by Kevin Owens

I remember a Sports Illustrated issue featuring Bill Laimbeer during his time with the Detroit Pistons. He appeared on the cover in a state of confusion accompanied by the caption, “What Foul.” For some reason the memory of that cover stayed with me through all these years. Maybe it’s because I, like Laimbeer, have had a love/hate relationship with officials throughout my career.

I don’t know the approximate number of fouls I have collected during my 10-year career, but I can only imagine it’s in the thousands. I am not sure why it always seems like I have a “target” on my back. I have tried all the tricks of the trade to get referees onto my good side. I’ve joked with them in the pre-game warm-ups, showing that I am hilarious, thus less likely to commit fouls. But like clockwork, during the opening few minutes that whistle blows and my number is registered at the scores table. Maybe I need to work on my comedy act. More likely I need to work on sliding my feet.

Bouncing around from country to country makes getting into foul trouble a much easier task. If I played my whole career in one league, I would know what to expect. I would know how aggressive I can or can’t be. But each country has different definitions of the word “foul.”

In some countries, unless I physically punch someone in the face, I may not be whistled for a violation. In others, people with restraining orders against them are allowed more contact. It all depends on how the game is called in that specific location. This makes adjusting to these new rules every year quite stressful. Being a center/ forward definitely gives me a bigger disadvantage. Most referees, in my experiences, are less than 6-0 tall. They see a big guy involved in any kind of physical play and they assume it’s a foul.

Over the years I have had some interesting experiences with referees. I believe I have mentioned the “towel incident” in a previous blog. If you have not read it go to my webpage and check out the story entitled “Perth Screwjob” (shameless plug). People have often told me I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I think that is a major factor behind my conflicts with referees.

Playing in South Korea was my first experience in a non-English speaking country. I, as expected, became engulfed in foul calls quite quickly? Thinking I could get away with a blatant curse off of an official, I threw the always classy phrase, “You Don’t Know Sh*t!!” Unfortunately in my enraged state I didn’t realize these refs have heard every American curse word by now. As expected I was not rewarded for my poor choice of words.

In previous seasons, several contracts stated that any technical foul would result in a hefty fine. My demeanor with the officials changed quickly when money was on the line. I didn’t let myself get too emotional when I played. I used phrases like “Son of a bee sting”, or “That’s flipping ridiculous.”

Now don’t get me wrong…I could NEVER be a referee. I remember refereeing a high school clinic for the good people at Pushin the Limit Basketball a while back. There were countless fouls I let slide because I was unsure who initiated the contact. In most cases, a smaller player would drive into the lane only to carom off the center protecting the basket.

Every time I let a foul go uncalled the players would look at me with the same look. I know this look very well. It’s the same look I have been giving officials for the past 15 years. It’s a combination of puppy dog eyes and pure hatred. Needless to say when my playing career is over and my coaching career begins, my love/hate relationship with the officials will continue.

Kevin Owens is a veteran of overseas professional basketball who currently plays for Kalev/Cramo in Tallinn, Estonia. Owens also writes for Waiting For Godunk and Hugging Harold Reynolds. You can also catch him on Twitter @Waiting4Godunk.