Sunday, October 5, 2014

Gambling & Being Old: Requirements of an NBA referee

The year is 2001. Late into the NBA conference finals heading into game 6 of a Bucks vs 76ers series featuring the current league MVP (Iverson) and THE greatest shooter of all time (Ray Allen) - then entering his prime. The series thus far had been evenly matched and wildly entertaining - with no shortage of controversy.

Coming on the heels of a crushing 1 point loss in game 5, Allen felt as though his team was getting the short end of the stick.

"I think there's no question about that. The league, as a marketing machine, the bottom line is about making money," Allen said. "It behooves everybody for the league to make more money, and the league knows that Philadelphia is going to make more money with L.A. than we would with L.A."
 His comments come with good reason considering the way the Bucks lost the game. In the waning minutes of the game Sam Cassell received a technical foul then both Glenn Robinson & Tim Thomas committed flagrant fouls resulting in a 5-point possession and two 4-point possessions which ultimately put the nail in the bucks coffin - or if you're into hunting - put the arrow through the male deer's brain? What these 3 types of fouls have in common is that they are subject to the discretion of the referee - and open to the possibility of bias in an occupation that requires strict fairness at it's fundamental core.

Even 13 years ago the reffing of the NBA was questionable. Today is no different.

But are the refs corrupt? Do they follow an agenda set out by the commissioner of the NBA to fix games so that the most profitable matchups are seen in each playoff round?

The Gambling Ref
I am not a conspiracy theorist (at least when it comes to the NBA) and as entertaining it is to explore the possibility of conspiracies in the NBA, I just don't buy it. I do, however, fall into the emotional trap of getting all worked up over close (and sometimes outright terrible) calls that go against my team. And don't for one second 'kidd' yourself that Jason Kidd & Joe Johnson's comments criticizing the reffing in last years epic 7 game series vs the raptors didn't win the series for the Nets. (the series was EXTREMELY close - over the 11 games they played each other over the seaseon the point differential was with in 5 - enough that a few swayed calls was the difference in the series). But ultimately I do not believe that refs favor one team over the other (unless they are gambling on the game...).

I think the issue with refs is that they are subject to human follies. This goes two ways. Refs are prone to persuasion. When players, media and the like make scathing comments about the officiating I believe that the refs become subconsciously worried about what was said and alter the way they call the next game or two. Additionally, when fans see a perceived injustice in the officiating it becomes magnified to the point that they only see the mistakes - and it makes the officiating seem worse than it actually is.

Are games sometimes called unfairly? Absolutely, but over the course of 82 games or a 7 game series I think that these things have a way of averaging themselves out. The best teams make the playoffs and the best team wins the series - 90% of the time. But for the 10% of the time something strange happens, look to Sir Charles for inspiration:

"We don't need refs, but I guess white guys need something to do."
— Charles Barkley

These are the offseason thoughts I have had on officiating and I am sure that once the season starts I will almost certainly change my mind based solely on emotion. I have come to terms with my perceived injustice that is NBA officiating and realize that it is mostly created from my own perception. I feel like just knowing and understanding this will help me to enjoy the game - although it will always be fun to yell at a TV and scare my infant children.