Referees Earn Their Stripes for NBA Finals, First for Tony Brothers

Victor JanickiContributor IIJune 5, 2012

Referees Earn Their Stripes for NBA Finals, First for Tony Brothers

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    Much like 16 teams put forth their best efforts to get the chance to make the NBA Finals, so do the referees. In the first round, 36 referees earned their way into the playoffs (eight were crew chiefs with an additional four serving as only alternates).

    Referees rated highly—based on call accuracy and game management, to name a few qualifiers—were selected to continue to the second round. In the second round, the number of referees decreased to 28 (seven crew chiefs). All alternates were referees that worked a minimum of one game.

    Once four teams remained for the conference finals, only 18 referees were selected (five being crew chiefs). The remaining referees are the best ones remaining.

    Barring any injury or suspension due to performance or disciplinary reasons, all conference finals referees are eligible to make the NBA Finals. Only 12 will (four crew chiefs and an additional two to serve as alternates).

    What makes an NBA Finals-worthy referee?

Qualifications Considered for Finals Eligibility

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    The easy answer to what it takes to be a finals referee is to be the best. But what does "being the best" include? How are they rated or evaluated? 

    Every referee of every game is graded on every call and non-call. This produces an accuracy rate. To better help referees, specific plays are highlighted to train and reinforce proper rule application and mechanics. 

    Referees are also evaluated on positioning and physical aptitude. Improper positioning leads to missed calls. Part of evaluating a particular call is to note time in game and the referee's position (lead, trail or center) and positioning (proper angle and view of the play from start to finish).

    Another criterion considered in evaluation is game management. How well does the referee (crew chief and all three together) maintain control of the game without dictating the flow?

    Games need to be kept moving. Accuracy rate goes hand in hand with game management through consistency in calls. 

    Every referee thoroughly understands all the rules, but each referee may interpret them slightly differently. Similar to a police officer using discretion in whether to give a speeding ticket or not for going five miles over the speed limit, referees have to quickly decide if contact was marginal (having no impact), minimal (contact noticed but not deemed enough to be a foul) or a foul.

    The key for a referee is to be as consistent as possible (and virtually no two situations are alike on the court, as much as players and fans want them to be perceived). The optimum goal is all three referees to be consistent as a crew.

    Part of consistency amongst the crew is every referee calling the same kind of contact as a foul. That is achieved by communication. Verbally before the game, at timeouts and at half time, the crew chief's responsibility is to communicate to the crew the tone and pace of the game desired. During the game, nonverbal communication needs to be used.

    The referees also need to keep the line of communication open with the score table, players and coaches. Referees should be approachable (respectfully by all involved), but also need to keep it to a minimum to not affect their game management.

Selecting the Twelve

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    Once all referees have been rated, the highest are considered for the NBA Finals. In past years, referees were scheduled finals games by seniority. The NBA has improved and moved away from that practice.

    Currently, the higher a referee is rated, the better chance of being selected. 

    In recent years, new referees have worked the NBA Finals (Bill Kennedy and Ed Malloy, to name two). In the same respect, more senior referees, such as Dick Bavetta and Ron Garretson, have not been selected.

    The referees that should be considered for NBA Finals assignments are:

    No. 17 Joe Crawford

    No. 43 Dan Crawford

    No. 13 Monty McCutchen

    No. 48 Scott Foster

    No. 9 Derrick Stafford

    No. 24 Mike "Duke" Callahan

    No. 57 Greg Willard

    No. 55 Bill Kennedy

    No. 41 Ken Mauer

    No. 14 Ed Malloy

    No. 8 Marc Davis

    No. 23 Jason Phillips

    No. 22 Bill Spooner

    No. 10 Ron Garretson

    No. 49 Tom Washington

    No. 25 Tony Brothers

    No. 19 James Capers

Group One Considered

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    The NBA doesn't publish or publicize referee ratings, evaluations or accuracy rates. Categories considered are based on watching games as a referee and evaluating them. 

