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NBA Officiating Drama


alanschu

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Some of this isn't really surprising. For instance, I knew of the star treatment reading up on it in a Grade 6 book about Michael Jordan. But other parts of it were pretty interesting. It's excerpts from Tim Donaghy's book (he was an official caught gambling).

 

 

On Gambling Refs

To have a little fun at the expense of the worst troublemakers, the referees working the game would sometimes make a modest friendly wager amongst themselves: first ref to give one of the bad boys a technical foul wouldn't have to tip the ball boy that night. In the NBA, ball boys set up the referees' locker room and keep it stocked with food and beer for the postgame meal. We usually ran the kid ragged with a variety of personal requests and then slipped him a $20 bill. Technically, the winner of the bet won twice-he didn't have to pay the kid and he got to call a T on Mr. Foul-Mouthed Big-Shot Du Jour.

 

After the opening tip, it was hilarious as the three of us immediately focused our full attention on the intended victim, waiting for something, anything, to justify a technical foul. If the guy so much as looked at one of us and mumbled, we rang him up. Later in the referees' locker room, we would down a couple of brews, eat some chicken wings, and laugh like hell.

 

We had another variation of this gag simply referred to as the "first foul of the game" bet. While still in the locker room before tip-off, we would make a wager on which of us would call the game's first foul. That referee would either have to pay the ball boy or pick up the dinner tab for the other two referees. Sometimes, the ante would be $50 a guy. Like the technical foul bet, it was hilarious-only this time we were testing each other's nerves to see who had the guts to hold out the longest before calling a personal foul. There were occasions when we would hold back for two or three minutes-an eternity in an NBA game-before blowing the whistle. It didn't matter if bodies were flying all over the place; no fouls were called because no one wanted to lose the bet.

 

We played this little game during the regular season and summer league. After a game, all three refs would gather around the VCR and watch a replay of the game. Early in the contest, the announcers would say, "Holy cow! They're really letting them play tonight!" If they only knew...

 

During one particular summer game, Duke Callahan, Mark Wunderlich, and I made it to the three-minute mark in the first quarter without calling a foul. We were running up and down the court, laughing our ***** off as the players got hammered with no whistles. The players were exhausted from the nonstop running when Callahan finally called the first foul because Mikki Moore of the New Jersey Nets literally tackled an opposing player right in front of him. Too bad for Callahan-he lost the bet.

 

I became so good at this game that if an obvious foul was committed right in front of me, I would call a travel or a three-second violation instead. Those violations are not personal fouls, so I was still in the running to win the bet. The players would look at me with disbelief on their faces as if to say, "What the hell was that?"

 

Star Treatment

Relationships between NBA players and referees were generally all over the board-love, hate, and everything in-between. Some players, even very good ones, were targeted by referees and the league because they were too talented for their own good. Raja Bell, formerly of the Phoenix Suns and now a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, was one of those players. A defensive specialist throughout his career, Bell had a reputation for being a "star stopper." His defensive skills were so razor sharp that he could shut down a superstar, or at least make him work for his points. Kobe Bryant was often frustrated by Bell's tenacity on defense. Let's face it, no one completely shuts down a player of Kobe's caliber, but Bell could frustrate Kobe, take him out of his game, and interrupt his rhythm.

 

You would think that the NBA would love a guy who plays such great defense. Think again! Star stoppers hurt the promotion of players. Fans don't pay high prices to see players like Raja Bell-they pay to see superstars like Kobe Bryant score 40 points. Basketball purists like to see good defense, but the NBA wants the big names to score big points.

 

If a player of Kobe's stature collides with the likes of Raja Bell, the call will almost always go for Kobe and against Bell. As part of our ongoing training and game preparation, NBA referees regularly receive game-action video tape from the league office. Over the years, I have reviewed many recorded hours of video involving Raja Bell. The footage I analyzed usually illustrated fouls being called against Bell, rarely for him. The message was subtle but clear-call fouls against the star stopper because he's hurting the game.

 

If Kobe Bryant had two fouls in the first or second quarter and went to the bench, one referee would tell the other two, "Kobe's got two fouls. Let's make sure that if we call a foul on him, it's an obvious foul, because otherwise he's gonna go back to the bench. If he is involved in a play where a foul is called, give the foul to another player."

 

Similarly, when games got physically rough, we would huddle up and agree to tighten the game up. So we started calling fouls on guys who didn't really matter-"ticky-tack" or "touch" fouls where one player just touched another but didn't really impede his progress. Under regular circumstances these wouldn't be fouls, but after a skirmish we wanted to regain control. We would never call these types of fouls on superstars, just on the average players who didn't have star status. It was important to keep the stars on the floor.

 

Allen Iverson provides a good example of a player who generated strong reaction, both positive and negative, within the corps of NBA referees. For instance, veteran referee Steve Javie hated Allen Iverson and was loathe [sic] to give him a favorable call. If Javie was on the court when Iverson was playing, I would always bet on the other team to win or at least cover the spread. No matter how many times Iverson hit the floor, he rarely saw the foul line. By contrast, referee Joe Crawford had a grandson who idolized Iverson. I once saw Crawford bring the boy out of the stands and onto the floor during warm-ups to meet the superstar. Iverson and Crawford's grandson were standing there, shaking hands, smiling, talking about all kinds of things. If Joe Crawford was on the court, I was pretty sure Iverson's team would win or at least cover the spread.

 

Madison Square Garden was the place to be for a matchup between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks. I worked the game with Derrick Stafford and Gary Zielinski, knowing that the Knicks were a sure bet to get favorable treatment that night. Derrick Stafford had a close relationship with Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, and he despised Heat coach Pat Riley. I picked the Knicks without batting an eye and settled in for a roller-coaster ride on the court.

