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Just as more details of a scheduled mediation between the NBA’s referee and player unions over heightened animosity became public, players’ association president and Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul spent much of his postgame media session blasting ref Scott Foster for unprofessionalism.
According to Paul, via the Houston Chronicle, after a continuation foul against Rockets teammate P.J. Tucker resulted in a three-point play for Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard that cut Houston’s lead to eight with just under five minutes left, he contested the call with referee Courtney Kirkland on one side of the floor, where Foster interrupted that conversation to whistle the tech.
Video of the incident suggests there’s another side to that story:
“I got a tech tonight,” Paul told reporters afterwards. “Scott Foster at his finest. He just never fails.”
“I’m over there with Courtney saying, ‘That’s Scott, that’s Scott,’ and I get a tech,” added Paul, whose 37 points in a 121-112 victory marked his highest scoring output since joining the Rockets. “That’s history there, so Scott — you the man. That’s who they pay to see.”
Accusing Foster of calling technicals because of a personal vendetta is no small charge, and not just because Paul is a nine-time All-Star. He’s also the president of the players’ association at a time when the professional relationship between players and referees is heading toward an all-time low.
National Basketball Referee Association general counsel Lee Seham and players’ association executive director Michele Roberts conducted a two-hour meeting last month in New York to discuss a growing animosity between their members, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Roberts said officiating was “the greatest issue of consternation” among players. More specifically, players complained of officials refusing to listen to their complaints and refs having too-quick triggers on technical fouls.
That certainly seemed to be Paul’s contention with Foster on Wednesday night.
The Rockets star said some officials are more amenable than others. “You’ve just got to figure out who you can and can’t,” he added. On his way out of the building, Paul concluded, “We’re going to figure it out. There’s gotta be a way that you can have dialogue. I don’t know. Good old Scott Foster, though.”
That dialogue will continue on Feb. 17, when three players and three officials will sit down to discuss their issues during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend festivities, according to USA Today’s Sam Amick. Paul is expected to attend the meeting. It’s unclear whether Foster will be among the three officials present.
In 2015, Paul was dubbed one of “the two biggest complainers in the league,” along with former L.A. Clippers teammate Blake Griffin. That same year, Paul said of female referee Lauren Holtkamp after she whistled him for a technical, “This might not be for her,” to which the referees’ union responded:
A year later, Foster was voted the “worst” official in the NBA. Earlier in his career, he was investigated and cleared by both the FBI and NBA after it was discovered he received 134 phone calls from disgraced referee Tim Donaghy during the 2006-07 season, which culminated in a gambling scandal.
“He had one of our playoff games and as soon as he walked in, I was like, ‘This game is over.’ We all knew we were going to get bad calls, and we did,” an unnamed veteran NBA player told the L.A. Times of Foster in 2016. “You couldn’t say anything to him. Hell, I don’t think you could even look at him.”
“You can’t talk to him,” another player added. “He’s never wrong. I like refs where they say, ‘You know what, I made a mistake. I saw it at halftime. You were right.’ But Scott Foster thinks he never makes a mistake. The players see the stats of how he is on the road. He always helps the road team out. He loves to stick it to teams.”
According to NBAstuffer.com, home teams win 71 percent of their time in games that Foster is officiating — the highest percentage of any referee who has called more than 20 games this season. On the whole in 2017-18, home teams have won an average of 57 percent of their games. We should also point out that Foster’s foul calls are almost an exact 50-50 split between home and road teams.
There is heightened sensitivity surrounding player-ref relations this season after a string of star players were ejected, including LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who earned their first career ejections within 24 hours of each other in late November. A few nights later, Kirkland bumped heads with Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston during an argument, both earning suspensions.
Now, Paul’s complaints about Foster come just days after Warriors forward Draymond Green earned a $25,000 fine for telling The Athletic that referees’ vendettas against players are “ruining the game” and pleading for “a whole new crop” of officials. This meeting would be awfully fun to watch, but …
“The conversations will not be open to the public,” Roberts told USA Today. I think if the aim is to have candid discussion between the players in attendance and the officials in attendance … it needs to be done without a third party, including, frankly, even perhaps me or others being there.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be both spirited and enlightening. Even the conversations I’ve had with Lee, there have been things that I have not, frankly, been aware of in terms of the kinds of pressures that (officials) are under. So, I think it’s a useful step.”
There is much to discuss. There’s the incessant complaining after almost every whistle by players. There’s the players’ perception that referees act on their personal vendettas. And there’s something revealing in Paul’s “That’s who they pay to see” comments on Wednesday night, too — the contention among players that referees make calls because they want to be considered the stars of the show.
There is a reverse to some of this: Nobody wants to see players arguing calls unchecked several dozens times a game, even if they are the main attraction. This needs ironing out, and maybe the sit-down scheduled in L.A. between three players and three officials will be a step in the right direction.
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