Jeff Van Gundy Says NBA Tried to Hurt His Career for Criticizing Referees

The NBA doesn’t like it when its media partners openly blast the refs for blown calls. In fact, the League occasionally calls the broadcasters’ bosses to remind them of this, according to Jeff Van Gundy. Per the Oregonian:

“I understand their job is hard. I understand officiating is hard, but guess what? So is guarding LaMarcus Aldridge. So is coaching. Of course it’s hard, that’s why those guys are making a lot of money. I’m not big on the idea that anytime you disagree on something, don’t say anything about it,” said Van Gundy, working now with ESPN as an NBA television analyst.

“I think they’ve been programmed to say that no one is supposed to talk about it. That you’re supposed to say the officiating doesn’t matter when we all know it absolutely does.”

The NBA league office works behind the scenes to manipulate the public discussion on officiating, especially by on-air analysts, according to Van Gundy and others in the broadcast industry.

“They’ve tried to hurt me with my bosses,” Van Gundy said. “They’ve called my bosses and said, ‘Nobody wants to hear that guy whine about officiating.’ They’re pretty sensitive about that sort of stuff. I’m not quite sure why. I think by critiquing them you’re talking of their importance to the game.

“I’m not sure why they’d be upset with that.”

Rod Thorn, the NBA’s director of operations, said this week that the league monitors and logs what broadcasters say about officiating and rules. He outlined the league’s program to evaluate and assign officials. And he believes the NBA has the best basketball officials in the world.

Thorn, who returned to the league eight months ago after a 13-year hiatus, said he hasn’t made a practice of calling networks, complaining about criticism of his officials.

“I don’t place those kinds of calls. I never have since I’ve been here. When I was here before, I didn’t do it either.”

NBA director of communications Tim Frank acknowledged this week that he does reach out to broadcasters as a courtesy. When the Trail Blazers lost a controversial overtime game in 2012 to Oklahoma City, Frank sent one such note to team play-by-play broadcaster Mike Barrett.

In that game, with Portland leading the Thunder 103-101 with six seconds left, Aldridge blocked Kevin Durant’s breakaway layup from behind. The officials whistled Aldridge for goal-tending, and the game went to overtime where Portland eventually lost. Replays and a subsequent review by the NBA determined that the goal-tending call was incorrect. In an email after the game, Frank praised Barrett, who refused to join his broadcast co-host Mike Rice in torching the game officials.

“Yeah,” joked Rice on Friday. “Where’s my letter?”

Rice, a former coach, is a frequent and outspoken critic of NBA officials. “As a coach, you’re always looking for officials who are out of position. You know what a good call is, and a bad call, and that’s often based on positioning. I feel like it’s my job to say what I see, and when they’re not good, you have to say it.”