 

During pregame warm-ups, Shaquille O'Neal approached Stafford and asked him to let some air out of the ball.

 

"Is this the game ball?" O'Neal asked. "It's too hard. C'mon, D, let a little air out of it."

 

Stafford then summoned one of the ball boys, asked for an air needle, and let some air out of the ball, getting a big wink and a smile from O'Neal.

 

On **** Bavetta

Crawford wanted the game over quickly so he could kick back, relax, and have a beer; [**** Bavetta] wanted it to keep going so he could hear his name on TV. He actually paid an American Airlines employee to watch all the games he worked and write down everything the TV commentators said about him. No matter how late the game was over, he'd wake her up for a full report. He loved the attention.

 

I remember one nightmarish game I worked with Joe Crawford and Phil Robinson. Minnesota and New Orleans were in a tight game going into the last minute, and Crawford told us to make sure that we were 100 percent sure of the call every time we blew the whistle. When play resumed, Minnesota coach Flip Saunders started yelling at us to make a call. Robinson got intimidated and blew the whistle on New Orleans. The only problem was it wasn't the right call. Tim Floyd, the Hornets' coach, went nuts. He stormed the court and kicked the ball into the top row of the stadium. Robinson had to throw him out, and Minnesota won the game.

[...]

Later that week, Ronnie Nunn told me that we could have made something up at the other end against Minnesota to even things out. He even got specific-maybe we should have considered calling a traveling violation on Kevin Garnett. Talk about the politics of the game! Of course the official statement from the league office will always read, "There is no such thing as a makeup call."

 

That very first time Jack and I bet on an NBA game, **** was on the court. The team we picked lost the game, but it covered the large point spread and that's how we won the money. Because of the matchup that night, I had some notion of who might win the game, but that's not why I was confident enough to pull the trigger and pick the other team. The real reason I picked the losing team was that I was just about certain they would cover the spread, no matter how badly they played. That is where **** Bavetta comes into the picture.

 

From my earliest involvement with Bavetta, I learned that he likes to keep games close, and that when a team gets down by double-digit points, he helps the players save face. He accomplishes this act of mercy by quietly, and frequently, blowing the whistle on the team that's having the better night. Team fouls suddenly become one-sided between the contestants, and the score begins to tighten up. That's the way **** Bavetta referees a game-and everyone in the league knew it.

 

Fellow referee Danny Crawford attended Michael Jordan's Flight School Camp years ago and later told me that he had long conversations with other referees and NBA players about how Bavetta propped up weak teams. Danny told me that Jordan himself said that everyone in the league knew that Bavetta cheated in games and that the players and coaches just hoped he would be cheating for them on game night. Cheating? That's a very strong word to use in any sentence that includes the name **** Bavetta. Is the conscious act of helping a team crawl back into a contest "cheating"? The credo of referees from high school to the NBA is "call them like you see them." Of course, that's a lot different than purposely calling more fouls against one team as opposed to another. Did Bavetta have a hidden agenda? Or was he the ultimate company man, making sure the NBA and its fans got a competitive game most times he was on

the court?

 

Studying under **** Bavetta for 13 years was like pursuing a graduate degree in advanced game manipulation. He knew how to marshal the tempo and tone of a game better than any referee in the league, by far. He also knew how to take subtle-and not so subtle-cues from the NBA front office and extend a playoff series or, worse yet, change the complexion of that series.

 

The 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings presents a stunning example of game and series manipulation at its ugliest. As the teams prepared for Game 6 at the Staples Center, Sacramento had a 3

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Any sport that relies so heavily on referees is for sissies... and why doesnt basketball have tackles? It should have, its so boring to watch the teams take turns at scoring with players running completely unmolested across the court. Why even have defensive players if they're not allowed to do anything?

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"I suppose outright stupidity and complete lack of taste could also be considered points of view. "

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They should have Congressional hearings into this.

 

Yes, that is a wonderful use of taxpayers money.

It is, they have hearings like that all the time. First it's a fraud against the public by fixing games, second NBA has an anti-trust exemption from the government.

Edited by Wrath of Dagon

"Moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity." Marshall McLuhan

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second NBA has an anti-trust exemption from the government.

 

Man has a point, assuming that means what I think it means.

 

And I don't actually know what it means.

"It wasn't lies. It was just... bull****"."

             -Elwood Blues

 

tarna's dead; processing... complete. Disappointed by Universe. RIP Hades/Sand/etc. Here's hoping your next alt has a harp.

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But surely the US is anti-regulation of industry? Mind you, come to that, I can't think of any European government which would have the balls to take on FIFA.

"It wasn't lies. It was just... bull****"."

             -Elwood Blues

 

tarna's dead; processing... complete. Disappointed by Universe. RIP Hades/Sand/etc. Here's hoping your next alt has a harp.

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But surely the US is anti-regulation of industry? Mind you, come to that, I can't think of any European government which would have the balls to take on FIFA.

I'n not sure who you mean by "the US". Opinions differ. In general professional sports are not regulated much, unless they do something wrong, which may be the case here. In more general terms, since professional sports are a monopoly of sorts, they need some kind of supervision. Certainly a real monopoly is always heavily regulated, like the old AT&T before it was broken up.

"Moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity." Marshall McLuhan

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The big thing that allows the NBA to be a monopoly is because it relies on fans to be happy with the situation. If fans start thinking corruption is running rampant than you're gonna see a load of viewership drop and a decrease in revenue.

 

I do admit, I'm happy to see that even the members of the NBA were disgusted by how the Kings were treated in that playoff game (seriously, lakers tied it up with a three pointer made a second after the buzzer rang. Outcry was so large the NBA had to allow play reviews to be implemented to prevent it from happening again).

Victor of the 5 year fan fic competition!

 

Kevin Butler will awesome your face off.

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