September 08, 2008
"It takes a big man to admit his mistake and I am that big man."
— Michael Scott, 'The Office'
I have to apologize. I made a major mistake. For two years straight I argued, I got angry, I made scenes. I did a lot of complaining about the referees in the D-League, Summer League, and in Pro-Am leagues. I take it all back. You are really top notch. Really.
I've been in France for two weeks and I have already determined that referees out here are nuts. Our season doesn't really start until our first Pro-A league game on October 3rd, but in the meantime we are playing in pre-season tournaments. It's kind of like college except I'm not sure that any of these games count for anything. Anyways, since I've been here we've played in four games. And in four games I have decided that I owe American refs an apology.
Have you ever read crazy headlines about European soccer players head-butting refs, or fans sending death threats to refs? Did you read the story about the Taekwondo guy at the Olympics who kicked the referee in the head? Don't you ever think, like I used to, that something is just crazy about these guys, or did you ever think that it's a two-way street out here? I'm starting to believe the latter.
In my very first game as a Euro baller, I was called for a foul that I didn't agree with. In the D-League and NBA, you can react as long as it's not obscene or excessive, and you turn away from other players or the ref. That is exactly what I did. I looked up at the sky and said: "Where's the contact?"
I'd be willing to bet that this ref who made the call didn't speak English well enough to even know what I said, but he made it a point to let me know that he wasn't happy. He stopped in his tracks on his way to the scorer's table. Then, much like the MLB umpire who stared down Frank Robinson, he turned back at me and just stared at me. He said something in French, walked over to me and stood three feet away, staring.
I looked around at people to see if they were witnessing what was going on. They all seemed to be acting like this was normal. Of course, I didn't stare him back down because I don't even know the rules out here, but he kept on going. He probably held the ball for 15 seconds, just staring at me, challenging me, before he gave the ball to the free throw shooter. Even as the guy was shooting free throws, I was being stared down. I started to get angry and offended, but I didn't stare back. It was just way too odd that he would feel comfortable doing that with so little provocation. He showed my team and me no mercy for the rest of the contest. Every opportunity he had to stare me down, he stared.
Two games later we were in a different city, playing a different team. A few calls in a row had gone our way, clearly frustrating the other team. Kelvin Gibbs, a former Pepperdine baller back in 2001 and current Ludwigsburg center, had just fouled out and on the way to the bench he said something to the tune of: "This is B.S."
The ref then yelled back something I couldn't quite make out. All I know is that the coach of the other team, a gentleman who spoke perfect English, started yelling at the top of his lungs.
"Don't you dare curse and use profanity at my players! I've shown you nothing but respect and you think it's okay to cuss at my guys?!"
His tirade landed him a technical foul.
It made me wonder again. Is this just how it is out here? Refs can cuss out players? They can stare them down and pick fights? If so, then this could be a very interesting season. I highly doubt this will be my last post about these crazy officials.
Those of you back stateside need to appreciate that when a referee instigates a confrontation (see Tim Duncan's crazy-eyed stare down after being ejected for nothing), they are reprimanded. Out here, those same guys roam free. I guess it works out sooner or later. Maybe I'll get Zidane to head-butt the next refs that comes at me sideways.
Rod Benson is a Cal grad and former D-Leaguer who plays for SLUC Nancy, the reigning French league champion. When he's not busy talking to the sky, he blogs one or two times a week on Ball Don't Lie. Read his archive, pay a visit to TooMuchRodBenson.com and always support the Boom Tho movement.