The new technical foul rules have been the hot point of discussion this past week. Ironically, it has become a far larger discussion point than player whining and poor behavior in the first place. Even as I type this with a DVR replay of the Bucks/Wizards pre-season game on, the commentators are discussing the new rules. The rules basically prevent a player from having any form of physical or verbal reaction to a foul call. But is there a certain level of hypocrisy occurring amongst fans, players and especially the media when it pertains to this issue? While on a bit of a different playing field, it certainly looks that way to a degree.
As we all know, NBA officials have developed a bit of a notorious reputation amongst NBA fandom in recent years. And for good reason. Starting with the Tim Donaghy betting scandal, the reputation of the officials has gone down the toilet and is almost mocked to a degree. Has anyone not been to an NBA game in which some witty fan yells “hey ref, what’s the spread tonight?” It is an every-game occurrence. Fans of small market teams generally roll their eyes as “coincidental” finals matchups involving big-market teams, and of course the historic Lakers/Celtics series’, happen frequently in recent times; but there is no sure fire “proof” per se, of officials tampering. Furthermore, there is simply a certain element of chance and skill to the game that cannot be controlled by the officials. But, their impact on the outcome of games, most notably in terms of game flow and foul shots, is both obvious and significant. I would encourage all to order Donaghy’s book online (as I do not believe it is available in stores for legal reasons) for further insight.
The book discusses how the NBA is a money machine and a business, and like any business, must appease their customers in order to continue profitable growth. This involves making sure the marketable players are on the floor for the majority of the game. People did not buy expensive tickets to the Wolves/Cleveland game last season in order to see Anderson Varejao box out Nathan Jawai. They bought them in order to see a heated matchup of LeBron James versus Sasha Pavlovic. … … wow, good Lord were we terrible last year.
Herein opens the “superstar call” discussion. Other than to establish a sense of relatively insignificant credibility amongst fans, what service does it do to tightly call games and sit noteworthy players on the bench for quarters on end? From a fundamental business standpoint, as much as it pains me to say it, the superstar calls/non-calls make perfect sense. Surely benching, say, an opposing superstar for the final 13 minutes of a half would appear advantageous to winning a game from an opposition standpoint, but consistent enforcement of an “even officiating” rule would be detrimental to the entire player-marketing concept as a whole. Simply put, games would not be as fun to watch. Legendary matchups would be cut short. Rivalries would be tamed and not reveled in or enjoyed if it were only the benches who battled it out in the final moments. It would just hurt the entertainment value of NBA basketball and there is no other way to put it. Now, it’s one thing if the call is blatantly obvious (pretty much anything involving Shaq in his prime, or some of the recent Wade/Kobe phantom calls available on YouTube), but I am fine with letting an extra step go in order to see a breakaway reverse jam that ends up impacting the final score. This adds energy to the arena and it is what creates the memories we passionately discuss years later. It is what makes this fun. And following sports is supposed to be fun. If you want to take the Wolves as seriously as your day job, or staying ahead of your mortgage payments, I can kindly guide you to a different Wolves site for relevant coverage. Imagine for a moment if the Wolves’ best player (whomever that may be at this point) was consistently benched due to ticky-tack calls normally saved for the likes of Wayne Ellington. The result would not be pretty. The “we would have won if <player x> wasn’t in foul trouble” defense mechanisms would be sky high, aforementioned matchups would be cut short, and simply put: it just wouldn’t be as fun of a game to watch.
Moving on to the topic of the day, and on the contrary, everyone hates ref whiners (when they aren’t on your own team of course). When I think of a whiner in today’s NBA, I think primarily of two players: Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. I swear the opposing team’s trainer could silently break wind and Kobe would still jump around like a hyena in heat, begging Dick Bevetta for a loose ball foul call. It is obnoxious the amount of whining Kobe, Duncan, and countless others do on a game-by-game basis. This should be controlled. However, there are certain things that testosterone and natural competitiveness cannot subdue. We are all human beings. If I get heated when someone steals my frozen entree from the freezer at work, I can only imagine what an NBA player feels in a high-pressure situation on national TV with poor/potentially fixed officiating involved. To a degree, an excessive reaction in those high pressure situations is almost understandable.
