NBA Officiating: Stern Denials vs. Real Reforms

Photo credit fans: brace yourselves. They’ll be no home cooking tonight. The friendly whistles the Celtics enjoyed the first two games of the 2008 NBA Finals in Boston will not likely be reciprocated for the home team Lakers in game 4.

How could they be?

Here it is hours before game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals, and the biggest story today isn’t Rondo’s ankle, is it? The big story is Tim Donaghy’s accusations that the Lakers were beneficiaries of an NBA playoffs conspiracy.

With a huge story like this hanging over their heads, how could NBA officials not go out of their way to show that they do not favor the Lakers?

Ironically, the solitary voice calling for reformation of NBA officiating is the Lakers Coach, Phil Jackson. Jackson is calling for NBA officials to have their own separate organization, not under the authority of the NBA. You don’t need to have a “high basketball IQ” to see how that would help. “It seems to be more consistent with what we want to have happen to keep it from being influenced,” Jackson said.

The worst thing about the Tim Donaghy story though, is David Stern. I don’t want to hear his denials, and I especially don’t want to hear him act as if the only problem the NBA has with officiating is this lone, rogue official. I want to hear him say he will reorganize NBA officiating so transparently that it will forever be above suspicion again.

It’s not like Tim Donaghy is the only reason to reform officiating.

2. Mark Cuban is another good reason. Wouldn’t setting up another organization separate from the NBA pull the rug out from under these headline grabbing conspiracy theorists?

3. And in Mark’s defense, doesn’t it feel somewhat un-American to fine someone for practicing his right to free speech? The Mark Cubans and Jeff Van Gundys should not be made to pay for expressing their opinions on officiating, especially when so many others are getting away with it for free.

4. Joey Crawford is another good reason for ref reform. Refs are as human as anyone else, and just as a player or a coach can get caught up in the heat of the moment, so can a referee. A real and transparent grievance procedure would help keep refs in line.

5. Right now, every officiating change is seen as a reaction to a past problem, and subsequently becomes an admission of guilt. Take for instance, the controversial shot Chauncy Billups took at the end of the 3rd quarter in game 2 against the Orlando Magic. If the NBA allows video replay for these situations next year, it is basically admitting the call was blown this year. There are some things the NBA doesn’t want to admit, therefore there is a built in reluctancy in the current system to make necessary changes.

6. A study by University of Pennsylvania professor Justin Wolfers and Cornell graduate student Joseph Price analyzed NBA box scores over 13 seasons through 2004 and found that Black players received fewer fouls (4.33 per 48 minute game) than white players (4.97 per 48 minute game). It also found that white refs were more likely to call fouls on black players, and that black refs were more likely to call fouls on white players. The REAL news, however, is that when the NBA dismissed this study, it said it has done more robust studies than this on this topic but has not released the results. WHY?! Why can’t the NBA be more transparent with the world about officiating?

Like most of you, I love this game. I watch it, I study it, I blog it, I play it, I coach it and I officiate it. If water-boarded though, (or for a free salmon dinner at Chili’s), I’d confess that the one thing that ruins this game for me is not Craig Sager’s suits, but basketball officiating.

Officiating has left me with a bad taste in my mouth so many times as a fan, as a player and as a coach, and even as a ref. Either I’ve swallowed my whistle in support of a fellow official who made what looked to me to be a bad call, or I myself have left games frustrated at how well hard it is to do a good job for the coaches and players who left it all on the floor.

Consequently, over time, I’ve developed some RADICAL ideas for improving officiating of basketball. Like what? Well, like ….


What do we want from NBA Officials? Only three things really.

1. Accuracy – We want officials to not miss calls, and to make the right calls when they make them.

2. Consistency – If it is a foul for one team, then it should be a foul for the other team… regardless who the home team is. If it is a foul at the beginning of the game, it should be a foul in the closing seconds as well… regardless if some dip stick announcer thinks otherwise. If it is a foul for a rookie, it should be a foul for an established super star as well… regardless if some veteran player feels he deserves more “respect.” Stop with the nonsensical unwritten officiating policies and just be consistent.

3. Recourse – Right now, if a player or a coach feels a call was missed or incorrect, they have two options: complain to no avail, or suffer in silence and hope the bad calls even out in the end. Are you telling me this is the best we can do?! We’re the species who have been to the moon and back, who cured the plagues of the dark ages, who

4. Continuity – Don’t slow the game down.

<I will finish filling this out later… I’ve got to go and I want to post this before game 4 starts>


Soccer has line officials, volleyball has line officials, tennis has line officials … why doesn’t basketball?

Answer: greed.

They don’t let fans onto the ice in hockey, they don’t allow fans onto the pitch in soccer, they don’t allow fans on the field in football, they don’t allow fans onto the court in tennis, but in basketball, they sell tickets all the way up to and around the teams themselves.

And in the NBA, they then stuff photographers and videographers in front of them. How many times in the playoffs have fans held their breath as NBA stars crashed into cameras and camera men? Yet it doesn’t change.

Other major sports seem to be able to cover their games from a safe distance for the players, why can’t they do the same for the NBA?

Now, as a person who has enjoyed courtside seats on the floor with my family, I can say that I’d hate to see courtside seats go, but then again, I wouldn’t mind if they were another 3 or 4 feet away from the sidelines for safety’s sake… especially if that also made room for line officials, and for better basketball officiating.

Basketball needs to add sideline officials.

Sideline officials could watch all lines and make calls such as: 3 in the key, defensive 3 seconds, the restricted “no charge” area offensive fouls, shot clock violations, backcourt violations, and basically free up the 3 on-court officials to watch and monitor player contact.


Coaches report cards every game, videos reviewed by head office, .


Complaining to officials replaced with a system, 2 video replays per game, half time tape study,


Accuracy is desirable, but consistency is mandatory. I
(more to come)

  1. SweedSweed09-07-2010

    this text is just awesome! isnt it?

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