NBA: Why We Love to Hate the Refs?

Lisa JacksonContributor IMarch 30, 2008

I spend far too much time reading the comments from readers of game recaps and editorials. The one interesting thing I’ve learned, should I choose to believe the post-article rants, is that the teams involved rarely are responsible for their losses and, I guess, for that matter their wins. 

It’s true.  According to most readers, regardless of team, location, region, and possibly even sport (though I speak here of the NBA only), all games are decided by refs.

Best of all, as a Phoenix Suns fan, evidently it is my God-given right to believe it is indeed true. 

It must be true because I read it everywhere from people in all walks of life. Even from someone in Beijing who thinks Steve Nash is the “chosen one” for the refs to unleash their pent up fury. 

In an effort to prove his point that refs decide games, a good friend of mine sent me a link to Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy, after the recent Suns-Pistons game. 

This particular Simmons' article rates the teams in the West. 

Under the Suns, he writes something to the effect that the biggest weakness they seem to have is their absolute inability to get the big calls in big moments. 

He goes on to actually blame the Detroit loss on those three questionable calls late in their game against the Suns. 

Now that I have the proof I have been looking for,  I feel better instantly and a flurry of e-mails and instant messages bounce back-and-forth between me and my friend about how much we despise the officials. 

Before you know it, we’re back at game four in last year’s real NBA finals (round two of the Western Conference) against San Antonio and the whole Horrible Horry incident. It just goes downhill from there. 

Shockingly, this isn’t unique to my hometown team. 

Further in his article, Simmons predicts that San Antonio will lose to the Lakers in round two, thanks to the 65-10 Lakers’ free throw advantage.  Simmons seems to believe that superstars benefit most from the officiating. If that is true, then it appears Kobe Bryant just may be able to win games alone after all, albeit with the help of a few folks in black and white stripes. 

The Suns lack of calls seems to perplex him because he believes the Suns have the required stars in Nash, Shaq, and, now, Amare to benefit from this conspiracy theory.

What can we Suns fans say?  Ever since the coin toss in 1969, it’s our legacy. 

Now, let me clarify here, once the fire and venom leaves my system and the pain of a loss is dulled by the therapy in blaming the refs, I don’t truly believe refs decide games. 

It’s just so much easier to blame them than these giant men. Men whom I have come to admire and  to believe are flawless in every way on the court. 

It’s what makes me, or anyone, a fan, which comes from the root word '"fanatic," meaning irrational zeal, motivated or characterized by an extreme, uncritical enthusiasm. 

You see, it’s neither my, nor any true fan’s fault that we look to place blame on others before ourselves or extensions of ourselves, as in our teams.  Evidently, it’s in our genetic make-up to be completely irrational.

Nevertheless, ever the empathetic person, I thought I’d see just how tough it must be to be a referee just by checking out the rule book. 

I figured if it wasn’t too hard to figure out, it couldn’t be all that difficult to make split-second calls in high-pressure situations with millions of people watching. 

Honestly, how hard could it be? 

Since blocks and charges seem to draw the most criticism, probably due more to flopping than anything else, I looked at this first.  Good grief! 

Check it out yourself. 

I pretty much got lost once it explained that the speed of the offensive player will determine the amount of space a defensive player must allow. Yada yada yada.. 

It doesn't go on to give any exact speeds I understand as in miles per hour, something I can wrap my head around. 

It ends by saying the official must judge each incident separately and decide whether the contact was negligible or incidental.  Therein lies the problem—so much of the calls are simply left to the official's judgment.  

It might as well say, in every case, use your best judgment, and good luck to you. 

I tried to read as much of the rule book as possible, but I kept nodding off.  Fascinating it is not.  No wonder these refs like making waves. It’s all the excitement they get.

Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.  Refs do make bad calls.  Refs do hold grudges against players.  Refs  dogamble.  Refs even gamble on games they officiate.   

Refs also try to be as fair as possible.  Refs follow the rules, if they have properly interpreted them.  Refs try not to be the ones who decide games (unless they have money on them.  Sorry, I couldn't resist.) 

I just wish, for the most part, that they would let the final plays of the game play themselves out instead of looking for every ticky-tack call that changes the pace and style of the game. 

I do believe, the criticism they get from fans, does its part to keep them as clean as possible.  They are in a fishbowl, though we never know how they are reprimanded when calls go bad. 

As a final thought, and as a fan, it’s our job to keep watching and questioning. 

Therefore, to my least favorite ref, Violet Palmer, I’ve got my eye on you, girl.  I know you’ve got it in for Amare.  I’m watching you.

Ps.  To all the Piston fans I yelled at while blaming the refs—told you so!  Just kidding.  I will say this, you didn't win that game as much as we lost it.  Now I feel better.