The running joke on the internet has become “Oh I went to see the referees this weekend”. This is in reference to the fact that some referees appear to be running the game. While some may scoff at this, the fact is that this is a reality. Just last week, after a verbal exchange between Kevin Durant and a referee, Durant was hit with two technicals. The problem? Durant was ejected in the space of about 10 seconds. While the debate will rage over whether Durant’s antics were justified, at the end of the day, watching a player get two techs because of a verbal altercation is sad and pathetic.
Now, we get it. Kevin Durant whinges and complains like a child. Lebron looks for a foul every shot. Harden draws fouls like no-one else. Should these actions go unpunished? Of course not. NBA players will never, and should never, get to lay in the referees for poor decisions. If a referee is verbally or physically assaulted by a player, these referees should do what is needed to protect themselves. NBA players have a standard, and if they break this, then the punishment should be handed down.
What about the referees though?
As it has been heavily discussed around the league, criticism of referees will always see the critique handed a fine. Why though, do referees go unpunished? Unnecessary technicals missed calls and spending 5 minutes to make a call seem to be commonplace in today’s landscape of the NBA. And we must look at it from the perspective of the players and coaches. You prepare every game for the opponent, the environment and the position the team is in. What you cannot predict are ridiculous calls that disrupt momentum, disadvantage a team or lose a star player to a technical. So, if players are pointing out these calls, why do the referees get to stick their head in the sand and remain untouched?
Earlier this season, a Last Two Minute report by the NBA saw that referees missed more than 5 calls that could have greatly changed the outcome of the game between Cleveland and Golden State. Missed foul on Lebron, free throws that weren’t justified and more. This is a serious problem. Let’s rephrase this: calls essentially cost a team a game.
If a player missed clutch free throws or committed a turnover, their team would come down hard on them. Referees though? Yeah, not so much.
Adam Silver has every right to penalise players for criticising referees. That is only if though, that the league punishes referees. Let’s consider the logic behind punishment on the NBA level. If it is a fine, it provides a financial incentive to not criticise or do the wrong thing. At this point, the same can be applied to referees. Obviously scaled down to match their pay-level, this shows referees that when you make clearly poor choices, you will be held accountable. Or, you can just base it on performance, like other jobs. Some referees get too many chances, and this is a problem.
Of course, the problem is that it is much harder to prove that a referee made a mistake. If a player keeps missing shots over an entire season or commits too many turnovers, it is clear the player does not have the skills or IQ to play at the top level. However, if a referee misses a call, there is an abundance or circumstances that could be the reason for missing calls. So what’s the answer?
If it becomes too hard to decide a referees skills based on calls, then at the very least, these calls must become about temperament. Classic example: Tim Duncan getting T’d up for smiling. Continuous technicals that are unnecessary, and referees missing obvious calls should be the standard. It must nbe imposed.
Fans criticise Harden for being a “protected species”, but perhaps the most protected species are the referees. No suspensions, not fines, not even discussion of bringing in different referees. The NBA is essentially fine with just sitting idle while referees run the games.