Being a referee is one of the most difficult and scrutinized in sports.
Many games are decided by one or two calls during a game that become very controversial after the fact. Instead of primarily looking at the players and their performance throughout the game as being the reason as to why their team lost, it is usually the referee(s) who are to blame in the eyes of the public.
In the NBA, these controversial calls are enhanced, even to the point where after every game, not only do they receive a full report from the league office on their performance, but they also receive a performance report on how well they did in the last two minutes of a given game. Obviously, the last two minutes of any game are usually crunch time and involve the most important moments. The flow of the game slows down, players become more physical and restless when it comes to every call that the refs make, coaches yelling at you, and the fans screaming at you after every call.
In these moments, society takes out the human element in refereeing and automatically assumes that each and every referee should make each and every call in each and every moment without error. Many times, these calls that spark controversy, whether they’re made or not, becomes the story or headline the next day instead of the actual play or players.
Prime example, Tuesday night, the Kansas Jayhawks played the Kansas State Wildcats on ESPN2 in a game that came down to the last shot. After the Kansas State miss, Kansas pulled down the rebound and the ball was passed ahead to Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk who took it the length of the floor in about four seconds to convert the game winning layup. Although he made the layup as time expired, it was clear that he traveled in the process and it wasn’t the layup, but that missed call that became the headline, even to the point where K-State head coach Bruce Weber addressed it after the game saying that clearly the call was missed.
Another example, Christmas Day, the Warriors took on the Cavaliers in a Finals rematch that also came down to the wire. After Kyrie Irving hit a turnaround jumper over Klay Thompson with a few seconds left, Steve Kerr called a timeout to advance the ball past half court. After the timeout and on their side of the floor, the ball was inbounded to Kevin Durant who fell to the ground after one dribble as he seemed to be tripped by Richard Jefferson, and then was forced to shoot the ball from the floor for the final shot in which he airballed. With that, the Cavs won the game and the the overall headline was not only about the great game that it was, but also about the call that was missed. A day later, the NBA released an official statement saying that the refs blew the call and that a foul should have been called on Jefferson.
This official statement and the two minute reports being released are ultimately the NBA’s way of holding these referees accountable for their performance, but it also throws the refs under the bus on a national scale by reiterating that they made a mistake. When Durant himself was asked about the lack of a call, he defended the refs by saying, “The refs didn’t lose that game. We lost that game. We could’ve been better. I think it’s bull- that the NBA throws the refs under the bus like that… You don’t throw the refs under the bus like that.”
Durant also talked about the effect it could have when he said,
“The next game, that group of refs, whoever that is, they gonna come out and ref that game, they gonna be tense when they ref that game, they gonna try to get every play right, they gonna try to be perfect, and , you know, without just going out there and relaxing and making the right calls.”
Durant is absolutely right here.
There are so many moments throughout a 48 minute game that affect the overall outcome, not just one moment. To put the blame on referees for possible missed calls or blown calls and claim that that is the reason a team won or lost is absurd. To say that the lack of a travel call in the Kansas-Kansas State game is the biggest reason as to why they lost is crazy because there were so many swings in the game and plays on both sides that really decided it. There are four quarters in basketball and every minute counts, not just the last two.
I believe that although it’s good that the NBA and other sports hold their refs accountable, but there’s a certain level of humility that needs to take place here. We can’t expect every ref to make every call, it just not in our nature as humans to be perfect. The two minute reports and overall game reports are fine, they just shouldn’t be released to the national media who are then going to blow it out of proportion so that the main headline becomes the call or lack thereof rather than the actual game itself.
Putting more pressure on the refs isn’t going to replace and make up for the fact that they’re still going to miss calls, it going to make it worse.
Do you think the NBA and other major sports are too hard on referees? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.