Why the Fine of Doc Rivers Shows David Stern Still Doesn't Get It

Stew Winkel@stew_winkelSenior Analyst IJanuary 14, 2010

Let me get this straight. In the NBA, where coaches are judged based on wins and losses, a coach should keep his mouth shut when officials make blatantly bad calls that could influence a game?

In the Celtics-Hawks game the other night, officials whistled Glen Davis for a foul on Atlanta's Marvin Williams. After huddling for several minutes, the officials finally determined that Davis should be called for a flagrant foul.

Boston coach Doc Rivers was angry. Rivers was certain it was not a flagrant foul—so certain that he said afterwards that it never occurred to him they might even call a flagrant.

Then, instead of walking away from the angry coach, the officials who made the call, as they often like to do, went right up to Rivers. Before anyone even knew what happened, Rivers had been given two technicals...and for good measure an assistant coach also received a tech.

Fast forward to two days later. The NBA announced that it had rescinded the flagrant foul call against Davis, essentially admitting that the officials got it wrong. Oh, and by the way Doc Rivers, the league also fined you $25,000 for complaining about the call.

I have one reaction to that: huh?

Remove, for a second, any conversation about whether Rivers said anything he shouldn't have to an official, or any discussion about the impact of these calls on the game. That is not my point.

My point is, how can the NBA fine a coach a not so insubstantial amount, for simply arguing a call that the league itself admitted the officials got wrong? 

He had already been punished by being unable to coach his team, all because of a bad call from an official.

It should be noted that Rivers did not cause a scene. He did not run around the court, or chase after an official. The officials went right over to him.

To me, this is yet another indication that the NBA just does not get what is wrong with the officials in their league. The NBA would rather have coaches and players be quiet than address the concerns with the officials.

I have a newsflash for David Stern—it isn't going to happen. Coaches and players may complain too much, but the reason they continue to do so is because NBA officials do a poor job on a nearly nightly basis.

Stern does not like the players/coaches complaining, but instead of addressing the cause (terrible officiating), he wants to ignore it, and simply deal with the effect. He thinks if he can just get players and coaches to be quiet, that no one will notice what a poor job so many officials are doing.

I have a question for Stern: was there any repercussions for the officiating crew—who, due to a bad call, set in motion a series of events that led to one team going to the free throw line five times and then being given the ball back?

And there in lies the problem. Stern wants to show off his power and pretend as if nothing is wrong with his league, but the league he has run for over twenty years is plagued by poor officiating, and it has been for years.

The officiating in the NBA is so bad that the annual conspiracy theories that we hear during the playoffs persist about fixed games.

The reason those theories continue to haunt the league is because when people sit down to watch playoff games, they see games that are so poorly officiated that the only rational is that the games are being fixed or influenced by someone.

I watch a fair amount of NBA games, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. I don't necessarily believe games are fixed, but I just know the officiating is routinely that bad.

However, David Stern wants to pretend everything is fine, and wants to silence all critics. Technicals for complaining, suspensions for accumulating too many technicals, and now fines for coaches who argue calls that were wrong.

Stern wanted to institute technical fouls for flopping because so many players were doing it and getting away with it., but, if games were officiated properly, and the officials didn't fall for flops that anyone watching could clearly tell what was going on, technicals would not be needed.

As a basketball fan, I hoped the Tim Donaghy scandal would lead to improved officiating.

I thought once the dust settled around the revelation of an NBA official betting on games, the secondary issue would be how can we improve officiating so that something like this doesn't happen again...so one official cannot bet on games based on the biases and tendencies of other officials.

I have heard Stern apologists say that what Donaghy did does not mean there is a problem with officiating, and that anyone can watch the games and pick up on certain tendencies. Well, if that's the case, why aren't more of us taking notice and rushing to Vegas to place our bets?

Instead of using the Donaghy incident as a reason to improve the state of officiating in the league, Stern has done nothing. He has been allowed to escape scrutiny by sticking to his story of Donaghy being a lone violator.

Even if that is true, Donaghy still did his damage because he knew that other officials are incapable of calling a game straight. 

This isn't about one particular play, or one particular situation. It is larger than that.  It is about a commissioner, who wields virtually unchecked power, being too stubborn or too arrogant to do anything about the terrible level of officiating in the league.

He would rather do nothing, the same way he did nothing as the Sonics bolted Seattle, then admit that some of the league's critics may be right, and maybe the league needs to do a better job training, preparing, and evaluating its officials. 

The NBA defends itself by citing referee evaluations, saying that the grades prove that the officials do a good job. Does anyone who watches the NBA really believe that is true? Evaluations and statistics can be manipulated to say whatever you want them to say.

How are officials rated? On calls made? What about calls missed? What about consistency? What about timing of calls? What about home versus road, or how you call a game based on the scoreboard?

A referee in an NBA game has an amazing power to influence the outcome. Fouls lead to teams being in the penalty, players being forced to the bench, or being out of the game entirely.

This is a serious issue. Unfortunately, as the fine to Doc Rivers for a play that he was right about shows, the league and David Stern just can't be bothered.


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