Tim Duncan: Does Spurs' Franchise Player Have a Referee Problem?

Gil ImberAnalyst IIMarch 26, 2012

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 27:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antionio Spurs looks on against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2011 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Spurs power forward/center Tim Duncan picked up a technical Sunday for chipping at NBA referee Josh Tiven.

This is hardly Duncan's first rodeo.

Over the past decade, Duncan has gotten under the skin of several officials and was accused by the league in 2004 of intentionally shoving referee Jack Nies during a play under the guise of accidental contact while making a cut to the high post.

At the time, Duncan had been called for a technical foul, and upon further review in the league's New York office, the former MVP was suspended one game for "shoving a referee."

And most famously, in 2007, Duncan was ejected by referee Joey Crawford for what the veteran official deemed to be Duncan laughing on the bench in reaction to a call so as to indicate overt resentment or disgust.

Duncan was fined $25,000 for verbal abuse of an official—the standard amount players and coaches are ordinarily penalized for technicals and ejections—while Crawford was suspended for the remainder of the 2007 regular and postseason, allegedly for challenging Duncan to a fight while the bench player was leaving the floor.

On Sunday, Duncan took discipline to new heights after receiving a technical while on the bench, in street clothes, during a game in which coach Gregg Popovich listed Duncan as "Did Not Dress—Old."

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the NBA box score has since removed "Old" from Duncan's line.

Admittedly, the technical foul is not a Tim Duncan-specific problem—Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and about 50 other players in the league pick up more T's and toss-outs than Duncan—but for whatever reason, Duncan has been the one repeatedly accused of retaining feuds with multiple officials.

Nies has since retired and Duncan's fling with Crawford appeared to have settled down, though Duncan's latest technical Sunday threatens to change all that—fans are already renewing talk of the Crawford vs. Duncan discord simply because Crawford happened to be on Tiven's crew and make an appearance on the TV broadcast after Tiven's call.

While one accused Crawford of harboring a grudge, another was more blunt: "Crawford and Duncan at it again." 

It certainly doesn't help that as Crawford walked towards the Spurs bench, the broadcast cut to another camera, giving viewers the mistaken impression of suspicion and leaving all to wonder what business Crawford had making a beeline straight toward the Spurs bench.

In reality, Crawford was simply walking to the point of interruption to inbound the ball after the technical free throw, which just happened to be directly in front of Duncan, the location where the technical foul occurred.

Unlike Duncan-Nies or Duncan-Crawford from years gone by, referee Tiven didn't stick around to issue another technical; it was a drive-by-T'ing, with the T'er quickly strolling away from his target after delivering the whack.

Still, players are rarely disciplined while on the bench and especially while in street clothes or otherwise inactive. Sure, Karl Hess threw out a few former players-turned-fans at NC State last month, but penalizing roster players dressed to sit? That's unusual.

Yet it's happened before, and not just in basketball. In 2010, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was ejected by home plate umpire Doug Eddings for arguing a ball call in the first inning of a game vs. the Marlins, despite being in the dugout and on the disabled list.

As for Duncan, there comes a point where a Duncan vs. Nies or Duncan vs. Crawford feud ceases being an isolated incident and starts being a chronic problem. There comes a point where Duncan crosses that intangible-yet-definite line.

The only question after Sunday's peculiar technical is, "are we there yet?"


Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.