Now, hypothetically, say the Wolves are playing one of their top rivals. At this point let’s just say the Knicks because pretty much everything about that franchise and its supporters (as it pertains to their view of their own team only, of course, not as their respective person) blows giant cow colon. It’s midway through the third and the Wolves have come back from a 10-point halftime deficit at MSG to come within 2 points. Tension is high, competitive juices are flowing. Wolves are touting a small lineup featuring Love at center and he is bodying up Timofey “Jesus Christ, Why is Everybody Talking So Much About This Future 4 PPG Scorer” Mosgov as he posts up on offense. As Mosgov likely would, he takes a soft right hook over Love, the planets oddly align, and Love swats The Moz perfectly clean. Officials blow the whistle anyways. Love, furious and in the heat of the moment, yells an expletive starting with the letter ‘f’ that is of course picked up by the TV mic, prompting Wolves commentator Tom Hanneman to make an awkward comment about Love’s “um, verbal frustration.” The three Minnesotans watching from their couches chuckle at the comment. Love then tosses his hands in the air. Neither comment nor gesture is directed at the ref. Boom. Technical foul. He then goes to ask for clarification, and happens to have his arm at a 90 degree angle when doing so. 2nd tech whistled. Love is ejected. Wolves lose both momentum and the game. Knicks fans and media tout Mosgov as the next Wilt Chamberlain, both seriously and publicly. Everyone loses, with the exception of New York area mental hospital administrators (ok, ok, sorry. I’m done. You are all good people, just please shut up sometimes).
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the NBA is attempting to shift to. As touched on above, I understand a certain need to eliminate the Kobe nonsense and the Duncan dramatics from swaying the refs in a certain direction, but disallowing players from even being able to have a basic, human reaction in a very competitive situation is not the way to go. We all know this deep down. On that note, it’s 80’s movie reference time. Sitting at work today, this whole situation reminded me of a classic scene from the epic hit The Breakfast Club. Ironically, thanks to Google video search, I was able to uncover the scene for your viewing pleasure. Have a look. The reference I speak of is pretty much the last two thirds of it, but the whole clip should bring back some quality memories and prompt you to add the John Hughes library to your Netflix queue within minutes (don’t forget a pre-holiday viewing of Home Alone):
Point being, at what point does this whole situation become a ridiculous affair for the players? Imagine being in the situation of either Bender from Breakfast Club, or Kevin Garnett Wednesday night against the Knicks. If you were in a heated situation and T’ed up for something minor, wouldn’t part of you want to mock the system? Get even more irritated, or think it was almost humorous in a way? Say “screw this, just give me another?” The integrity of the officials and the league is so far down the toilet, that one cannot even have a natural, human reaction to the call? I mean, Luke Ridnour getting a tech in the Denver game? Ridnour? Frodo? It’s just crazy, right?
But let’s not forget the “superstar favoritism” discussion above (it had a point to this), because you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This is a great opportunity for us all to assess how we would view the sport if all fouls/travels were called fairly and with 100% integrity across all classes of players. It is an unspoken gray area that no one dares touch publicly from a league standpoint. However, the technical-foul masturbation currently being displayed by the refs is a pretty good indicator of what things would be like if fans, players and media got their wish for even calls. Sadly, I think deep down we all know what’s best for the on-court product, as much as we would never want to admit it to anyone. Unless of course we want a sudden influx of Perez Hilton-level front page articles and a new fan trend of having a guilty obsession with watching whiny, Phil Jackson-esque press conferences featuring Michael Beasley after he fouled out in the 3rd quarter after 20 minutes of play. It just wouldn’t be as fun, and we all know it. It would become a distraction from what is most important: the entertainment value of the on-court product. Because that is what the NBA sells us on.
Thursday night the NBAPA announced they will be challenging the new technical foul rules . Good. I doubt they will win, but it likely won’t be too long before Kobe Bryant has his hand around Dick Bavetta, other arm extended, and that pained, nauseating expression on his face we all love to hate. A technical will not be called. Also consider Wednesday the last time KG gets tossed. But, isn’t this a league of integrity we want, or are we all a little bit afraid to admit the outcome this “all NBA players created equal” concept is having on the flow and excitement of a game? A legitimate discussion point for all, and for all who are going to pretend it should “all be fair,” enjoy watching your heated matchup of Kosta Koufos versus Krylyo Fesenko the next time the Wolves are tied with Utah in the 4th. Sounds like a blast.
Perhaps we are all a bit off when it comes to referee integrity. People are clamoring that KG was ejected for nothing during the second quarter Wednesday night. But, what if the refs started calling an offensive foul each time KG used his elbows to create space in the low block? Is it really all that different, putting natural human emotions aside? Not really. And therein lies the double edged sword of this whole situation. For once, the refs are offering an opportunity to appease us fans, the players, and the media who have been clamoring for an even playing field for years. Well, we may have gotten it, and in typical NBA fashion, it only took us a couple of weeks to start yearning for the old days.