    The categories are game management, communication, positioning and mechanics.   There are more qualifications to consider, however.

    The first officials to consider eligible for the NBA Finals are:


    No. 17 Joe Crawford

    Crawford has worked the most playoff games of any referee—that is a vast amount of experience. He has excellent game management and mechanics.

    Crawford does have a self-realized issue every NBA fan (and Tim Duncan) are all too familiar with: anger management. He works on this issue constantly and has improved (demeanor) noticeably.

    Just like players need to play within themselves and keep their emotions in check, so does he. Having two strong partners greatly assists him in this matter.


    No. 43 Dan Crawford

    Dan is considered to be possibly the best active referee. Dan has great positioning and has exceptional physical aptitude.

    What complements this is his game management. Dan tends to keep the game moving at an even pace. The one other attribute that works well on court is his demeanor. 


    No. 13 Monty McCutchen

    McCutchen has quickly become considered an excellent referee. He has excellent mechanics and positioning.

    McCutchen does tend to be stricter of sportsmanship issues and will issue the technical foul without second thought. That doesn't detract from his demeanor, though.


    No. 48 Scott Foster

    Foster is another highly rated and respected referee, often serving as an NBA Finals crew chief. Foster's stronger in his communication and game management.

    He keeps his crew focused and consistent.


    No. 9 Derrick Stafford

    Stafford has excellent demeanor on the court along with communication. His game management is good, although can be deceiving, as he is more laid back and not as much of a micro manager.


    No. 24 Mike Callahan

    Callahan has excellent demeanor, not calling many technical fouls and allowing players to play with emotion more. His game management is regimented, but not too strict. He also has great mechanics.


    No. 57 Greg Willard

    Willard is a new NBA Finals referee. He has excellent mechanics and positioning. His weaknesses (and not great ones) are game management and that he tends to have a short fuse.

    That just means he will be a little more quicker to call the technical foul than others. Generally speaking, he has an even and fair demeanor.


    No. 55 Bill Kennedy

    Kennedy has a superb demeanor and excellent communication skills. Kennedy also is a new addition to the finals.

    Where Kennedy needs improvement is in game management and being a stronger crew chief when working with experienced referees.


    No. 41 Ken Mauer

    Mauer's constructive criticism would be that he should ease up on how quick he resorts to calling the technical foul. He can, at times, come across as condescending.

    Where he excels is game management and mechanics.


    No. 14 Ed Malloy

    Malloy just gained crew chief status a couple of years ago. He worked his first NBA Finals game last year and it was well deserved.

    Malloy has great positioning and demeanor. He also commands respect by being firm yet fair, all while keeping his demeanor.

Group Two for Consideration

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    No. 8 Marc Davis

    Davis is an energetic young referee. Like Ed Malloy, he is a new crew chief and worked his first finals game last year.

    Davis has good mechanics. Where he needs help is to tone down his on-court ego—he comes across as cocky. He also tends to want to take control of a game, so game management is an issue as well.

    This perceived (and rumored) ego may keep him from making the finals this year to be used as a teaching point.


    No. 23 Jason Phillips

    Phillips is also a new crew chief. He has a great demeanor and communication. His mechanics are excellent.

    If selected for the NBA Finals this year, it will be his first. He served as an alternate last year, which served to give him experience and valuable training.


    No. 22 Bill Spooner

    Spooner is a veteran crew chief that has been assigned as an alternate NBA Finals referee but has yet to work an actual game. Spooner has great mechanics and demeanor.

    Where he lacks is in game management. Whether he can make improvements or not remains to be seen.


    No. 10 Ron Garretson

    Garretson is also a veteran crew chief with NBA Finals experience though. His late father, Darell, was the head of the NBA referees. Garretson may be seen as "old school" NBA and may be resistant to change.

    Garretson also was the crew chief in the Pacers/Pistons brawl (not that he needs to take sole responsibility). He has good mechanics but can have a low tolerance for whining and complaining.


