The NBA’s New Standard for Technicals
Explanations for actions the NBA deems worthy of a technical foul.
by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack
If you thought the NBA was officiated too harshly, just wait until this season. Among the many complaints from fans of NBA refs the last few years is a propensity to call technical fouls. Expect that trigger to grow quicker as the NBA looks to crack down on what it calls “overt” actions from players.
I learned about this and more point-of-emphasis calls from the NBA during the annual NBA referee meeting at the W Hotel in Jersey City, NJ last week. It was a conference attended by all refs, NBA league and team executives and most of your favorite play-by-play and color commentators from ESPN, TNT and NBA TV, including ESPN’s Mike Breen, NBA TV’s Kevin McHale and TNT’s Steve Kerr, Mike Fratello and Reggie Miller.
I’ll explain some of the other parts of the game referees were asked to focus in a different post. Violations such as traveling, screening and blocks/charges were addressed but nothing took up the time quite like the NBA’s explanations for the new standards that will be set for a player to draw a technical foul. This post will explain what was discussed.
As vice president and director of officials Bernie Fryer explained to the conference room, the League values increasing player discipline on the court. With a video screen in the background displaying examples of various calls he was explaining, Fryer pointed out the actions which refs are supposed to deem unacceptable. Here they are:
-Players cannot punch the air. There was one example shown of Carlos Boozer getting the ball ripped away from him underneath the basket, upon which Booz looked toward the basket support and punched the air. No refs or players were in the area or in his sight of vision. Yet that seemingly innocuous move born out of frustration will now be grounds for a T. In fact, any overt act by a player — whether it’s an air punch, throwing hands up in the air, or any other noticeable gesture — will likely result in a technical, even if the action takes place away from an official.
-To follow up that last thought, any overt hand-pleading motion will result in a technical. You might want to call this the Tim Duncan Special. You know how Duncan will hunch over, widen his eyes and raise his hands, palms up, to near-shoulder level when he strongly disagrees with a call? That’s definitely T territory. Same goes for a player who swings his arms wildly following disagreement with a call. Kobe Bryant, who also dabbles in air-punching from time to time, comes to mind.
-Any player who continuously complains to a ref will get T’d up. This is applicable to players who are hot-headed or calm. The player’s mood doesn’t matter so much as their willingness to concede an argument. The League encourages communication between a player and a ref on a call. But if the player is given an explanation, then the League expects the player (or coach) to accept the explanation and move on to the next play. If the player persistently debates a call, a T will likely follow.
-Don’t ignore an official’s warning. Players are given leeway simply by being given a warning; that’s a signal to walk away and live to see another play. So, anyone who shuns the warning and persists in making his point will get lit up with a T.
-Running toward an official for an explanation is a no-go. One video was shown of LeBron James running cross-court with palms raised as he looked for an explanation from an official. Another video showed Anderson Varejao running up court away from a play to find out the reason for a call. Both of those are definitely grounds for a technical.
-A few extra notes here. Fryer admitted that team captains are given more leeway in arguments with officials. The same with head coaches, although Fryer went out of his way to point out that the League wants assistant coaches to “sit down.”
Fryer also said that if a referee determines mid-play that a technical foul should be assessed to a player — assuming the player is jiving with the official during the play — the ref is more apt to let the play finish before assigning the T.
-Lastly, Fryer noted that part of the reason for the more concentrated effort against overt player actions is that fans complain to the League and teams. He said that fans call in with criticism about the way players conduct themselves on the court. To which ESPN reporter Chris Sheridan responded that fans would have even more to complain about if star players were being tossed out of games early.
One advantage of having the media attend this kind of session is that some of them played in the NBA. As you might expect, Reggie Miller was the most outspoken critic of this harsher policy against player’s overt actions. Frankly, Miller seemed incredulous that players could be held to this standard the League wants to set. He said most of the overt actions, including air punching, were often just frustrated responses that are part of the game. Sometimes players aren’t always reacting to a call or a no-call; they might just be pissed at themselves or frustrated with the good defense (or offense) of an opponent.
NBA TV’s Brent Barry offered a great point about the NBA re-emphasizing calls throughout the season. He noted that in past years the League would make it a priority to implement new standards on officiating only to see the League’s emphasis on that new philosophy wane as the season progressed. By playoff time, many players and coaches forgot whatever new referee standards were set at the beginning of the season.
Barry explained to Fryer that if players were given a head’s up toward playoff time on that season’s new point-of-emphasis calls, then they might not be so susceptible to violating them at the most important time of the season. In regards to these new officiating standards, some players might forget that even an overt action away from an official is unacceptable.
Players have a lot to think about during the course of a game, and we all know how difficult it can be to break an old habit. As players try to adjust to the new rules, it could be wise for the NBA to offer consistent reminders of which actions are acceptable versus those which aren’t. How players react to this, especially superstars like Bryant or James, will be intriguing. If they can’t mellow out on calls they disagree with, you might see more of the League’s best players sitting where nobody wants to see them — on the bench.