It's Time For a Change

David Stern's latest revelation that he would be taking all emotion out of NBA games by calling players for looking at a ref, thinking about a ref, or coming within 3 feet of a ref has me very frustrated as a fan. The actual rules can be found in my Random Thoughts article from yesterday, but you get the idea.   Stern Stern has set up the officials as absolute authority in the league and previously anyone who dared to question them was fined heavily and even suspended.  Now, any player who questions a ref's call in a game, makes any kind of indication that he disagrees with a call, or even calmly asks the ref a question about a call,  will be called for a technical and possibly ejected.   But is this good for the integrity of the game?

Herr Stern has said that he made the changes because fans wanted them.   I have yet to read the reaction of ANY fan who thinks that this is a good move.   A player who says "What?" or "Come on!" or anything at all after a foul is called on them will be issued a technical foul as well under the new rules.  They won't be able to question a call whatsoever.  No throwing up their hands in despair or disbelief.  No walking toward or away from the referee.  And that tech that Perk got a couple of years ago in New York for looking at a ref that was later rescinded?   Well, that would be a good call under these new rules.  Players will not be able to show any emotion whatsoever when they are called for a foul.  Again,  I don't know of anybody who thinks these new rules are a good idea.  

Even before these new technical rules, the refs could very easily influence the outcome of a game. I have seen refs very obviously calling games for one team or another. I have also seen star players get calls and role players never get calls even when the situations are identical. But if anyone dares question the refs or call them on their bias or bad calls, they get fined for it.  This kind of environment is perfect to foster refs to bet on games.  David Stern can put Tim Donaghy down all he wants, but it is his system that allowed that scandal to happen.   Absolute authority of the refs, who answer ultimately only to David Stern has fostered in the past, and will continue to foster, an environment of corruption. 

In a Spurs/Mavs game a few years ago,  Joey Crawford took this behavior to the extreme. He called Duncan for a technical foul and even challenged him to a fight. Then, with Duncan sitting on the bench and laughing with his teammates, Crawford called a second technical foul on Duncan and ejected him. The result of this was a Mavericks win. Crawford was clearly wrong and was suspended for the playoffs, but that didn't stop Stern from fining Duncan for criticizing him. Duncan had every right to call Crawford for his behavior and the suspension proved this.  But yet,  who is out there officiating in crucial playoff games but Joey Crawford.

In the 2008 Playoffs, Crawford was chosen to officiate Game 4 of the Western Conference final between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers. In the closing seconds of the game, there was a no-call where the Spurs' Brent Barry was unquestionably fouled by Derek Fisher. Crawford was the closest official to the call, and the NBA later apologized for the lack of a call. Crawford was also one of the refs who was involved in the income tax evasion convictions and was suspended at that time as well. And in the Suns 2010 first round against the Blazers, Crawford made what was possibly the worst foul call of all time when he called Marcus Camby for a foul and put Steve Nash on the line. You can judge for yourself. 

That could be the worst call ever.  But, the sad thing is that this call has many others to vie with for that honor.  You can go to YouTube and search for bad refs, terrible calls, referees, etc and see many more instances of horrible officiating.  It's just that this one is so blatantly bad.   In almost every game officiated by Crawford, Dick Bavetta and Bennett Salvatore especially, you will find terrible calls.  And I won't even get into the free throw disparity and bad calls in the 4th quarter of game 7 of last year's finals.   David Stern has a lot of nerve fining anyone who complains about the officiating when this is the product he is putting out on the court. He says that complaints by coaches and players undermine the consumer confidence in his NBA product. For the most part, coaches and players have legitimate gripes about the refs.

I have been frustrated at times during Celtics games where it seems that every call goes against us. I have also seen it go the opposite way and almost every call goes for us. In either case, it influences the outcome of the game and some refs appear to have an agenda for or against certain teams. But yet, when there are obvious bad calls, whether they are just blown calls or refs favoring a particular team, no one is allowed to question it. How can that be good for the league?  Coaches can't even call the bias into question in a press conference without facing a big fine.

Inconsistency is another thing that is so frustrating when it comes to the referees.   On one hand,  Udonis Haslem was thrown out of a game for throwing his mouthpiece and Kurt Heinrich threw his mouthpiece and received just a fine after the fact.  We constantly see one team called for a certain violation on one end and the other team get away with it on the other end.  And then there's the star calls.  How can LeBron James get called for 1.6 fouls a game when his entire game is plowing into the paint and knocking players every which way in his wake? 

