Why NBA Referees Are Still a BIG Problem In the League’s Development

Beyond the Arc

by Ben Fiore

It’s a typical sports fanism to blame referees for everything in every sport.  We as fans have to accept that.  It isn’t easy being a referee, but it shouldn’t be too hard to not be a shitty one.  Sadly there are plenty and the issue has been getting progressively worse over the last 20 years.

The man pictured above is Tim Donaghy, widely known as the referee who was convicted in the 2007 betting scandal, where he was rigging playoff games for profit.  He was the first referee in the NBA to be charged, and the scandal was a large phenomenon that brought light to many referees’ corruption.  Donaghy was accused and proven guilty of throwing games between the Suns and Lakers after betting on the Lakers to win.

This is obviously the highlight of flaws in the NBA referee community, but the culture of “my way or the highway, I’m untouchable” is still very prominent today.  Clearly Joel Embiid agrees that the refs seem to be regressing rather than getting better.  Watch the short 30 second video below for proof.

Clearly the Process feels VERY strong about it… But I mean, he is right.  These refs do f*cking suck.  This comment stemmed from a game between his 76ers and the Celtics the other night.  Embiid was literally guarding Al Horford in usual fashion.  Horf backed up into Embiid, and Joel was charged with a blocking foul.  It seemed as if it was just a usual “backing your opponent up” scenario, and it got called.  Calls like this have been showing up more often over the last few years, which has been leading the sport of basketball into a somewhat “soft” culture.  Last night, Steve Kerr (GSW Head Coach) was ejected from a game after a flagrant foul was called on an exaggerated shooting foul.  Zach Collins of the Portland Trailblazers is a known foul drawing player who has stirred up on the court situations in the past.  I feel that should be taken into consideration as well when making a call, is the value in terms of the players involved and the actual play itself.  I would suggest that the NBA move towards what the NFL is trying to do, in terms of the ability to review calls with instant replay.  It’s sad that it has gotten to this point.  Most people who don’t watch the sport have told me “I don’t watch because they’re babies, its too soft, its becoming a soap opera”.  Well it didn’t always used to be that way.

Between the 60’s and early 2000’s, the NBA used to let A SHIT TON of aggressive play go down.  Guys used to deck each other and trip players and scream swear words at one another and the refs would just break it up and leave it at that, and play on.  The days of the “bad boy” Pistons and the Knicks of the 90’s are over.  In the 2000’s the Lakers were scrappy with EVERYONE.  As late as 2004, there was a BRAWL between the Pistons and Pacers that took to the goddamn stands for christ sake.  Nowadays, if you so much as catch a stitch of a jersey of another player, it gets called.  This is letting finesse players succeed and old school power players suffer.  The culture of players, fans, and anything affected by thew league as whole is touched by the officiating in some aspect.  Refs today are the ones giving DeAndre Jordan and Trae Young TECHS for jokingly shoving each other while laughing.  These are the same refs that MISS blatant calls like the 2 on Damian Lillard a few nights ago when the Trailblazers Point guard was what looked like, intentionally fouled twice in the final minute of regulation against the Mavericks.  This is negatively skewing players motivation to play competitively, fans interest to watch, and other peoples’ desire to become a referee.  These blown calls are changing and deciding outcomes of games and to a more extreme extent, careers.

Refs also make their calls and have no repercussions.  That’s an issue.  To me, a guy who gets tech’d out for possibly a trivial reason and gets crucified by coaches and the media, but any call the refs blow, nothing is said or done.  Why do we never hear of referees getting any type of reprimand for obvious bad calls by the league?  Joel Embiid gets fined for talking about it, but the ref who isn’t properly doing their job is now justified for sucking because someone spoke up about it?  That’s baby back bullshit.  Referees need to be held to the same professional standard as the players.  I believe it starts with replay reviews of calls in some facet, and then possibly a fine or suspension to referees who make the wrong decisions if they are on a highly visible and agreeable enough scale.  Whether I’m right or wrong, the referee dilemma in the NBA needs corrected, before our game suffers more and more in the long run.

Written by benfiore

Sports writer for Thoughts From the Bench. Specializing in NBA and UFC coverage. Author of the NBA focused column, "Beyond the Arc". Bridging the gap between comedy and accurate sports content for your enjoyment.

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