The officiating problem in the NBA isn't a new issue. This is not a problem that is isolated to just the 2012 playoffs, but that's been what has received the majority of the attention. The referees have emerged as the major storyline when the emphasis should be on the actual basketball being played.
I hope Commissioner David Stern has been paying careful attention.
It's not just about a missed call here and there anymore. So long to the days where the officials were simply letting the players play their game, because this is a brand new NBA.
This is now a league where the referees come under public scrutiny after almost every contest, and something has to be done to correct this moving forward.
I'm not one for conspiracy theories.
While the Tim Donaghy scandal is a well-known story that lends some credence to those who want to believe the games are "fixed," the reality is that the officiating has just been bad.
To some, it may seem as if the outcome is predetermined, but that's simply not the case. More importantly, that view is failing to get to the key root of the problem: How do we install a better process?
Nobody is suggesting that the referees have an easy job. There are so many things happening on every play up and down the court that it's extremely difficult to see it all at once.
I get that; that's why there are three referees in a game. They're all positioned in the half court strategically in an effort to best see the game and call it evenly throughout.
But isn't it a problem when the referee positioned on the sideline calls a foul, while the one beneath the basket swallows his whistle?
Isn't it a problem when referees very noticeably change the way they're calling a game based on how close the game is down the stretch of the fourth quarter?
And, arguably the most important question to bring up, isn't it a problem when everyone seems to acknowledge that the on-court product is being impacted by those who aren't playing?
In April of 2010, David Stern was so fed up with the "corrosive" comments about officiating that he threatened suspensions for coaches and players who criticized the referees (via Scott Howard Cooper of NBA.com):
You guys know that our referees go out there and knock themselves out to do the best job they can, but we’ve got coaches who will do whatever takes to work them publicly. And what that does is erode fan confidence and then you get some of the situations that we have.
Players and coaches alike. They give the impression to our fans that referees somehow have an agenda.
Here's the thing: Stern is right.
While he does a rather sly job of brushing off the actual issues with his league's referees, he's absolutely right to say what he did a couple of years ago. Both coaches and players take to the public forum (media) to let their opinions be heard on the officials.
But we don't arrive at an answer with Stern's response.
So here we are, asking the same question we have been for so long—what is going to happen with the officiating?
Will the league take a firmer stance in reevaluating the referees?
Will Commissioner Stern finally acknowledge that the officials shouldn't dictate the flow of a game throughout a full 48 minutes?
When will be able to get away from a system where flopping like a fish and acting like you're trying to win an Academy Award is rewarded?
Stern previously fought back with the only artillery he had: hefty fines, threats of suspensions and sending his message through the media where he knew fans and players alike would hear it.
But is that really enough to fix a problem everyone knows is evident? Fines and suspensions are consequences for complaining—they're not solutions for bettering the on-court product.
At the end of the day, isn't that what Stern and the league should be striving for every day?
We're always looking for ways to improve the sport we all love so much, so why not start by addressing the problem we're all spending so much time talking about?
That's the question I'd like to pose to the commissioner.
This is an issue that has to be addressed.
Otherwise, the conversations will continue, the conspiracy theorists will continue to press forward and we'll still be searching for answers when we should have received them a long time prior.