them to do their jobs while you sit there and audibly urge them to do those jobs. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it’s gratifying. And when you need to lay blame on someone, it’s usually just easier and cleaner to yell at the refs and blame them than it is to accept or admit that LeBron maybe shouldn’t have gone recklessly charging down the lane last night with the game on the line.

If anyone is in control, or at least has the illusion of being in control, it’s the referees. Fairly or not, the refs receive our blame, bear the brunt of our shame. Blame the refs all you want, but remember that old saying: When you point your finger at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you.

That goes for the fans as well.

And players and coaches, too.

• I mentioned Joakim earlier, and here’s a link to an online-only thing I wrote about hanging out with him one day two summers ago. I’ve enjoyed seeing Joakim really find his game this season, and it’s been hilarious seeing him bait the Cleveland fans into putting all their ire onto him. He really, honestly doesn’t care what they think about him, and he’s been in enough big-time situations to handle the pressure.

• Many years ago, I stumbled into a casual relationship with a writer named Mike Sager, a man who’s work I’d been reading my entire life, in small regional publications such as Rolling Stone, GQ and Esquire.

Since then Mike has become a dear friend and something of a mentor to me. Last night here in NYC they held the annual National Magazine Awards, and this story Mike wrote about the sad, strange life of Todd Marinovich was named the magazine profile of the year. If you didn’t read it when it came out, you should read it now. And if you are a writer, you could do a lot worse than reading Mike’s tips for writers on his website.

Anyway, just wanted to say congrats to Mike. Always good when a Linkstigator and SLAM subscriber wins big. Drinks are on me tonight. Well, the first round.

• Finally, I loved this story on Danilo Gallinari from an Italian news site, if only because of the clumsy translation. When asked about playing basketball this summer, Gallo (allegedly) says…

“I would like to play but there are some factors to consider: my body and to be ready for the next season with Knicks. I really hope LeBron James (the best player in the League according to Gallinari) will be a Knick.”

Hey, if Gallinari says LeBron is the best, it must be true!

Also, the quote just reads like Gallinari is now conditioned to recruit LeBron in all facets of life. Like if you went to lunch with Gallinari, he’d tell the waiter, “I’ll have the house salad. I really hope LeBron James will be a Knick.”

• That’s it. Fun week in the NBA. I’ll be back on Monday with thoughts and comments from the weekend.

Have a great weekend…

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  • http://www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com Tarzan Cooper

    I know refs for the most part do their best. I think players complain entirely too much and I wish theyd stop. That said, u cant ignore joeycrawford not calling fish for jumping on bones barry in 08 wcf. And the l admitting the next day it was in fact a foul. It was so obvious. And series changing. Why way joey even in that series. Not to mention 02 wcf.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ niQ

    “Let me humbly submit that first of all, there might be something more obvious eroding fan confidence: poor officiating.” Lang drops the bomb!

  • http://www.nba.com/bobcats Anton

    Bron is killing me with these offensive fouls. He does it a lot and then complains about it. Lower the shoulder, 9 out of 10 times the call goes his way. And then the one time it doesn’t he cries like Davis!!
    This guy is starting to get under my skin.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I mentioned this on Twitter but didn’t write it here, but it was pretty cool in the fourth quarter to see Bron guarding 4s and 5s on defense and then playing the point on offense. Can anyone else do that?

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ niQ

    I never got to watch him play but… Magic Johnson?

  • http://www.nba.com/bobcats Anton

    D-Rose has to have the best hesitation dribble in the league!!

