BY: EVAN WATKINS
Greetings, heroes! Once again, it’s time for another month’s worth of 7 NBA shower thoughts. I could regale y’all with some mild takes and vapid analysis about what I think about the league. But, I’ve found a scourge on our favorite sport that ruins all the fun. What scourge, you may ask, am I possibly suggesting is ruining the game of basketball? Officials, of course! Night after night, year after year, these so-called “professionals” continue to go out there and do a shoddy job of enforcing the rules the NBA set forth. So, rather than come up with some possibly genuine analysis that goes further than skin-deep, which may or may not involve the favorite team of you, dear reader, I’ll take December’s column to focus on something that impacts us all. How do we improve the officiating of professional basketball? I have some ideas. (Take some of the more ridiculous suggestions with a heaping grain of salt.)
We expect NBA officials to do their jobs properly at all times, and especially in the last 2 minutes of a game. This is why the NBA has publicized the Last 2 Minutes (L2M) Reports for each game. But then, do we ever see any improvement from this? All we see are a few faint, insincere apologies from the league officials as a whole, to the extent of, to quote Brittany Spears, “Oops, I did it again.” Are NBA officials being reprimanded for their gaffes? We see the league bring the boot down on players and coaches for speaking out against bad officiating, but we continue to see referees make the same questionable calls and no-calls at pivotal points in the game. This isn’t fair to the players. Officials should be held to a higher standard. To me, a financial incentive, either a bonus or a fine, should be implemented to incentivize officials making correct calls. I propose a more robust review board that will evaluate ref performance. From there, we can institute a grading system for how often refs are making the right calls. This sort of analysis could be interesting: officiating tendencies could be further analyzed and examined, which could be used to train future NBA officials.
Understandably, this could be a big financial investment, but if the NBA is serious about improving its product, fixing the constant officiating gaffes would be a great way to improve the product on the floor each night.
2. Shock collars
Perhaps if a complicated review system is too much, we should simply outfit every official with remote-controlled shock collars that will deliver a mild electric shock when a bad call or no-call takes place. Draymond gets a tech way too fast? Refs miss a crucial late-game foul? A James Harden travel goes uncalled?
Okay…that one might be a little bit much.
My favorite thing about NCAA basketball and NBA video games is that there’s a lot more objectivity in the officiating of games. Plus, the NBA has been an early adopter of advanced tech in the past to improve the game. Imagine all NBA arenas outfitted with laser sensors on the sidelines, 360-degree viewing of the entire court, all monitored by a neural network that can objectively call the games. Eat your heart out, Joey Crawford. Of course, the human element can still be a factor in games for some elements of subjectivity to officiating that AI cannot match. Additionally, Secaucus can still review big calls, but now with the aid of advanced camera angles and sensor data to help make the official review easier and more accurate.
4. Stop publicly fining players and coaches
Thus far, the measures taken by the NBA to evaluate officials and reprimand them for poor performance is done entirely in secret, aside from the Last 2 Minutes report. And yet, the league will fine players and coaches for calling refs out – even on obvious missed calls – at the drop of a hat and without mercy. We never see the officials publicly reprimanded in this way. Why is that fair to the players and coaches who suffer from these missed calls? If the league wants to deal with officiating gaffes in private, do all of it in private. Because right now, the NBA is fining players and coaches for crucial missed calls, trying to put them out in the stocks of the public square and shame them into silence. All the while, the L2M report comes out and the league can essentially say, “oh yeah, we screwed that one up.” And the cycle continues. Nothing’s changing in this model. Fans, coaches, and players alike are all frustrated by officials continuing to blow games this way. It needs to stop. The NBA should handle all of it publicly or handle it privately. If Paul George is going to get fined six-figure amounts for officials missing key calls in an elimination game, Ed Malloy, Joey Crawford, and the lot should be publicly fined as well. Or, the league can handle this in a mature way and settle these disputes behind closed doors and actively work to improve the officiating.
5. Draconian measures
What if we got to put officials in the stocks for missed calls? Publicly make an example of them like how the league makes examples of players who criticize officials (even when they’re right). Perhaps you’re a fan of tarring and feathering? Maybe that one is too much.
6. More insight into officiating
Being an official of any sport at any level is difficult. It’s hard to remove one’s personal biases from everything they do; that’s part of being human. The well-officiated games are often overlooked, perhaps because of their rarity, and the avalanche of bad officiating over the years has bred a culture into fans that refs are the enemy of basketball. In fact, they are just as scrutinized, if not at times more so, as the players. Their job is difficult. The NBA should put some effort into ref education. If fans are more familiar with the challenges present to refs trying to officiate the world’s best basketball players playing at full-go night in and night out, it might soften the blow on the toxic culture fans have with officials. Something needs to be done to amend that relationship, in my opinion. Every sport at every level has its difficulties to officiate, but the relationship between fans and refs has escalated to levels bordering on toxic. Something needs to be done here to prevent further escalations.
7. Get rid of the L2M Report
What good does the Last 2 Minutes Report actually do for the league? The same mistakes still happen night in and night out. Nothing seems to change for the most part. All the report does is give the NBA a sort of progressive way to tell the fans, “yeah, we screwed the pooch on that one.” Have you, dear reader, ever seen your team on the business end of a crucial missed call and felt any vindication when the league says, “whoops?” Publicly releasing the report does nothing but build more animosity towards the officials when they make these mistakes. More effort should be put behind closed doors to fix the league’s officiating woes. Do it in private. Stop releasing the L2M report, because it’s nothing more than shallow attempts at apology that fixes nothing.
Evan Watkins is a contributor at The Up&Under.