NBPA, Referee Executives Hold Meeting to Discuss In-Game Incidents, Tensions

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2017

Referee Scott Wall, left, calls Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) for a foul as Curry and Warriors forwards Andre Iguodala (9), and Kevin Durant (35) react during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. Curry and Durant were ejected after arguing with Wall over the call. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Lee Seham, who serves as the general counsel for the National Basketball Referees Association, met with the National Basketball Players Association executive director, Michele Roberts, for over two hours to discuss issues arising between the league's referees and players.   

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the pair discussed "the NBRA's belief that the league office has become too lenient in allowing players' aggressive verbiage toward refs. Roberts countered that players are overwhelmingly disconcerted by what they believe is a disrespectful manner with which refs address players on the court."

"[In team meetings], the greatest issue of consternation is the officiating," Roberts told Wojnarowski. "I could almost write the script. You'd bring it up, and there would be groans, groans and groans."

Roberts also noted that players weren't happy when being ignored by the referees, told to "shut up" or "move" when approaching an official or hit with a technical for doing something other than cursing at the ref.

She also spoke about one particular gesture from the officials that has earned the ire of the players:

"There have been four or five occasions when a player has gone to say, 'Hey, what's up with that?' and the official holds his hand up like a stop sign, like, 'I don't have time to talk to you.' ... Lee [Seham] told me, 'That's what they're trained to do.'

"I think it's a horrible idea. I hope someone over in [NBA] basketball operations will maybe reconsider that, because it doesn't serve to be a de-escalation of things—it really pisses guys off. I don't know whose idea it was, but I hope they revisit the wisdom of it. I mentioned to players who specifically complained, and they weren't happy to hear that it was a part of the training.

NBA vice president of basketball operations Byron Spruell told Wojnarowski, however, that the "stop sign" gesture is no longer in the league's training program for the referees. 

As for potential resolutions going forward, Roberts and Seham agreed to organize a meeting between several top NBA stars and some of the league's officials during All-Star Weekend to iron out some of the issues expressed from the two sides. 

As Wojnarowski noted, tensions have been high this season, with several superstars being ejected from games, namely LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (three times). Those tensions hit a boiling point on Dec. 3, when Golden State's Shaun Livingston and referee Courtney Kirkland bumped heads during an argument.

Livingston was suspended one game for the incident, while Kirkland was taken out of the officiating rotation for a week.