June 30 is Blog about NBA Officiating Day

QUESTION: what does the McDonald’s fast food chain and NBA Officiating having in common?

ANSWER: They are both run by a clown named Ronald.

Retiring U.S. Army General, Ronald L. Johnson, was hired to be the NBA’s “senior vice president of referee operations,” a newly created position, In the aftermath of the Tim Donaghy scandal.

Four things about this raised my eyebrows.

(1) During tough economic times, when the NBA has just laid off 9 percent of its workforce (80 jobs), it created a new position.

(2) The move totally ignored the kinds of remedies the fans and media have been clamoring for, including NBA heavyweights such as Phil Jackson and Mark Cuban: an organization for officiating separate from the NBA, and transparency in the process.

(3) Whatever the good general’s virtues might be, basketball was not one of them.

Upon being hired, General Johnson made the following statement, “As I leave the military and return to civilian life, I can’t imagine a more interesting and challenging position. Although I don’t have a basketball background, other than as a lifelong fan, I am confident that my experience as an Army commander and engineer has equipped me to bring leadership and innovation to the NBA’s exceptional officiating program.”

The new position was to take the responsibility of officiating oversight away from Stu Jackson in order to “formalize the separation of the NBA’s officiating and basketball activities.”

(4) Ronald Johnson actually referred to NBA refereeing as an “exceptional officiating program.”

General Johnson, it has now been a year since you’ve been on the job. Specifically what evidence is there of “leadership” or “innovation?”

In fact, does anyone even know if Johnson is on the job still? I’ve looked for news articles stating that he has resigned, because the only two people you ever hear from with respect to officiating are Stu Jackson and David Stern.

There are three kinds of bad officiating in basketball: incompetent, belligerent and corrupt.

Likewise then, there are at least three different remedies, but David Stern acts like sending Donaghy to jail cures all three.

Now more than ever coaches, players, press and fans are all wondering: what IS a flagrant foul?

What is more, former NBA officials are publicly critical of General Johnson’s troops as well.

In a New York Post article, former head of NBA Officiating, Mike Mathis, made some startlingly frank comments. So startling, they make you wonder what other officials would say if their jobs or FINES weren’t on the line.

“Refereeing has gone downhill,” said Mathis. “(We) accept unbelievable, mediocre and bad officiating, The commentator says, ‘He must have seen something we didn’t.’ No, he didn’t. It’s either he’s guessing, he’s incompetent or there’s some funny stuff going on.”

There is definitely some funny stuff going on in the 2009 NBA Finals.

Could there be a more jump shooting team than the Orlando Magic?

For example, in game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals, 71% of the Magic’s shots were jump shots while 58% of the Lakers’ shot attempts were jumpers.

Why do I bring that up?

Because in game 1, the jump shooting Orlando Magic had a 29 to 18 free throw advantage over the home team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

And that isn’t a fluke.

Over the course of the 2009 NBA Finals, the Magic have benefited from a free throw advantage EVERY GAME, and over the course of the first 4 games of the Finals have a 133 to 84 advantage in free throw attempts.

It would be one thing if the Magic was an inside force, but they are a jump shooting team. It would be another thing if the Lakers were thugs and hackers, but they are a finesse basketball team that has often been criticized for being too soft.

This disparity is even more curious when you look at it in context. During the course of the long regular season (2008-2009), over 82 games the Magic shot a total of 1,611 free throws. The Lakers shot a total of 1,607 free throws!

Digest that!

Over 82 games, there was only a 4 free throw difference between the two teams, yet over the 4 games (so far) of the NBA Finals, there is already a 49 free throw disparity!

And you don’t have to go to the statistical records to see this; ALL GAME LONG the most objective of fans witness jersey and shorts pulling, holding, arm pinning, hand checking, arm barring beyond the free throw line, shoving on rebounds, hacking on shots, etc. Both teams do this to a degree, for the most part, only one team is being called for it.

For the most part the NBA announcers try to stay out of the refereeing controversy, in part because both Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy would like to be head coaches in the NBA, but when a slow motion replay shows how blatant the infractions are, they are kind of forced into making comments about what all the world is witnessing: the refs suck.

The worst thing about how NBA Officiating is run, though, is how they are NOT innovating.

The only two things the NBA has done over this last year about officiating is expand the use of video replay, and fine people.


The NBA should WANT people leaving games and turning off their televisions at the end of games talking about the performance of the PLAYERS, not the officials.

The NBA should NOT want the spotlight refocused on officiating again and again as players and coaches criticize it, then the media covers it again when the fine comes.

On September 5, 2008 I posted 20 suggestions for improving the NBA that were very well received. Some of these ideas included:

o Having corner line judges (like soccer, tennis and volleyball have) to watch out of bounds and defensive and offensive 3 in the key, and players feet on the no charge circle under the basket so that the referees can focus on contact.

o Allowing coaches 2 plays a game where they can challenge a call on the floor and have it resolved with video replay.

o Adding a “video replay” ref who compiles clips of botched calls and no-calls and reviews them with the floor officials at half time so they can make adjustments.

