After one of the wildest NBA regular-season nights in recent memory — complete with 21 technical fouls, five ejections and two near postgame confrontations 3,000 miles apart in Philadelphia and Los Angeles — tensions between players and referees have escalated even further, if that’s possible.
Less than a week after ripping referee Scott Foster for perceived unprofessionalism, Houston Rockets point guard and National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul reportedly led a group of teammates into the Los Angeles Clippers locker room to confront Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers — an incident currently under investigation by the NBA that required police and security to intervene.
Across the country, in Philadelphia, 76ers rookie Ben Simmons told Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry to meet him in the hallway after the two were ejected late in the game, and Lowry actually showed up:
"Put it this way: I was back there" — Kyle Lowry on Sixers' Ben Simmons invitation to meet him in the hallway after they were both ejected.
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) January 16, 2018
Griffin, Simmons, Lowry and Rockets wing Trevor Ariza all earned ejections on Monday. As we mentioned, Paul is the NBPA president. Ariza and Lowry are both the player representatives for their teams in the union, and Simmons is an alternate. This is the leadership that is expected to send three members to meet with a trio of referees at the All-Star break to discuss growing tensions with officials and what the players believe is a lack of respect from refs. This is not a great look for the players.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Nets guard D’Angelo Russell, still sidelined due to injury, earned a technical foul from the bench, seemingly for sarcastically applauding a referee Brian Forte’s quick whistle:
They really gave DLo a tech for clapping at the refs from the bench pic.twitter.com/aiaUuvSVPN
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 16, 2018
It’s getting out of Hand!! Big meeting All Star Break!! https://t.co/MrtVi1J3mQ
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) January 16, 2018
Of course, that was before the night really went awry.
In Oklahoma City, Thunder star Russell Westbrook took a hit to the face from Sacramento Kings big man Willie Cauley-Stein, only the reigning MVP was whistled for a travel. That led to some questions for referee Matt Boland, who promptly whistled Westbrook for consecutive technicals and an ejection:
Russell Westbrook was called for traveling on this … then he got ejected. pic.twitter.com/OPuazHM3rb
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 16, 2018
Thunder coach Billy Donovan then received a tech from ref Gediminas Petraitis for seeking an explanation from the crew for why his star player was tossed for “a terrible” officiating “mistake”:
Billy Donovan was asked if he, and Westbrook, need to be more aware of the situation when picking up technicals. (The Kings got three free throws to cut the lead to eight with 2:50 left.) pic.twitter.com/8zkm3tRzxy
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 16, 2018
This is not a great look for the officials.
Westbrook left without meeting with the media, but Carmelo Anthony — a vice president in the NBPA — spoke for his Thunder teammate when asked if losing their cool let the Kings back into the game:
Melo when asked if the Thunder was worried it had let the Kings back in the game the last two minutes after the techs: “We let them back (in) or the refs?” pic.twitter.com/m6K9CFg61r
— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) January 16, 2018
“We let them back in or the refs?” asked Anthony.
Naturally, more questions about the officials followed:
Melo on the officials: “I’m done with them. I’m done with the refs. No disrespect, but I’m done with those guys.” pic.twitter.com/50NA3Aiqhe
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) January 16, 2018
“Yeah, I’m done with them,” he said. “I’m done with the refs. No disrespect, but I’m done with those guys.”
This comes a week after Anthony publicly criticized the current crop of officials for a too-quick hook:
Carmelo Anthony says the relationships and communication between players and officials has changed since he entered the league. “They would let you get a little steam off. Now, the triggers are too quick. You look at somebody wrong, you get a technical foul.” pic.twitter.com/rh8AARA2Uv
— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) January 9, 2018
If the players’ union still plans on meeting with the referees’ union behind closed doors at the All-Star break, Paul and Anthony — two of the NBPA’s eight-member executive committee — would be leading candidates to participate, and they both will have spent the lead-up to the meeting making their talking points clear through the media. You wonder if we’ll ever get to hear from the officials on this.
And what point does the NBA mediate what is clearly a burgeoning divide between the two sides?
“I’m listening to the players’ complaints, but I’m also listening to the referees’ complaints,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters in London last week. “And I’d say that although it seems to be getting a fair amount of attention at the moment, we’ve looked back at the data that we have from over the years. There haven’t been a greater number of ejections or a greater number of technicals. There’s nothing aberrational happening in terms of the calls being made on the floor.
“But it’s something that people are talking about. I recognize that. We have a small enough league where I think it’s about building relationships. I know that it’s been reported that a group of players are planning to get together with a group of officials at the All-Star break. I hope that really does happen, and I think the notion there is these are all important constituent groups in the league. They’re all stakeholders, and to the extent that a few members of the players’ executive board can meet with a few members of the officials’ executive board and try to understand each other’s perspective, I think that will be helpful.”
With each passing week, though, it seems less and less likely that they will find common ground.
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