Referees are an integral part of every sport. They make the calls that give teams opportunities to either score or make a call that gives a team a disadvantage during the game. They have the hardest job in the game and also have the power to change fortunes for either team.
But, they are depicted as villains. Why? Referees throughout history have made terrible calls or non-calls on the court that have lead to an undeserving loss for a team and totally changed the outcome of the game. It’s not just one or two games that referees have made bad calls, it’s now been a recurring theme the past few seasons where referees are just not “performing” up to major league standards.
Players and coaches get fined for openly criticizing referees, keeping the respect for them, but at some point, you have to wonder whether any significant changes will be made in order to help mitigate the problem and help solve the issue. Adam Silver has looked at multiple options: implementing the coach’s challenge which allows coaches to challenge a call that a ref has made. At times this is successful, but more often than not, the referee’s pride gets in the way and they do not want to overturn a call because they do not want to be wrong. Many games have been decided by the ref not making the right call because they do not want to admit their initial call was incorrect. In general, the coach’s challenge is working to some degree but still hasn’t been able to totally solve the ongoing situation.
The NBA also implemented another feature called the Last 2-minute Report where the league looks at controversial calls made in the last 2 minutes of the game, and re-looks at whether the right decision was made. This holds the ref accountable for their mistakes, but still does not change the outcome. It actually rubs the result into the losing team’s faces as now they know they had a chance to win the game and the refs denied them the opportunity to secure the victory.
A major example of a missed call by the refs that ultimately decided the game is the recent uncalled goaltending by Rudy Gobert on Damian Lillard, in a game between the Blazers and the Utah Jazz on February 7th, 2020, which ultimately cost Portland the game. At around 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Lillard went up for the layup and the ball seemingly bounces off the backboard after which Gobert blocks it. The NBA rule-book clearly states that this is a goaltend and the refs missed the blatant call. The game was significant to the Trailblazers as they were in the midst of a tight playoff race and every win counted for them, just adding salt to the wound.
This is not only a recent dilemma as Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, was fined $15,000 for publicly criticizing the refs post-game after a 96-101 loss to the Houston Rockets. He complained about how the refs weren’t calling any fouls on the Rockets and he had a solid argument as they shot only 8 shots from the foul line the entire game while the Rockets were awarded 23. He said this post-game, “That’s a joke. That is a complete joke. I thought our guys drove and got hit all game, and [Lou] Williams down the stretch got killed on a play and no call. … Our guys played their hearts out, but for them to shoot that many more free throws than us, and we’re the team attacking, it just doesn’t make basketball sense to me.”
He has a valid point as refs just can’t seem to be able to make the right calls consistently on a nightly basis. Yes, they are human and can make mistakes from time-to-time, but they have to be held accountable for their repeated blunders. There has to be some sort of punishment for referees or else they will continue to do what they have been doing and continue to incorrectly make calls, putting competitive teams and their players and coaches in a bad spot.
A fine or a demotion to the G-League should fix this problem. Players get fined for crossing the line or making the wrong moves during the game. They get punished. Refs should be held accountable the same way and be punished in some way for missing a blatant call or making a terrible call that might cost a team the game. Or, if refs have not been performing up to standards, such as making bad and inconsistent calls on a consistent basis or have been clearly favoring one team more than the other during the game, they should be demoted and they should reward refs in the G-League with an opportunity to show whether they’ve got what it takes to ref an NBA game. This would give referees the wake-up call that they need in order to step up their game and learn to make better calls in the heat of the moment.
Referees need to be held more accountable for their actions and their mistakes and need to take as much responsibility as anyone else by admitting to their mistakes and by trying to make better calls in the future.
The NBA protects their refs but it’s time that they take some serious actions and do something about them. The end result would be better, more fair games with deserved and fair outcomes.
The league needs to decide the future of refereeing and it’s got to act fast before any other games are thrown away by sub-par decisions.