I’m a fan of the game of basketball. I like all levels – from high school to professional. I enjoy the beauty and grace of the game, the highly competitive atmosphere, and the natural drama and suspense that comes with the sport. When it comes to referees, I lean toward what the football referees say – that a well-reffed game is one where you don’t even know they’re there. Well, in basketball, that’s a harder objective to achieve. Many plays end with a referee making a call. The ref takes center stage as all eyes waiting for the decision to be made fall on the guy in the black and white stripes. It’s a thankless job and a foregone conclusion – the ref will be scrutinized no matter what. And when the games themselves take a greater stage and come to mean that much more, the role of referee is one that I, for one, would never want to play. These refs are doomed from the start.
And so it comes down to the big games, where a call either way will bring much criticism. And to think a ref could be safe in the land of no-calldom. They’re not. In basketball, the two teams are not the only players in this game. The referees serve as the tippers of the scales of judgment. They’re a necessary evil. They have to be there.
Now, the Tim Donaghey scandal is one thing. There is evidence that he was involved in schemes to affect games beyond his occupational duties. It’s a no-brainer that this is wrong. I’m not arguing this. What I am arguing is that we leave the refs alone. Queue the Brittany guy of YouTube fame. Leave the refs alone! But, seriously – it’s extremely difficult to ref a high school game, let alone an NBA one. There are two, maybe three, refs in charge of following 10 guys at all times. It’s impossible to see everything at all times. The job of a ref is to make sure no one team is getting a distinct advantage. But a game is made of numerous plays. Numerous instances. And numerous scenarios. Refs aren’t there to see the big picture. They’re there to see what’s happening in front of them when it happens. A ref has to make a decision in a split-second’s time. And when this decision may seem wrong, it’s the only thing a ref has to go on at that time.
All refs make bad calls. And all games take on infinite paths to infinite outcomes. There are stories to be written about all of them. The NBA is one big choose-your-own-adventure. And the refs' calls, unfortunately and perhaps unfairly, help to carve out these paths.
I try to stay a fan through all of the B.S. I try not to get involved with the business of the game so I can maintain my standpoint of pure enjoyment. It’s a game, people. When outside forces like gambling take control, of course that’s wrong. But human error is a natural, inside force that must be dealt with and not made a major player. I find it hard to believe that the monopolous NBA would try to manipulate outcomes in favor of better matchups and hence more money. They may have that to lose, but no one else is gaining as a result. Certainly no other leagues out there are gaining on the NBA. Owners are making a ton of money. Merchandising will always be there. There is indeed work to be done, but there will always be challenges to this league. But it’s not a league that’s even remotely close to failing.
Yes, people are arguing that the NBA is not trying to leave this money on the table. And I think this is a ridiculous argument. So leave these refs out of it. They’re merely doing their jobs amidst an ever increasingly critical environment. It’s time to find blame elsewhere, if blame is to be found at all.