Basketball officiating has always been challenging.I’ve always maintained that young kids playing Mid America Youth Basketball are the hardest to officiate because the quality of play is, uh, less than stellar. Often there’s no flow and the play is erratic at best, and there are vastly different skill levels on the court.
As players move up to high school and college, the games are easier to officiate; not that it’s ever easy.
Along with better basketball comes more pressure from coaches, players, and fans. That is magnified big-time when it reaches the level of the NBA.
Millionaire NBA players can easily afford to lose their cool over a call, because a $25,000 fine to them is like a drop in the bucket.
The NBA playoffs this year have experienced more than their share of coaches’ and players’ whining. Two teams who have been borderline over-the-top in that regard are the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
Writing for ESPN.com, Brian Windhorst said: “The Rockets have a strategy that pushes the limits of the rules, and the Warriors are as sly as any team in history. They’re both fantastic at what they do. And they are both relentless on the officiating – there were four technicals and an ejection right out of the gate in Game 1.”
Let’s just say that neither team agreed with how the game was called.
Houston Coach Mike D’Antoni thought the Rockets should have had 20 more free throws.
Golden State thought the Rockets got away with constantly putting two hands on Kevin Durant when he drove to the basket, a violation under the rules. Hence, the Warriors thought Durant should have been at the free throw line a lot more.
James Harden finished the game with 14 free throws. Durant had 15.
Why players and coaches think it’s in their best interest to challenge or show up officials is puzzling.
In my 40 years of officiating junior high to college basketball, I don’t recall ever making a deliberately bad call against a player or team. However, when I tired of a coach or player crossing the line of acceptable behavior, if necessary, I gave them a technical.
But there were also times that a coach was so irritating with his or her whining, that the thought crossed my mind, “I won’t make up a call to penalize his or her team, but if there happens to be a 50/50 call to make, guess who isn’t getting the benefit of the call?”
I don’t think that’s what coaches or players have in mind when they are protesting. More likely, they are thinking, “I need to complain and/or whine so the officials will see the game as I see it and maybe we’ll get the next call.”
As an official, I remember sitting in a coach’s office at halftime of a high-school boys early-season basketball tournament championship game. It wasn’t ideal that the office was situated immediately between the teams’ locker rooms.
One coach, who I’m pretty sure knew we could hear him, said, “I think these are two pretty good officials. So I’m pretty sure they’ll try to even things up in the second half.”
My partner and I smiled, and I jokingly said to him, “So, how many calls do you think it will take to even it up?”
Personally, I usually listened more closely or took more seriously the observations of a coach who only complained occasionally. Coaches who complained all the time lost their credibility, like the boy who always cried “wolf.”
Maybe there are times when an official gets intimidated and is unduly influenced by a coach. But my experience tells me the more experienced the official, the less likely he or she is to be intimidated.
I seriously doubt NBA officials are easily intimidated – even by millionaire coaches and players.