  • Truth5

    How can Stern respect the game, did he ever play? He don’t respect the game. he respects the money and power. he’s not athletic enough to respect the game.

    erode fan confidence? it’s obvious that refs can, and do, control the outcome of games. it seems donaghy(sic?) was brushed under the rug quite quickly and quietly. just like our government, we don’t get the full story. fan confidence? sheeple just like watching TV, it don’t matter what the coaches say.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @niQ: Yes, back in the day. But I meant right now in the NBA. Can’t think of anyone else…

  • http://www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com Tarzan Cooper

    Just because lebron is matched up with them, esp a big, doesnt mean hes guarding them. And if said player misses a good shot, its omg bron is the best defender ever. And those chase down blocks? Sure theyre nice, but thats not really defense, thats bron being a monster. He startd trying on defense last season, and ppl were falling all over themselves saying he is such a great defender. Yes , he has improved, but hes no shane. And he actually got second place last season in dpoy, can u believe that? Wad had way more blocks, even breaking records for a short guy. And way more steals, all while being much smaller than bron and playing better defense. No one was pointing that out when they were drooling over brons blocks.

  • http://www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com Tarzan Cooper

    Also, it really annoys me how derek fisher gets beyond superstar calls. He flops on a pick and gets the call, happens every game. He must have some dirt on every ref. Fish is one of the dirtiest floppingest in the league yet somehow manages to maintain an image as a good guy. How does he do that?

  • http://www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com Tarzan Cooper

    And going one on five isnt playing the point

  • http://slamonline.com Chris O’Leary

    The calls in the Denver/Utah game the other night were oddly straight-edged, by NBA standards. I’d like to see more of it but I think the style of reffing will lean to superstar preferential rather than by the book, probably the rest of the way through. I think I was just whistled for fouling LeBron, actually.

  • http://www.nba.com/bobcats Anton

    Co-sign Tarzan!!

  • http://ibeatyou.com/shaq12 shaun

    my league refs areway werese

  • http://thephotoriot.com davidR

    lang – captain jack was doing that as a warrior (take that with a grain of salt)

  • http://thephotoriot.com davidR

    how about tyrus thomas’ huge flop the other day against the magic? he got stripped, flung his head and arms up, got the foul, then immediately got up and started laughing.

  • Garett

    Hey Lang, what exactly is your definition of a “casual relationship”? It sounds sort of Tiger Woodsy

  • http://slamonline.com JL

    the denver/utah game was one of the best games i’ve seen in a while. and i’m sure officiating was a big part of it. it affects the players and their play when bad calls are made, feeling shorted, and consumers when they go wth? integrity in the game is lost through non straight edged foul calling. i guess they don’t understand that superstar treatment isn’t really good for the league, the players, or the fans. all it does is stroke the stars’ egos!

  • SP

    There is nothing more annoying than fans whining about officiating. Why the hell do you even watch basketball, for the officiating? The refs do the best they can and are right waaaaaaay more than not. Think about how many times you were sure they got it wrong and then you see a slow motion replay and there were bang on? This happens waaaaaay more than you want to remember, because it’s natural to forget these instances and remember only the screwups. Basketball officiating is by far the hardest of any sport. It’s also ridiculous to theorize about conspiracies. Rigging anything isn’t easy. It involves tremendous amounts of cognitive dissonance, which the human brain find hard to handle. The most likely reason for “star calls” is that 1) those players are good and 2) it’s a natural human reflex because of the overall NBA culture fixated on stars and big market teams. Try to understand that it’s a lot more complex than your pea-brained, emotional fan sensibilities can handle.

  • Kamron

    Id love to see each team submit a public tape to the NBA officiating office after each game with a list of calls that they’d like explained. The office would then respond either explaining why it was a good call or admitting it was a bad call.

    Then, we’d get a video standard of what constitutes eg a moving pick (or, we’d see that there’s a different standard for different players). And, we’d have a record of which refs make which bad calls favoring which players or teams. Put all of the cards on the table and the rumors to bed.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    While the financial world is coming under pressure for increased transparency – with even the SEC itself coming under close scrutiny – it’s pretty ironic what Stern has done. He may have a point if his referees were right 100% of the time. But they aren’t, they’re very good but human at best and utter sleazebags (Donaghy) at worst. If a referee makes a mistake and comes out and admits it (e.g. the no-call on KD in the Utah game last week or so), it doesn’t reduce public opinion of referees, not nearly as much as Stern’s latest draconian scheme to browbeat everyone into NOT criticizing them. I think the coaches and us fans both would all just like more transparency. Stern HAS to know we’re going to take this move negatively, unless he’s really lost it.

