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Ball Don't Lie

The NBA would like to start using instant replay to review late-game block or charge calls

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Great. More of this. (Getty Images)

How many more NBA games have to be ruined by a block or charge call gone terribly wrong in the final moments of the contest? How many more years do we have to put up with an errant block or charge call, whistled in the last two minutes of the game, completely changing the course of natural action, lost forever and above overturning due to NBA rules?

Can’t think of many instances of that? Me neither. Referees usually swallow their whistles late in games, refusing to bail out both offensive player and defender in the final minutes of a close game, and rare is the instance of a block or charge call so severely shifting the course of action that it warrants league officials beating their chests or the referees stopping the flow of a close game to go scope out the play on tape.

That hasn’t stopped the NBA’s Competition Committee from giving us more time for TV timeouts attempting to get every call correctly, as NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson is going through with a plan to allow instant replay review for block/charge calls that typically (even with the advent of the semi-circle underneath the basket) come down to judgment calls. From the Associated Press:

''This is significant,'' Jackson said at an NBA Cares event to celebrate a new learn and play center at Wheatley Middle School. ''It's our first foray into utilizing instant replay for a judgment call. It at least cracks the door open.''

(IT’S THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER: CLOSE THE DAMN DOOR YOU’RE LETTING ALL THE HOT AIR IN.)

Jackson went on:

''We've always taken the stance that we want to look at ways to expand instant replay review, just because it makes sense,'' Jackson said. ''The referees themselves have supported it because they just want to get the plays right. We're constantly looking for ways to utilize review.''

We know you are. And we also know that this is the latest version of the frustrating, circuitous nonsense that led to a point where you have to stop a basketball game in the final minutes to see if a block/charge judgment call was called “correctly.”

It’s because Stu Jackson and the league’s front office want EVERYTHING called. For years defenders have been rewarded for running over to get in front of a opposing player, ignoring both fundamental and entertainment principles (who doesn’t like to see a guy try to jump to block a shot, instead of positioning themselves motionless underneath a player?), with endless charge calls. Now we have to stop a game for a few minutes to let these referees, equal parts fearful of their job reviews and full of bluster, watch a replay over and over?

Now, as I mentioned above, we're not going to be seeing incessant replays late in games because of block/charge calls, because the league's refs tend not to whistle such calls late in contests, and the spread-out nature of isolation ball late in close contests make defenders hesitant to dive in front of the rim while leaving their man wide open elsewhere. These aren't reviews for the sake of reviews, they'll only happen when referees have already decided to check to see if the players were in the restricted area on a blown charge call that should be overturned into a block.

An NBA spokesman estimates that the league only had five or so of those restricted area checks in 2013-14, so there's not a lot of room to overturn judgment calls if that volume holds up, assuming the Competition Committee gets what it wants.

That's not, as a fan and as someone who has had to write about this for too long, my issue. This entire system of block/charge encouragement needs to be done away with.

What the NBA and its refs won’t do is get down to the heart of the matter, and admit that every time a player falls down (or connects with another player), it doesn’t have to be a foul. It can just be a thing that happened, nothing to belabor over or blow a whistle at. That isn’t to say that there aren’t defenders out there who are well in place seconds before a defender leaves his feet, taking proper charges. Or that there aren’t block calls that deserve to go against those that are lined up out of place.

The changes to hand-checking calls in 2004 made the NBA a better place. And even that restricted circle, though it does encourage players to stand just in front of it to take a "charge," did away with a series of blown charge calls in the two seasons' prior to its establishment in 1997-98.

What I’m saying is that the NBA has created a culture that has done away with actual defense – even if the actual defense in the NBA is the strongest and smartest that it’s ever been. Because teams can earn a possession just by running up underneath a player and the NBA league office’s influence, all players are encouraged to do something that was once left for those without the athleticism to contest a shot in midair.

And now we want to waste more time reviewing these things?

I think an absence of a system, rather than further review of it, would make the game more entertaining and more accurately called. But what do I know? I’m not Stu Jackson. My resume doesn’t boast the sort of career-long triumphs he’s enjoyed.


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