    No. 49 Tom Washington

    Washington has worked a couple NBA Finals games and then he disappeared for a while. He has a low-key personality and easy-going demeanor. He can therefore be looked upon as not being a strong crew chief.

    However, he is a consistent, strong crew chief with excellent communication amongst not only his fellow referees but with players.


    No. 25 Tony Brothers

    Brothers is somewhere between an average crew chief and an excellent one. Where he is excellent is his mechanics and game management. He tends to relax a bit when working with other crew chiefs and isn't as assertive, or perhaps confident. Confidence can be resurgent, which was the case this year.

    Is it enough to get him into the finals? Perhaps. Only his performance can determine that.


    No. 19 James Capers

    Capers is a veteran and strong crew chief with no finals experience. Capers' strength is his mechanics and positioning.

    He appears to defer to his partners at times, which questions how strong a leader he is. By deferring, it affects his game management by not stepping into situations sooner than he does. That concern, however, is only a slight one.

Final Selection Process

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    Now that a list of eligible referees has been established for the NBA Finals, the list needs to be worked down to 12 referees and two alternates. The 12 top referees will earn spots. Two referees rated high enough but just missing out will be chosen to be the alternate referees.

    The alternates stand by in case of injury. If needed, the alternate will not alter the flow of the game or game management. So in essence, the crew of three actually is a crew of four.

    The alternate must be as prepared as the bench players are to the team playing. This gives the alternate great experience and training for their own eventual NBA Finals game. They, just like the 12 chosen, are at the top of their career.

    Finally, out of the 12 referees chosen, four are determined to be the crew chiefs. These four rise to the top of the bunch. All four are experienced, veteran crew chiefs with many NBA Finals games worked. All four are also consistently crew chiefs.

    Each referee works at least one game. Crews don't remain the same. For instance, in Game 5, two referees from Game 1 may work with a referee from Game 2. Alternate referees in Games 5, 6 and 7 are referees from previous games, usually the newer NBA Finals officials.

Finals Referees by Game Assignments

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    Based on conference finals games worked and the author's selection of referees, the NBA Finals schedule could look similar to the following. The crew chief is listed first and the alternate is in parentheses.


    Game 1:  Joe Crawford, Bill Kennedy, Tony Brothers (Jason Phillips)

    Game 2:  Dan Crawford, Derrick Stafford, Tom Washington (Jason Phillips)

    Game 3:  Monty McCutchen, Greg Willard, Ed Malloy (James Capers)

    Game 4:  Scott Foster, Ken Mauer, Mike Callahan (James Capers)

    Game 5 (if necessary):  Joe Crawford, Derrick Stafford, Bill Kennedy (Tony Brothers)

    Game 6 (if necessary):  Dan Crawford, Greg Willard, Mike Callahan (Ed Malloy)

    Game 7 (if necessary):  Monty McCutchen, Scott Foster, Ken Mauer (Tom Washington)

Contingency Plan

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    This year saw the use of an alternate referee.   In game six of the San Antonio/Oklahoma City series, the scheduled referees were Joe Crawford, Greg Willard and Bill Kennedy.  Due to an illness, the alternate Rodney Mott had to fill in for Willard.

    Apparently Willard has been hospitalized with his illness.    If he is unable to return to the court, depending on his medical status, the Finals schedule would have to be changed.  This opens the door for a new Finals referee to make his debut.   Jason Phillips should then be selected to referee his first Finals game.  This also means a new alternate referee is needed; Ron Garretson should fill that position.

    The absence of Willard would mean three games would be altered in the following:

    Game three would be Monty McCutchen, Ed Malloy and now Jason Phillips

    Game six, if necessary, would be Dan Crawford, Mike Callahan and Tom Washington

    Game seven, if necessary, would be Monty McCutchen, Scott Foster and Ken Mauer with Ron Garretson serving as the alternate.

    The NBA community and referee brethren certainly wish nothing but good health and a speedy return to the court for Willard.