NBA Referees: The Newest Endangered Species?

Harrison MooreAnalyst IIApril 2, 2010

The level of speed and intensity seen daily in the NBA is often taken for granted.

As fans and analysts, we have the benefit of examining details of the game through zoomed in replays and all forms of camera angles. Referees on the other hand make split second decisions without the benefit of either.

The NBA has made their job a little easier, allowing 3-point shots to be reviewed and ultimately reduced pending evidence, but the fast-paced nature of basketball doesn’t afford its referees many more breaks than that.

With all of these demands, one can understand why the power referees hold over games is unquestionable.  

The official reasoning behind referees’ power to dish out technical fouls or eject players and coaches is that it enables them to remove anything that would distract them from officiating the game – but it's more than that.

The NBA is well-known for its self-consciousness, and in the name of portraying “sportsmanship” and “temperance,” the NBA employs a system that attempts to enforce those traits.

Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why referees would be unquestioned on the court. Questioned authority is weakened authority and weakened authority leads to anarchy. I get that.

What I don’t get is why referees have to be unquestionable off the court.

When NBA players take stupid shots or blow defensive assignments, they get benched, and when coaches fail to lead their teams to the approximate number of wins their front office desires, they get replaced.

But what happens to referees when they blow calls?

Many players in today’s NBA abuse the officiating, and at times very blatantly. Think Shaq’s flop against Dwight Howard in 2009, think Chauncey Billups’ flail after a 3 point shot attempt during his latest visit  to the Lakers. Think Andre Kirilenko, anytime, anyplace.

Sometimes, referees actually see the flops for what they are, sometimes they make the right calls.

But when they don’t, why must players choose between being censored or being fined? Did Stu Jackson’s American Government class forget to cover the First Amendment?

When played the right way, basketball is a game of passion and desire. Is it practical to demand that the players turn all that off at a moment’s notice?

Maybe the NBA’s vain attempt at enforcing sportsmanship isn’t only in play when the shot clock is running.

Kevin Garnett was fined today, April 2nd , because of the following remarks: “I thought we were playing Michael [expletive] Jordan the way he was getting the whistle. Durant damn near shot more free throws than our whole team.”

Now I’d have to look into this more thoroughly, but in the stretch between the end of the Celtics’ 27-2 start to 2009 and now, I’d bet they lead the league in CPM (complaints per minute). That said, Garnett actually had a legitimate point.

Kevin Durant shot, and made, 15 free throws as opposed to the entire Celtics' team only earning 17.

Rarely are discrepancies that wide actually legitimate.

Although it’s a topic nobody wants to discuss, it's not exactly a secret that the superstars get the referees’ benefit of the doubt more often than the average joe does, so was Garnett wrong to vent his frustration?

I say no.

Until the NBA stops overzealously protecting its referees from criticisms and accountability alike, there will always be an unbalance and the rumors of the NBA protecting – or even encouraging – corrupt officiating will never cease to grow.