NBA's Officiating Is Officially a Disaster

Alex McVeighSenior Analyst IMay 12, 2009

DALLAS - MAY 09:  Forward Josh Howard #5 of the Dallas Mavericks talks with NBA referee Mark Wunderlich after a 106-105 loss against the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 9, 2009 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

I’m gonna level with you people. I love the NBA. I love it.

If I’m out, I’ve been known to chat up some dude in a Chris Paul jersey rather than a hot chick (it’s much cheaper). It’s something I enjoy watching, studying, discussing and reading about.

But I am thoroughly disgusted with the league.

I spent a relaxing Mother’s Day at my parents’ house, where they have glorious high-definition TV. Usually, you have to tear me away from sports in HD, and nothing, NOTHING, looks better than basketball in HD.

But I was so disgusted by the events of the previous evening, that I watched “Twister” and “Blades of Glory” instead of the Lakers-Rockets game. When a commercial came on advertising the Magic-Celtics game, I shuddered.

I spent Sunday night watching baseball, which for me usually doesn’t happen until after the NBA Finals.

I bought into temptation when I saw the C’s-Magic game was within a point with 16 seconds to go.

The sight of Big Baby Davis’ buzzer beater, and the joy on his face and on those of his teammates nauseated me, and I spent the rest of the night curled up in the fetal position, weeping bitterly in an ice-cold shower.

Okay, I might be exaggerating slightly, but this has got to stop.

We all know bad calls are a fact of life in any sport, and until they develop some sort of refereeing robot, human error will always be a factor.

While sports fans accept it, we also accept the fact that the various professional sports leagues are doing all they can to make sure that the right call is made as much as possible.

Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the NBA. I remember feeling horrible for a league that was still recovering from the 1999 lockout and the Pacers-Pistons Brawl, after it came out that the FBI was investigating Tim Donaghy.

At that point, I’m pretty sure David Stern would have gladly taken a superstar being caught with steroids or dogfighting, because the nature of Donaghy’s offense was so much worse.

Rather than an athlete bringing about his own destruction through a combination of arrogance and stupidity, Stern and co. were faced with the possibility that the very foundation of their game could be corrupted, something no competitive organization wants to deal with.

The scary part about Donaghy? He was consistently one of the league’s highest-rated referees.

So we all assumed (and were promised) that the NBA was taking proactive steps to rectify problems with their officiating.

Games like Lakers-Kings 2002 game six, series like the 2006 Finals, were not supposed to happen anymore.

The fact that referees are known by name throughout NBA circles, speaks to their incompetence.

Quick, name an NFL ref. Ed Hochuli, right? Because of his mistakes. You couldn’t name another NFL ref, and I know I can’t.

Name a baseball umpire. The only one I know is Randy Marsh, not because of his problems, but because that’s also Stan’s dad’s name in South Park.

Name an NBA ref. Bennett Salvatore, Joey Crawford, Dan Crawford, Mark Wunderlich, Violet Palmer, Bill Kennedy, Tom Donaghy. Ouch.

And now we’re approaching the halfway point of this year’s playoffs, and nothing has changed, and it seems to have gotten worse.

Inconsistent punishment, questionable assignments and horrendous missed calls are becoming the hallmark of this year’s playoffs.

Inconsistent Punishment

It's been said ad nauseum, but Derek Fisher is suspended because he somehow knocked down a man who has seven inches and 35 pounds on him.

Kobe throws and elbow, isn't disciplined, Ron Artest goes for the ball is ejected.

I'm writing this part at halftime of the Mavericks-Nuggets game, and I just saw the refs give the Nuggets five points in three seconds. Linas Kleiza was fouled, but somehow a flagrant was issued, a technical was issued out of nowhere, and the Nuggets got the ball. It's not even reviewed.

Minutes earlier, Carmelo Anthony clearly makes contact with Antoine Wright's face, the refs review it, and call a simple technical.

I just don't get it.

Questionable Assignments

If you’ve read any of my work, you know how much I hate the San Antonio Spurs. I take perverse delight in seeing them lose. But even I couldn’t believe that Joey Crawford was assigned to ref the Mavs-Spurs game 2.

Here’s a man that was suspended 2 years ago, for obviously having a personal beef with Tim Duncan. And since he seems to be the only man on the planet that has a personal beef with Tim Duncan, wouldn’t you think he shouldn’t be reffing a playoff game featuring Tim Duncan.

There are seven other series he could have been assigned to. Why not just have him steer clear of Texas for the first round. Why does the league even put themselves in that position?

