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NBA Officiating and Media Malcontent: Trail Blazers, Rockets


May 20, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; NBA referee Joey Crawford gestures during game four of the Western Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

After reading this article about NBA officiating by Dave Deckard of Blazers Edge, I feel the need to reflect on my own words, clarify my intentions, and defend them to a degree. The article, which I recommend as a great read for those with time to click over to it, focuses primarily on the consistent inconsistencies of NBA officiating, the unlikelihood of bias, and the job we as media members have to present fair and supported assessments of refereeing.

I couldn’t help but feel that some of what Dave wrote was directed at me (and perhaps it was), so here is a small excerpt from the piece:

"I have no objection to a media member calling out officials for bias if that accusation is backed up with a carefully-documented piece detailing specific infractions put in proper context.   I shudder when I see a media member making unsubstantiated accusations, particularly on social media, particularly going along with the rush of the crowd.   If you’ve got something to say, say it in your medium of choice, prove it, and let us all discuss fairly.  If you can’t do that–if you haven’t put in the work and care and balance to use that voice of authority properly–don’t say it."

I believe that the following words, typed by my own frantic fingers at Game 3, could fall under the particular umbrella he opened:

Let me begin by saying that I do not believe that referees intentionally swing games; at least, not in this day and age. I do, however, believe that sometimes officiating can be especially atrocious. It can be very difficult to win games when officiating is uneven, and, conversely, exceptionally easier than it should be, depending on the benefactor. In today’s NBA, officiating is never 100 percent correct, nor will it likely ever be.

This is something Dave and I agree on. In fact, I found myself nodding along as I perused his words for much of the time and feel adequately sheepish for feeding a beast that doesn’t need feeding. Perhaps I am not the only one. Let me, however, offer a few counterpoints in defense of myself, if for no other reason than to save face in this perceived faux pas, and to use my voice of authority in the suggested proper manner.

1) Social media does not lend itself well to detailed arguments with specific examples. For instance, the 140 character nature of the Twitter beast makes it nearly impossible to chronicle three waved off and-1’s, a waved off 3-pointer, an allowed 3-pointer that should certainly have been waved if the first was, and a slew of other mistakes with a sense of deeply analytical specificity. Twitter is a real-time reflection of basketball and the opinions held by those watching. Sometimes the drawn conclusion is more pertinent than showing your work, though, ideally both would be available to the masses at a moment’s notice.

2) Dedicating entire articles to observation of poor officiating would be extremely petty. Teams predominantly win and lose based on their own merits, with officiating merely confirming the momentum of the better team (another of Dave’s points that I agree with). Extensively raking officials over the coals is often unnecessary, as they are not often the deciding factor in matters of wins and losses. Sometimes teams win or lose because they are better or worse than their opponents (said John Madden).

3) Circling back to dispelling bias and the notion that referees do not intentionally favor teams, there is room for ambiguity that perhaps I am responsible for leaving open. The hashtag “5on8” could understandably be seen as a declaration of bias, when my intentions were not so. That one is on me. To clarify my position, the hashtag is intended to fall in line with a sentiment I shared earlier: “It can be very difficult to win games when officiating is uneven.” Sometimes referees do a poor job. This series has been one of those times. I don’t think Dave’s article, or mine, would be necessary if that weren’t the case.

I suppose the biggest take away here is that we ought to shift our focus from officiating to the game itself. It is more fun that way, and less dangerous. I do suggest you head over to Blazers Edge and give Dave’s piece a read to find out why. I only took a small portion of it that I didn’t 100 percent agree with because I think open dialogue is important. If you are interested in soaking in the rest that incited my aforementioned head nods, it is worth your time. Perhaps your face will redden as mine did.

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