NBA's Best, Worst Referees Named by Players in LA Times Survey

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2016

NBA official Joey Crawford is seen during an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

NBA personnel don't generally praise game officials, but when pressed to do so, they spoke glowingly of Danny Crawford and Joey Crawford in a poll by the Los Angeles TimesBroderick Turner.

Scott Foster and Lauren Holtkamp, meanwhile, were the least popular.

Almost 36 participants were interviewed, some of whom were a bit reluctant to heap praise on those they were judging.

"Are there any out there?" asked an anonymous assistant coach.

Perhaps it's somewhat telling as to the reputations of Danny Crawford and Joey Crawford that they commanded such a significant lead over the third-place finisher:

Los Angeles Times Referee Survey
Best Referee
Danny Crawford30
Joey Crawford25
Monty McCutchen13
Worst Referee
Scott Foster24
Lauren Holtkamp14
Marc Davis12
Source: Broderick Turner, Los Angeles Times

Some might be surprised to see Joey Crawford place so highly. Most fans remember him for his animated foul call in a 2012 game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers. In 2007, he also ejected Tim Duncan from a game while the San Antonio Spurs star was laughing from the bench, which drew a suspension from the league.

In an interview with Sam Borden for the New York Times, Crawford spoke about how that incident altered the way he officiated games:

The Duncan thing probably changed my life. It was just — you come to the realization that maybe the way you've been doing things is not the proper way and you have to regroup, not only on the court but off the court.

I had seen a sports psychologist before that. But after, I saw him a lot more. His name is Joel Fish. He’s worked with a lot of athletes. It gave me a new perspective.

An anonymous head coach interviewed by Turner spoke about that shift:

Once upon a time, you couldn't talk to Joey. He's cleaned that up — big time. He runs it when he's on the floor now. For me, that's big. I don't care if it's at home or on the road, he's not going to get intimidated by the crowd. To me, that's big with officials. You have guys that are homers, where the home crowd can sway them. But not Joey.

Consequently, an unnamed player leveled similar criticism against Foster, who the player claimed "thinks he never makes a mistake."

According to, Foster has called an average of 0.7 more fouls per game than the league average over his career, which is unlikely to endear him to NBA coaches and players.

Holtkamp is similarly quick with the whistle, averaging a foul more than the average since joining the league in 2012-13, per

Certainly, when it comes to the critical junctures of games, fans—and likely players and coaches as well—prefer an official to swallow the whistle and let those on the court determine the outcome.