ESPN Insider had a Player X Blog posted, allowing a player to speak his mind without fear of reprisal by the all powerful Stern.   In his blog, he describes Joey Crawford as a hot head who is sure to generate some drama, more fouls and technicals, and controversy when he officiates a game.  Here is what he has to say about young refs versus the veterans:
I always say that you can tell the difference between a young ref and a veteran guy. Generally speaking, players like young refs better because they don't tend to favor coaches or individual players, they just call the game as they see it. The problem is they are constantly being overruled by older refs. They'll make the right call and then an older ref will come running in and say, "Are you sure that's the right call?" Then the young guy will be like, "Well, what did you see?" They don't want to show the older guy up so they defer to him, and he's most likely biased. That's right, you'd think that the veteran referees would be more mature and balanced about their calls, but really they just carry more baggage onto the court.
Player X also discusses the star calls.  He states that one player going in for a dunk is fouled and the ref will wait to call the foul until after he sees if the shot goes in to give him a 3 point play.   Another player, maybe not so high up on the food chain, will get called for the foul right away, thus taking the possibility of a 3 point play away.   Here is what Player X has to day about some of the other familiar stars who get favorable calls.
Kevin Durant has impressed me with his ability to get a whistle at such a young age. He had 15 free throws the other night! LeBron always gets calls, obviously. Kobe gets fewer than you'd think because he travels all the time. But the guy who gets the most calls by far is Dwyane Wade, even though he carries the ball a lot and is always falling down. The refs like his personality, I guess. He never met a ref he didn't like.
Chris Paul gets away with the most talking. There have been times when I've seen him curse a ref out like, "What the f--- are you looking at you ---hole?! Learn how to call a f------ game!!" The ref will be like, "My bad, I'll get you next time." What?!! If that had been me I'd have been T'd up and thrown out. You can't curse at a ref without getting a technical or at least a stern warning. Unless you're Chris Paul, who can say whatever he wants.
If you haven't read Tim Donaghy's book Personal Foul,  you really need to.  No matter what you feel about Tim as a person,  he points out things that are going on in the NBA and need to be changed if the league is to retain any integrity at all.   Refs making wagers on who can call the first technical.  Refs making a pact to teach a certain player a lesson. Refs with agendas toward certain players, teams, owners and coaches.    Refs getting directions from the league office with instructions that will give an advantage toward one of the teams.   These things are happening every night in the NBA and if you watch a lot of NBA games, it is pretty evident that what Tim says in the book is true.  His claims about the NBA were investigated by the FBI and it was determined that his allegations about the corruption among the officials were indeed true.  

David Stern is very concerned about the integrity of the league. He instituted the dress code. He fined Danny for sitting next to Kevin Durant's mom before the draft.  He fined coaches for mentioning LeBron in passing before he made "The Decision but yet he never questioned the contact ahead of time by Dwyane Wade, on behalf of Pat Riley, that brought LeJerk to South Beach.    Coaches, owners, and players all have questioned the integrity of the officiating and in many cases, they have very valid points. Yet, the only thing Herr Stern does is to fine them and nothing is done to insure that the officiating is truly fair.   And the refs can feel pretty secure to call games however they want because there is no one to call them into question.  This atmosphere of protection spawned one gambling scandal and I'm sure if a fair outside audit was done of the NBA, a lot more problems would be uncovered.  

Stern is always talking about protecting the integrity of the game, but if he really wants to protect the integrity of the game, he will put a system of checks and balances in place to keep the refs honest and to assure fairness in the officiating for all teams and all players.  Calls like the one above are destroying the integrity of the game and nothing is being done about it.    I would like to see a governing body being placed over the refs consisting of league officials, owners, players, and coaches. When a team files a protest, the committee would review the film and determine if there is a valid reason for the complaint. If there is, the refs would be penalized, and if there isn't, the team who complained would be fined. But to just fine players and coaches for questioning the referees, especially when much of the time they are correct in questioning the call,  is not good for the integrity of the league.  When a person shields himself from criticism,  they usually have something to hide.  It is only when they welcome scrutiny that we can be sure that there is no corruption going on.    Fans need to voice their outrage to the league over poor officiating.  I have read so many comments on boards for just about every team from fans who are ready to give up on watching the NBA because the officiating is so bad.   If enough fans voice their opinions to the league,  maybe things will change.   And it is more obvious now than ever that things do need to change.