Bill Kennedy has had his run-ins with Celtics coach Doc Rivers, including a well-publicized spat in March that resulted in fines for both of them. Rivers claimed that Kennedy stared him down, goading him into a second technical, while the referees Union claims that Kennedy did his job.

Regardless of who you side with on this particular issue, there’s no way that Kennedy should be officiating a playoff game involving the Celtics, right?

How about game four of the Bulls series and game four of the Magic series?

Now, let's make things real scary.

According to Dallas Basketball, Dan Crawford has worked 16 Dallas Mavericks playoff games since 2001. The Mavs' record in those games? 1-15 (this is a fact, I just attributed it to Dallasbasketball.com because they made this point). One and fifteen.

That means the Mavericks have a six percent chance of winning a playoff game officiated by Crawford. If you plug these numbers into a basic probablilty formula (which Dallas Basketball did), you find that the chances of this being a random anomaly are .001119.

In other words, not random. Maybe Crawford broke up with a college girlfriend while the Mavericks were winning. Maybe his dad lost money gambling on a Mavericks game. Who knows?

The point is, with numbers like that, the NBA should be assigning Dan Crawford somewhere else, so the question doesn't even exist.

Horrendous Missed Calls

And this is where it gets personal. On Saturday night, with a foul to give, Antoine Wright made contact with Carmelo Anthony not once, not twice, but THREE times, to get the ball out of his hands.

The referees, who had called 61 fouls over the course of the game, decided to stand idle this time, and instead allowed Carmelo to get a wide open three-pointer to win the game and put the Mavericks in a 3-0 hole.

You might be saying, “Well, Wright needed to play until the whistle,” well, guess what? Given the inconsistent penalties meted out during the last few weeks, who knows what could have happened if he went in for a harder foul.

Does Carmelo flop, and draw a flagrant, giving the Nuggets shots and the ball, as well as a possible suspension for Wright? It happened with Derek Fisher and Luis Scola.

Does ‘Melo get a half-hearted shot off, giving a great FT shooter three free throws? It’s been known to happen.

The blame for the loss doesn’t fall on Wunderlich’s shoulders. If the Mavs had sank two more of the nine free throws they missed, it’s a moot point.

If Dirk sinks one of the five shots he took in the final minutes, it’s a moot point.

Teams aside, the real problem here is Mark Wunderlich. This is the second time in as many years that he has swallowed his whistle on a series-changing play.

Last year, with the Manu Ginobili trying to give the Spurs a one point game, was clearly fouled by Derek Fisher, but no call was made, the Lakers escaped at home, went up 3-1, and the rest is history.

So how does someone like Wunderlich keep officiating playoff games? How does he still have a job? The sole job of a referee, the reason they cash their checks with David Stern’s signature on them, is to make sure the game is played the right way.

And he has failed at his job, two straight years.

I’m a newspaper reporter. If I have a story that needs to go in this week’s issue, and I blow it, I don’t get the quotes I need, then I get in trouble. If it happens twice, you’d better believe I’d be looking for a job. I get paid to write stories, in order to get a newspaper out, a newspaper that informs the people. If I fail at this task, then I shouldn’t be receiving a paycheck.

In business, there’s no room for incompetence, especially in an environment where a lot of quality people are cashing unemployment checks right now.

You can dismiss this as a pissed-off fan trying to shift blame from his own team’s shortcomings, but that’s ignorance. The Mavericks happen to be in most examples simply because I watch them the most. I’m sure other teams have equally horrendous stories. If you don’t think the league has a serious problem, you’re flat out wrong.

I’m a white male in my mid-twenties who has no reason to watch the NBA other than I love it. I’m the audience that the NBA should be going after. From November to June, my Netflix queue stalls, because I’m watching basketball in the evenings, whether on TNT, ESPN, or on NBA League Pass Broadband (which I would highly recommend).

I order shirts and jerseys, I go to many games per season, I buy programs and beers at the games, I consume the product that is the NBA.

But when I’m forking over my hard earned money, I think I and other fans deserve to see a properly officiated game. And I think a lot of people agree with me.

Because if the NBA doesn’t completely revamp the process in which they select, train and assign referees, it’s only going to get worse.

The scary part? The NBA doesn’t seem to be willing to set aside its own ego to do the right thing (see the foul and subsequent non-suspension of Rajon Rondo on Brad Miller).

And until that changes, people are going to turn off the TV and stop going to the arena. And in these uncertain times, by that point, it could already be too late.


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