  • MikeC.

    Coaches and players have been working refs through the media for years. It’s the way she goes. I really hope Lebron James will be a Knick.

  • http://www.nottherealmelvinely.com melvin ely

    offtopic: pierce beats the heat at the buzzer. Someone go check on my man Eboy.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/officerbarbrady what

    NBA refereeing sucks, but Tim Duncan’s hand — containing 4 championship rings — is exhibit A as to why there is no conspiracy.

  • http://www.nba.com/bobcats barnabusb

    Not to mention the Pistons championship (and almost repeat). They were so in the zone in 04 that no amount of fixing or lopsided calls would have changed the outcome. But Stern couldn’t have been pleased.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ Tariqُُ

    This one is great:

    Be careful of too much effect. It becomes affect.

  • http://slamonline.com Krishan

    Man spoelstra is such a baaaad coach. He must’ve thought timeouts and fouls-to-give carry over to the next game, because he didnt use any in the last 2 freakin minutes. The results: an almost broken pick and roll to an off-balance fadeaway by haslem (!!!); a forced three by wade with 12 seconds in the shotclock; and paul pierce dribbling for 13 seconds top of the key to his patented dribble-right-pull-up-J-Laker-killer. Any of those two timeouts could have helped, eric! Or that foul to give to force boston (without any timeouts by this time) to inbound for a potentially awkward shot!

  • chintao

    I don’t care what anyone says. The league has an agenda that it implements through its refs. I can’t put a motive to every call, but I damn sure notice patterns every single year. I hope Danilo Gallinari will be a Cav.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    LOL @ chintao.

  • MikeC.

    Well played chintao.

  • Rich

    Another example, game 3 of the Lakers/Thunder series. The Thunder shoot like 35 freethrows and the Lakers dont shoot their first freethrows until the last 2 minutes of the half???? Sure they were casting alot of 3′s but every time Kobe or any of the bigs post up they are regularly getting fouled but no calls???? And I can care less about the Chicago/Cleaveland series, but damn what does Derrick Rose have to do to get a call, that dude is driving the lane like a mad man and NEVER gets a call???? Shady Azz refs.

  • ripple p

    This isn’t even a debate. Did anyone see Wash-cavs playoffs way back? Lebron just picked up the ball, ate a sandwich, then ran sticking his arm (and lowering his shoulder) the whole way to the rim. I don’t remember the NBA saying that they missed a call did they? That’s when i knew something was up.

  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper

    yea those lebron supertripletravels AT THE END OF PLAYOFF GAMES were insane. two playoff games decided by lebron taking a long stroll and the refs shrugging, were just following orders, bs abounds

  • http://www.nba.com/suns Dacre

    The whole past 7 years has been a conspiracy to have the Washington Wizards get John Wall, which was orchestrated by Obama, so that he would go to NBA games and have his favourite team winning games. THATS THE LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD UP IN HERE…

  • 7ate6

    LOl @ dacre

  • madis

    Bron was actually called for a travel in game 5 against the Bulls today

  • barnabusb

    And Melo is getting called for a lot of fouls, including a bunch of offensive.

  • chintao

    Thanks, MikeC. I’m not afraid to say that I got the idea from your post.

  • http://www.nba.com/suns Dacre

    David Stern: “And if someone wants to try me in the rest of these playoffs, you know, make my day, because the game is too important and I don’t think that the people who trash it are respecting it….”
    And I hope LeBron James become a Knick (he may not have added)…

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ niQ

    Tarzan, that’s true, I hope D-Wade gets a DPOY before Lebron does.