Former referee Steve Javie, free from the long arm of the NBA and well versed in what it takes to call a proper pro basketball game, is going to be working the NBA Finals as a referee analyst for ESPN. And though ESPN is a corporate partner with the NBA and sometimes hesitant to criticize the league that makes it quite a bit of scratch, that shouldn't stop Steve from laying waste to what he sees before him. Or, of more interest to us, this shouldn't stop Javie from offering a needed on-camera voice of support for the NBA referees that just can't seem to win, in our eyes.
Javie, who retired last year after 26 years in the referee ranks due to an arthritic knee, could be criticized for looking out for his homies in blue should he rush to defend them, but we need to take the same approach with his ESPN work as we do when trying to comprehend why the bum just made that terrible call. Not only is it an impossible game to call correctly, or even close to accurately, but the NBA does the referees no favors with its postgame approach and with the way it legislates the calls behind the game. Javie, for one, is aware of his bias. From a great interview with SI.com's Richard Deitsch:
"Now I'm not going to be a jerk about it because these are my guys. But I want to be the voice of the official and tell people, 'Look at this play. Maybe you should have had a whistle here, but here is the reason why they didn't blow it.' I won't be a guy who blasts the officials but at the same time I will be someone who points out to fans that the ref did not get a call right and here's why. It's not necessarily a criticism but an explanation on why a call was missed."
Music to my ears.
For those of us that can't help but think, in the moment, that the referees overreact to so many potential fouls in the moment? Well, they do overreact at times. But the NBA has made it clear — and along the way has left little room for referee nuance and involvement — that every bit of contact that leads to a player's rear end hitting the floor must be called. That's why it's either a block or a charge called, even if the play deserved neither. Even if the defender was flopping. Or even if the defender was soundly in place and was still whistled for a block.
The well-intentioned NBA, with its exhaustive research system and postgame video analysis, has taken the referees' personal influence out of the game. And, as a sad and ironic result, referees now have more influence than ever.
You may not have liked Dwyane Wade shooting about 97 free throws per game in the 2006 Finals, but if you watch the tape the referees were technically making the right call most of the time. Wade, at his physical peak before injuries sapped a good chunk of his still-there quickness, just took advantage. And the refs, knowing that the NBA would be obsessing over every call in slow-motion following the game as if they knew what they were doing, blew the whistles. And a championship was more or less decided along the way.
Javie can't go into full detail in his new gig, he'll have scant seconds to make a point and explain both sides when ESPN dials up each game's most controversial calls, but we hope the forum and Javie's experience will allow him to ably explain both sides of the situation in his short bursts of TV time. And anything that isn't a stark, black and white take will act as advancement in our overall analysis and understanding of this often-maddening game.
He won't act as some NBA-codified arm, working on NBA TV in front of the yawning (not because of NBA TV, which is great, but because of the "codified" bit) basketball junkies that watch that programming. He won't be Tim Donaghy, either, trolling for more paychecks and more time in the public eye. Steve Javie, hopefully, will act as an experienced and nuanced voice of reason.
We hope. We assume. We surmise, with one pinky finger raised.
Whatever his output, nothing but good can come from this move, and we hope it extends into the 2012-13 season and beyond.