You’d think for a bunch of guys who are supposed to be the best in the world at their jobs, they’d be better at getting things right the first time. And now, through the trials and tribulations of the 2002 Lakers/Kings series, the ’07 Suns/Spurs series and Tim Donaghy, we expect mediocrity.
Is NBA officiating rigged by the Sterns that be, or is that just an easy way out for conspiracy theorists? Is the NBA only interested in pushing the marquee teams on to the next rounds and elongating series, or are the officials just bad?
Neither. The officials are so good at being bad that the entire basis of officiating has become makeup calls. If you’ve been reading the series of Donaghy postgame hindsight-is-20/20 posts on Deadspin that run the day after each NBA Finals game, three things become clear: first, it’s very easy to correct calls after examining them on slow-motion replay. Second, NBA officials usually know when they’ve made a mistake, and they don’t let those mistakes go — they make an equally bad call on the other end (most of the time, anyway). And third, Donaghy is one attention-whoring SOB. Check out Donaghy’s Game 3 analysis, for example. This isn’t the be-all and end-all by any means, but if you count the number of bad calls the Lakers got in their favor against the ones Donaghy mentions that the Celtics benefited from, the number is pretty even (it’s like 12-11 in the Celtics’ favor, actually).
The refs are human, and sometimes they’re bad humans. Danny Crawford is an obvious grudge-holder. Dick Bavetta lives to excite home crowds. Joey Crawford is the only white man in America who hates Tim Duncan. Bennett Salvatore could have been a bit player on The Sopranos, and not just because of his last name. And these are supposedly some of the best refs in NBA history, or at least this generation.
Perhaps the NBA is a victim of technology. We couldn’t notice all the bad calls on our small, blurry TV screens back when the Lakers and Celtics battled in the 1980’s and before, and even if we noticed something weird CBS would have a replay cued up from some play that happened two minutes before. They try to get it right with the replays on out-of-bounds plays in the last two minutes of the 4th quarter and overtime, but there’s flaws in that too — as anybody who saw Rajon Rondo’s foul on Lamar Odom last night can attest to. And the makeup calls aren’t just from minute-to-minute, either. Kobe Bryant was officiated like he was Rob Kurz on Sunday, and then Paul Pierce was hampered in the same fashion last night.
A huge issue is the NBA has a strict gag order on announcers, who have more power than most realize when it comes to calling out injustices in their respective sports. Can you imagine Jon Miller sitting quietly and pretending the NBA’s officials were giving each team a fair shake? He can barely keep himself from throwing his bottle of bourbon on the field (kidding) when the home plate umpire’s consistency becomes even the least bit questionable. Jim Joyce was absolutely roasted by every announcer calling Armando Galarraga’s perfect game, and that call at first was WAY tougher than figuring out if Ron Artest locked arms with Pierce or Kendrick Perkins set a moving screen.
Since I love the NBA in a totally and completely irrational way (and, to be fair, I have a horse in this fight that is currently up 2-1), I’m going to just have to roll with these punches and figure it’s all going to even out. But I can’t blame anybody who’s watched the NBA closely over the past couple years for jumping ship. The missed and make-up calls are nearly criminal, and a once-important NBA ref is now a convicted criminal. Even before tackling the issue of outlandish ticket prices, a complete overhaul of the refereeing needs to be Stern’s top priority this off-season.