I can easily add to that list as well with ideas such as:

o Use the SAME reffing crew an entire series so that calls can be more consistant and players can adjust instantly to how things are going to be called each series.

o Stop already with fining coaches and players for TACTFULLY discussing officiating publicly. All that does is put the story in front of us again when the fines come down. Besides, this draconian practice seems very out of place in a land where free speech is a constitutionally guaranteed right.

o Get consistent. If it is a foul or a travel in the first 10 seconds of the game, it is still a foul or a travel in the last 10 seconds of the game, even if some highly partisan fans don’t want that called in the critical closing seconds. If LeBron can crab dribble, then everyone else should. If Turkoglu and Ginobli are allowed to take 4 steps after the dribble almost every time they drive in traffic, then let the non foreign players do it too.

Suggestions made by others that are VERY good include:

o Phil Jackson wants NBA officiating taken over by an organization other than the NBA. What a great idea. Let a 3rd party competitively BID to provide officiating services each year, and if they don’t meet a standard, fire them and let another contractor try.

o Phil and others such as Mark Cuban have asked for more transparency in decisions. This alone would mop up much of the mess, and all but crush conspiracy theories that the league is rigged, or at least tilted towards the likes of LeBron James.

Consider the most recent officiating controversy. In game 4 of the NBA Finals, Orlando’s Mickael Pietrus gave the Lakers’ Pau Gasol a dirty, cheap shot in the closing seconds of overtime. It is hard to conceive of a worse flagrant foul…

o Gasol was not expecting it
o Gasol was in the air
o Gasol was struck from behind
o The contact was very hard
o The contact was clearly deliberate
o There was no chance a play was being made on the ball
o The play was over, the ball was in the hoop, Peitrus wasn’t going to stop a basket from being made
o The game was pretty much over (7 point lead with 3.2 seconds remaining)
o Instead of apologizing and seeing if Gasol was okay, Peitrus trash talked Gasol (imagine trash talk in English with French and Spanish accents)
o What is the call when a player hits another player with a FIST? Gasol was hit with TWO!

In EVERYONE’S book, that is a flagrant two, but the officials on the floor, and Stu Jackson in the head office didn’t want the Orlando Magic to play an elimination game without their hired thug, so Stu Jackson made up a bunch of laughable excuses and let it stand as a flagrant 1.

With apologies to Pau Gasol and the Lakers, I am glad the NBA did not call it a flagrant two, because you could not ask for a more cut and dry, unimpeachable “Exhibit A” as evidence that the NBA has an agenda for its officiating that extends beyond calling whatever happens on the floor.

Clearly, the NBA has no interest in reforming its officiating, because doing so would lose them the opportunity to control circumstances, whether they be making a superstar more marketable, or extending a playoff series. Do you have any idea how much money is involved in extending a playoff series even by one game?

Follow the money.

One final and VERY IMPORTANT note: all over the world there are GOOD PEOPLE caught in BAD SYSTEMS.

I TOTALLY believe, and believe you should believe it too, that there are a good number of NBA officials who honestly want to do a great job.

Hopefully someday fan uproar, joined by the NBA franchise owners and the NBA Players’ association, will force changes to NBA officiating that will allow these good people to do their job for a better system.

Until then, none of us should be pretending that General Johnson’s organization, which appears to be in reality David Stern and Stu Jackson’s organization with a figurehead propped up at the front of it, is doing a good job.

The more we allow this kind of officiating to occur without calling it out, the longer we enable it to go on.

If I were General Ronald Johnson, I wouldn’t just live with this kind of world wide embarrassment. I would either aggressively and transparently enact reforms, or if I couldn’t because of the resistance of my bosses, I would resign and tell the world WHY.

Why wouldn’t the NBA be more aggressive about improving its officiating?

The only answer that makes any sense is that NBA must have an agenda for its officiating that extends beyond the objective calling of whatever happens on the floor.

The blogging world once had a “Kobe Bryant Day” where everyone blogged on Kobe Bryant. The last day of June, the month the NBA Finals happens each year, is ‘BLOG ABOUT NBA OFFICIATING DAY.”

On June 30 the blogging world should buzz about how they feel about NBA officiating, good or bad, and perhaps the mainstream press will cover it and get the NBA’s attention.

Maybe nothing will happen, but if we all continue to do nothing, you can guarantee nothing will happen.

  1. TiffanyTiffany06-20-2009

    This is VERY amusing!!! two clowns with a whole lot of publicity for doing nothing…

  2. J the DrafterJ the Drafter08-29-2009

    Hack-a-Howard? loose ball fouls? I’m hardly unbiased, unfortunately. I will say this. The NBA has a bad habit of not calling hard contact in one instance, and then letting the other team get away with something in an attempt to be fair. We’ll never agree on Kobe’s intentions with his elbow, or whether the right call was made, but I strongly think the refs were going loose on that double-fisting because Jameer went to the ground. Whether i/that/i call was a good one is a place where we will not agree.

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