Twitter accounts are so ubiquitous these days that it feels as if only a few of our uncles and Jason Mantzoukas are the only ones who haven’t logged in. With that knowledge in hand, it’s worth pointing out that NBA team employees of any level and stature are often right there with the rest of us, churning out bad jokes and frustrations with calls gone wrong in 140 characters or less, tapping away at all hours of the night.
Still, all NBA team employees are subject to the same rules about criticizing referees as players, coaches, team owners and general managers. And even if the voice with the loudest boom in the room – in this case a team’s public address announcer – chooses to air his grievances via Twitter rather than the deafening microphone setup in front of him, the league is still going to cut down on any ref-bashing bit of dissent.
This apparently is the case of Dallas Mavericks PA man Sean Heath, who vented his frustrations about longtime Dallas Mavericks nemesis Danny Crawford to his 200-some followers earlier in April, and has apparently been fined by the league as a result. ESPN Dallas initially reported Heath was being suspended for two games by the league before clarifying the punishment had been amended to a fine. From Tim McMahon:
"Several disciplinary options were discussed but ultimately we decided to be consistent with past practice on violations of game operations staff," league spokesman Tim Frank said via email.
A source said the fact that Heath is a contract worker and technically not a team employee made a suspension for him a legally complicated issue.
Heath, who declined to comment, wrote a series of tweets regarding the officiating after the Mavs' 122-120 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors on April 1.
That game, you’ll recall, featured a late call in which Warriors big man Jermaine O’Neal goal-tended a Monta Ellis shot, one the refs did not accurately call in real time, though one look at the video won’t leave you wondering why – that was a tough call.
The tweets from Heath, whose follower count has nearly doubled in the time since he sent them out, can still be found on his timeline:
McMahon went on to report the Mavericks requested Heath be given a small reprieve while they located another public address announcer, which is why you heard his boisterous (and at times, while imploring the fans to support their Mavs in a tough loss to San Antonio, desperate) work on TNT’s telecast of Dallas’ home defeat on Thursday.
As you likely well know, the league apologized for the missed call, which came prior to Stephen Curry’s tie-breaking game winner against a Mavericks team that has been scratching and clawing to return to the playoffs all season. And since the NBA started publicly acknowledging calls gone wrong, they’ve rightfully been lenient with players, coaches and (ahem) owners that tend to speak out about these sorts of things.
Not to pile on Heath, who is likely embarrassed about the attention, but the line is crossed when a team employee goes on record stating there is at best a bias or at worst some sort of rigged element that gives one team a chance to succeed, and denies another team a chance at what is rightfully theirs (in Dallas’ case, a two-point lead in a 122-120 game with the ball in Stephen Curry’s hands – no sure win). To suggest the referees, en mass and in a split second, all decided to pass on a call that they knew was a goaltend in order to deny Dallas (one of the league’s biggest markets) a win and possible playoff chance? That’s pushing it, and fine and/or suspension worthy.
Of course, for those of us that love the game and sweat out the fortunes of our favorite teams, “pushing it” is what we do – whether we’re employed by that team, or just a fan from afar. We’re not advocating an absence of free speech – Sean Heath can tweet away to his heart’s content – but free speech doesn’t leave you free from consequence from your employer.
Heath no doubt knows this, and the final tweet that probably cost him the fine is well taken on a glass half-full level, as well.
Because this is an impossible game to call in real time, and crucial calls are going to be missed. That can frustrate and enervate, but it’s also why this league is unique. That’s worth remembering, until the calls go against your favorite team’s way, at least.
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