We are the NBA’s referee problem

Short story short: LeBron James fouled Kevin Durant on a high leverage possession, and nothing was whistled. The end.

Obviously, the refs should have made the call, but “should have” is a far distance from, “It’s a crime that they didn’t!” A lot of people reacted with the latter pose, which, on a positive note, reflects the amount of passion fans invest into this thrilling game. It’s also a little silly.

The refs are a convenient target, and I’m not averse to pointing out a flop that tricks the credulous whistle,  or the makeup call that makes a game look farcical. I just can’t get with our Twitter culture of shouting conflicting demands at these officials. People either want a correctly called game, or one that fits some mysterious, holy basketball code. I’m beginning to suspect that these demands are retroactive, and based mostly on whatever emotion the demand-maker feels after an important call.

When Kevin Garnett was correctly whistled for an illegal screen against Philadelphia, many were outraged because it was a late game situation.

You can’t call that so late! Swallow your whistles! Let em’ play! Players should decide the game! Not refs!

Later in the playoffs, during the thrilling Heat-Celtics series, Rajon Rondo took a slap to the head from Dwyane Wade. To my memory, very few tweeters noticed this in real time. But, quite a few folks thought it was an outrage after the 5th replay or so.

I believe the call was missed because the slap happened a few feet away from Rondo’s shot release, after the shot left Rajon’s hands. Sorry, there’s no conspiracy theory here, just an explanation for how a mistake might occur. I find it interesting that a somewhat similar play is infamous because the whistle was blown. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Scottie Pippen hit Hubert Davis after the Knicks guard released his shot. The result was two free throws, a Knicks victory, and a whole lot of angry people. The call was correct, but it violated many viewers’ sense of what the moment should be.

Speaking of great moments, we had Durant going at LeBron with the game on the line. The non-foul call (another one where few noticed in real time, but got outraged upon multiple replays) just might have been the launching pad for this blog post.

Like the Rondo play, much of the illegal action occurs some distance from the ball. If you’re going to commit a basketball crime, it’s best to do it this way. Fans reacted to this non call the same way many did to the Rondo non call. The common denominator might be the widely loathed un-whistled team. Or, as it was put on the Grantland Live Twitter account:

Look, people are always going to react emotionally to emotion-stirring events. I just want some consistency from the populace that keeps demanding “consistency” from referees. We’ve essentially made their job impossible when we pick and choose the situation wherein a correct call should happen. We’re also being wildly unfair when we loudly criticize them for not noticing a foul that we only learn about through slow motion replay. It’s hard out here for a ref, and our conflicting demands make “adequate” impossible.

Related posts:

  1. The Problem With Replay Review
  2. Lockout: The TV Problem
  3. The Carmelo Problem
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