If you ask any NBA player, and most fans, they’ll tell you the same thing: officiating in the NBA has been on a sharp decline over the last several seasons. It’s the one thing that almost every NBA fan, no matter their team of choice, can agree on. And, for the players who have to live with it every day and every game, it’s a huge issue.
“The No. 1 issues on their minds is officiating,” said NBA Players Association executive director Michele Roberts. “And it’s gotten worse over the years, probably now is about as hot as it has been.”
It makes sense why the players are upset. They’re the ones that have to deal with it. The more the officiating in the league continues to decline, the harder it gets for players and their fans. Maybe your style of play doesn’t fly anymore with certain teams of officials. Maybe a few other teams are way too lenient, so you can’t get a foul called unless the defender chops off your arm.
That’s the real issue that players in the NBA have been trying to cope with, and it has only been getting worse, leading to more technical fouls, more ejections, and more fights between players and teams.
As far as the refs are concerned, however, they aren’t doing anything wrong. The real issue here, in their minds, is the players who are constantly complaining about everything they do.
“Players are intense and frustrated, and that’s to be expected,” said spokesman for the National Basketball Referees Association Mark Denesuk. “I think the referees expect a certain amount of it, but I think there’s just been a decline in civility, a decline in respect, an increase in aggression.”
It’s hard not to get frustrated when the refs are making terrible calls and throwing All-Star players out of the game left and right. This season has seen first career ejections for New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis and Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James. Kevin Durant has been ejected three times. Monday alone saw five ejections, including Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors, Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul put it best in his postgame conference when asked about a questionable technical foul received during the game.
“There’s history there,” said Paul, sarcastically. “He the man. That’s who they pay to see.”
That’s what we’re all paying to see. There’s nothing that NBA basketball fans love more than paying $150 to go see a game and watching the ref get his big moment when the best player on the court is thrown out midway through the second quarter. What a rush!
Not a single person in those 20,000 seats wants to see their team’s star ejected. No one wants to watch the referees take over the game. They paid to see great basketball, and unfortunately, with the officiating issue progressing the way it is, there’s no guarantee anymore that that’s what you’ll get.
The players don’t want the refs to stop calling fouls. They know they need to do their jobs as well. But a little more clarity would go a long way, says Roberts.
“I just really think that to the extent that there are officials who adopt the absolute ‘I’m not going to comment [with players during the game]’ rule, they should reconsider that,” said Roberts. “That drives my members fairly batty, too, because guys don’t think talking to the refs is necessarily going to change the call, but they want to be able to say, ‘Ref, hey maybe you didn’t see it, but he hit me here or he touched me there.’ The hope is that the ref will, going forward, will be more attentive…It’s not necessarily that he’s going to say, ‘Oh, you’re right. Let me rescind that call.’ But to not be able to engage at all is a mistake.”
Ever the pacifist, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver blew the issue off in an attempt to not come across on one side or the other.
“We’ve looked back at the data we have from over the years, there haven’t been a greater number of ejections, a greater number of technical; there’s nothing aberrational happening in terms of the calls being made on the floor,” said Adam Silver. “But it’s something that people are talking about. I recognize that, and so we have a small enough league where I think it’s about building relationships.”
The real issue is that there are two main groups at play: the players and the officials. The refs, and maybe their parents, are on the officials’ side. Everyone else, including the fans who actually spend the money that keeps the league afloat, sides with the players.
And if things aren’t resolved soon, remember: the zebras are replaceable; the players are not.