NBA Officiating: Is It as Bad as It Seems?

Ronald ManbaumCorrespondent IMay 25, 2009

CLEVELAND - MAY 22: Marcin Gortat #13 of the Orlando Magic discusses a call with a referee against  the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2009 Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 22, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)

The only thing consistent about NBA officiating is how utterly inconsistent it is.  I drifted away from the NBA several years ago, somewhere around the time Michael Jordan first retired. However, I began watching again last year, and I have been paying close attention ever since.

As the playoffs progress, though, I find myself asking more and more often, "Why did I come back in the first place?"

I know quite a few people who put the tinfoil on their head and spout off year after year about how the NBA playoffs are fixed.  I haven't joined them in their lunacy (yet), but after watching the games for the past year, NBA officials seem to be going out of their way to provide the ammunition for those that think the games are fixed.

I am 90 percent certain the games are not fixed. Instead, I would argue that the officiating is just plain awful.  It is so bad that almost any conspiracy theorist can point to five to ten calls each game that make it painfully obvious that the game is rigged.

The problem, however, is that they fail to mention the other twenty calls that leave the viewer absolutely befuddled. Those calls show no bias—they're just bad calls. 

Dwight Howard is called for a foul on LeBron James at the end of Game Three, on one of the cleanest blocks I have ever seen. Yet the conspiracy theorists rejoice because they have their clearest evidence yet of a plot by the NBA to fix games. Even the NBA would likely admit they missed that one, but that's usually where they stop.

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They shouldn't.

They should come out and admit that the officiating in the NBA right now is bad—in fact, it's horrendous. 

No other sport can match the level of ineptitude that the NBA showcases by their officials on a nightly basis, and on such a big stage.  At least if they admitted it I could hold out hope that it might improve down the road, because right now it seems hopeless.

Maybe the NBA could just get rid of the officials and let the players call their own fouls.  It can't be any worse than what I'm seeing now...

Another problem I am having with these playoffs are the technicals. They seem willing to call a technical if someone even looks at an official the wrong way after a possession.

For a group that misses as many calls as they do, it's amazing how on the ball they are for most technicals. Although, lately it seems the more obvious the technical, the more likely they are to miss it.

In the past three games, they missed Mo Williams throwing a ball approximately 10 feet and hitting Dwight Howard after a hard foul, and Dahntay Jones placing both hands on Kobe Bryant's lower back and launching him into a different zip code, and on and on it goes. 

One of the unfortunate consequences of all these technicals—and maybe this is just me—is that it seems that every hard foul is followed by two minutes of watching a player rolling around on the ground like he just lost a leg. Of course, after the obligatory two minute-nap on the floor the player jumps up with no signs of any injury. 

I guess if the NBA wants their games to play out more like soccer, where players spend as much time crying on the ground as they do playing the game, they're doing a great job of making that happen. Maybe the officials could start handing out yellow and red cards to really drive the point home.

Another problem is that the amount of fouls being called differs from game to game and half to half all too often.

So, what's happening?

Game Three of the Denver/Dallas resulted in 50 more free throws than were shot in Game Two. Game Three of Cleveland/Orlando saw 35 more free throws shot than in Game Two.

This is not happening night after night (although it is almost every night), but there have been way too many instances in these playoffs where the officials change how they are calling a game half to half, and game to game in far too many instances.

I come down on the side that NBA officials are just horrible, and not influencing the outcome of games intentionally.  Could they please just try to be consistent?  Consistently bad, consistently good—I could care less right now. Just be consistent.

If they don't, the tinfoil crowd is going to win, if they aren't already. At least the Magic are up 2-1 right now, because if the Cavs and Lakers end up in the finals, the conspiracy theorists will have yet another feather in their cap.

As we all know by now, the conspiracy theorists' crown jewel, the ultimate proof that the NBA is fixed, may be right around the corner. Kobe v. LeBron: If the final series boils down to those two players, and those two teams, it will provide yet more ammunition to prove just how fixed the NBA is. 

Oh, and LeBron James averaging one foul per 48 minutes doesn't help either.