NBA officiating is often in the news and part of the public discussion, especially around playoff time. Even a novice basketball fan like myself can see that the the refs are under fire in the lightest of situations. Names like Joey Crawford become as popular as Dwight Howard in April, May and June, and that’s a shame. You may have seen Crawford directly influence a playoff game Tuesday night by interrupting a game-tying free throw attempt from Kevin Durant in the last 30 seconds of overtime. After the delay, Durant missed the free throw and the Thunder lost Game 5 to the Grizzlies.
John Canzano of The Oregonian has been running a series of pieces regarding NBA officiating, and all are more than worth a read. Part three of the series, which ran late last week, deals with how the NBA treats broadcasters who criticize officials. The league openly admits to monitoring this stuff.
Rod Thorn, the NBA’s director of operations, said this week that the league monitors and logs what broadcasters say about officiating and rules. He outlined the league’s program to evaluate and assign officials. And he believes the NBA has the best basketball officials in the world.
Thorn, who returned to the league eight months ago after a 13-year hiatus, said he hasn’t made a practice of calling networks, complaining about criticism of his officials.
“I don’t place those kinds of calls. I never have since I’ve been here. When I was here before, I didn’t do it either.”
ESPN/ABC’s lead NBA analyst, Jeff Van Gundy, would agree to disagree on that case:
For this comment, Van Gundy’s bosses at ESPN may get a call.
The NBA league office works behind the scenes to manipulate the public discussion on officiating, especially by on-air analysts, according to Van Gundy and others in the broadcast industry.
“They’ve tried to hurt me with my bosses,” Van Gundy said. “They’ve called my bosses and said, ‘Nobody wants to hear that guy whine about officiating.’ They’re pretty sensitive about that sort of stuff. I’m not quite sure why. I think by critiquing them you’re talking of their importance to the game.
“I’m not sure why they’d be upset with that.”
I’m sure all leagues keep track of what’s said about their officials, though let’s face it, other than the occasional NFL game the men in stripes are very rarely publicly questioned. The NBA’s most prominent broadcasters seem to feel it is important to keep this an issue in the interest of improving the game. Good on Jeff Van Gundy for sticking to his guns.