NBA Unveils Confidential Memos, Sheds New Light on Officiating

Howard Beck@@HowardBeckNBA Senior WriterMarch 31, 2014

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A trove of confidential, internal memos on NBA officiating became public Monday afternoon, revealing new insight into the league's enforcement of rules this season. No privacy laws were breached in the process.

The memos were released by the NBA itself, as part of Commissioner Adam Silver's push for greater transparency. Fans will be able to review the documents at NBA.com/official.

The goal is to give the public a better grasp of how certain rules are applied, and in some cases, how the league is adjusting as the season progresses, according to Rod Thorn, the NBA's president of basketball operations.

"There's a hope on our part that the media will be more informed, and thus the fans will be more informed," Thorn told Bleacher Report. "And maybe if there are certain things people are not entirely sure about…that maybe it will help answer some of those questions."

One of the memos the NBA is releasing from its internal files.
One of the memos the NBA is releasing from its internal files.Via NBA.com/official

The memos—authored by Mike Bantom, the executive vice president of referee operations—cover topics such as delay-of-game penalties, illegal screens and flopping, with hyperlinks to game video to illustrate the league's interpretation of specific plays.

The most recent missive, dated March 31, offers clarification on the so-called "verticality" rule—specifically, how to officiate defenders who turn sideways while rising to contest a shot. (Note: The first video shown here was sent out by the NBA an example of a defensive foul. The second video was sent out as an example of a clean defensive play.)

"We have noticed that defenders have been turning sideways when jumping to defend an oncoming offensive player on drives to the basket," Bantom writes. "This is illegal, and referees are being instructed to call this a blocking foul."

In general, a defender who challenges a shot is permitted to leap straight up, with his arms extended vertically, and be absolved of a shooting foul even if contact is made. The issue of players turning sideways while trying to get the benefit of the "verticality" rule is apparently a recent phenomenon. Bantom's memo includes links to four videos of players turning sideways who should have been called for blocking fouls.

The league has been issuing memos like these to its officiating staff for years to respond to new trends by players, to underscore points of emphasis and, in general, to promote a consistent approach from one referee to the next. But these rules interpretations and tweaks were never formally disseminated to the public, or even to teams, until this season.

Last fall, the league began sending the same officiating memos to all 30 teams, to keep coaches, general managers and players up to date.

Via NBA.com/official

(Note: The video here shows an example of a correct no-call when a player attempted to draw a whistle while dribbling on the perimeter.)

"They're very grateful that we've moved in this direction," Bantom said. "Teams have reported back that they're able to share this information with their players."

Now fans and media will receive the same benefit.

The NBA has ramped up efforts to educate the public about its rules and officiating over the last several years, highlighted by the introduction of a video rule book on its website in 2009. The public release of the officiating memos is essentially an extension of that initiative.

Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.


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