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News » Treatment of referees shows a shameful lack of support

Treatment of referees shows a shameful lack of support

Treatment of referees shows a shameful lack of support The news that the NBA and its officials had come to terms on a new contract smacks of dog-bites-man information. After all, David Stern always calls his boys plus Violet Palmer "the finest officials in the world."

Which is exactly why he went to such lengths to squeeze them in the current contract negotiations - that's how you treat the best, after all.

That there will be the old familiar faces you love to hate Wednesday when the Warriors host Houston is of at least some comfort after an uncomfortable off-season. After all, how quickly do you think Don Nelson would have snapped at an official with an area code number on his back?

Answer: the National Anthem.

Fact is, this is not just one of those cases where the devil you know is better than the one you don't, even though it is just that. Before the league tried to robotify the officials a quarter-century ago, the NBA had the best regarded officials in sport.

Now, the general tone among fans is that the NBA officials are in fact the worst, either incompetent or crooked if not both, and for that the league bears the largest share of responsibility.

Stern tried to fix something that wasn't broken, broke it and keeps breaking it into smaller shards with every new intrusion, the latest of which was threatening to keep them off the job if they didn't agree to have their pensions undercut.

That's the kind of small-thinking use-them-as-a-negotiating-stick that helped wreck the officials over the past 20 years or so, and between that, cutting back on their abilities to talk with coaches and players, looking the same and becoming static on the floor, the NBA lost one of its greatest advantages - officials who could make the game better rather than worse.

None of those things has been addressed, which is why Stern's assertion that they are "the best officials in sports" convinces so few people.

And yet, when they weren't there and the replacements were, fouls were dramatically up and there was a greater degree of tension between players during even the most tedious of exhibition games. One big brawl with replacement officials would have turned into the kind of P.R. disaster that Stern is desperate to avoid, which may have been the real reason the two sides raced to embrace each other at the last minute.

Now, the league could finish the job and decide that it needs its officials a lot more than it let on. It could give them the kind of support and flexibility on the floor that they have lacked since the years when Darrel Garretson was the supervisor of officials. It could consider them part of the process of creating entertainment as opposed to part of the impediment.

It could, but it won't. The officials are far too useful as scapegoats in April and May and contract bludgeons in August and September, and even though they are back for the start of the new season, they know that they're still pretty much on their own.

Not that much unlike the Warriors , when you think about it a minute. Then again, why drag our fellows into something unnecessarily after the summer they've had?

Because Wednesday is the start of a new season, and anything that helps them start quickly say, like a tapioca-filled early schedule is to be welcomed. And if that means Bill Spooner, Dan Crawford and Scott Cooper rather than three guys named Who The Hell Is That Guy, then that's to their advantage.

It's to everyone's advantage, in fact, if only the league would stop trying to reinvent them by taking them off at the knees. That's something you who attend Rockets- Warriors on Wednesday night might want to keep in mind - whatever you may think of the NBA and the way it handles its officiating, it can absolutely be worse, and we've already seen how.

And if that doesn't convince you, imagine a scenario in which Nelson needs to ream out one of the officials and has to resort to, "Hey ... uh, you ... Number 5,000 ... whoever you are ... didn't you see that? .... Oh, the hell with it." Now that's not a great time out at all, is it?

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: October 25, 2009


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