It's a commonly held opinion that NBA referees are pretty bad. While claims of complicated conspiracies have always seemed a little off, if only because it takes a huge level of competence to make one work, most observers of the league agree that the officials could stand to improve. Sure, the sport can be very tough to call at its highest levels, but certain things seem a little obvious.
Among those who chirp about the officials, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has stood out as the most vocal and most willing to risk his own money in service of pointing out a bad call (or a series of them). Cuban is no stranger to NBA-issued fines for criticizing the officials, and he doesn't seem ready to stop any time soon.
However, Cuban is now the one in a position to react to commentary on the league's officiating. As noted on this site several times, the NBA has issued several apologies and clarifications to ostensibly incorrect calls throughout this season. On Monday, the NBA said that Mavericks guard Monta Ellis should have been issued a foul on a non-call that helped Cuban's team to a win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Despite the fact that this correction pointed out a decision that should not have gone in favor of Dallas, Cuban thinks the practice is a very good thing. From Tim McMahon for ESPNDallas.com:
"I love the transparency," Cuban said Monday. "Now if I could just get them to do the same level of transparency for the other 47 minutes and 55 seconds, I'd really be making progress."
Cuban, whose team benefited twice in the last two weeks from last-second no-calls the league office later acknowledged should have been fouls, is lobbying for a list of blown calls to be published for every NBA game. [...]
"No one ever wants or expects perfection, but when you're not transparent, people tend to think you're hiding something," Cuban said. "And I think that hurts us. That hurts just the connection we have with our fan base. That's my opinion." [...]
"It's not so much the missed calls I get upset about," Cuban said. "It's the communication after the fact." [...]
"Why not? What's to hide?" Cuban said. "All you've got to do is just do a tweet search for 'NBA refs' during any multi-game night and it's an interesting source of knowledge. I think the more transparency we have, the stronger connection we make with our fans."
I'd be willing to bet that Cuban is bothered by the missed calls, too, but his points about communication are in keeping with his long-held beliefs on the subject. Throughout his crusade against the NBA's officiating, Cuban has argued that the league's unwillingness to respond to criticism creates a credibility issue that has wide ramifications. In his view, fans develop a general distrust of all the NBA's policies and actions. Although there's no obvious way to test this argument, it makes intuitive sense: flopping is especially reviled in pro basketball despite the fact that every American sport has its form of cheating or willful obfuscation, the draft lottery is still a source of conspiracy talk, etc. At the very least, not responding to concerns about referees doesn't help much.
This take is part of a change in image for Cuban, who is now seen as more of a forward-thinking businessman after his days as the NBA's petulant boy-king. He has even cast himself as a kindred spirit to longtime antagonist David Stern, with Cuban recently praising the commissioner for his foresight regarding international markets and digital platforms. His case for transparency in officiating decisions is part of this same general idea — Cuban wants to expand the league's reach and considers anything that impedes that progress as a negative. He doesn't just want what's good for the Mavs, but what's good for the business that allows his franchise to exist in the first place.
Whether intentionally or not, Cuban may have happened upon the most effective way to change the quality of the NBA's officiating. Discussing ideas of competitive fairness can often be a fool's errand, both because it's difficult to agree on definitions for those terms and because incorrect calls mostly even out over time. When it comes to a billion-dollar organization, though, the profit motive tends to force action.
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