Both NBA players and referees know by now that their unions are each sending three representatives to meet each other during All-Star Weekend in an attempt to bridge the growing divide between them, but with each passing day it’s as if both sides are actively attempting to sabotage that discussion.
The NBA has seen fights on three straight nights, and the dust-up at the end of Wednesday’s game between the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards brought the number of players ejected over the past 72 hours to nine. The latest came not long after the league announced suspensions for two Houston Rockets whose clandestine attempt to confront the Los Angeles Clippers was thwarted.
Through it all, National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul and vice president Carmelo Anthony have openly ridiculed the officials, to the point that Melo declared, “I’m done with the refs.”
Officials haven’t covered themselves in glory, either. A night after an entire officiating crew essentially ignored the Dallas Mavericks’ end-of-game attempts to foul the Denver Nuggets for 10 full seconds of a one-point game— an error in judgment the NBA confirmed in its Last Two Minute Report — referees impacted the outcome of yet another contest, between the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies.
During a jump ball with 17 seconds left in a game the Knicks trailed 102-99, refs first missed what appeared to be a violation by Grizzlies guard Tyreke Evans that should have given New York the ball:
Moments later, crew chief Derrick Stafford assessed Knicks guard Courtney Lee with a questionable technical foul for allegedly exchanging words with Grizzlies rookie Dillon Brooks before the re-jump:
Evans sank the technical free throw to push the Grizzlies’ lead to two possessions, and Memphis won the ensuing re-jump, forcing the Knicks to foul. Two more freebies resulted in a 105-99 Grizzlies win, and Lee was understandably upset afterwards, jawing at Stafford until teammates restrained him:
Courtney Lee yelling at the officials after the game ended pic.twitter.com/IEeHlnSZcK
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 18, 2018
Here’s how Lee described what led up to the technical foul, via New York Newsday’s Al Iannazzone:
Courtney Lee explaining the technical that essentially ended the Knicks shot at a comeback pic.twitter.com/GsBX3xsQgO
— Talkin’ Knicks (@TalkinKnicks) January 18, 2018
“The rookie grabbed my arm,” Lee said. “I said, ‘Get off me.’ He said some other words. I said, ‘Look, you got the wrong one, Rook. You got the wrong one, young’n. He said, ‘Who are you? I said, ‘You know who I am. And then I get a tech. Exact word for word.
“If you’re going to give a tech in that situation when both of us is talking to each other, not even talking to you, it has to be a double tech. You can’t just come over there and give me a tech because you’re mad at me about something. Both of us was talking, no violent talk, no cuss words was even said, that’s a double-tech situation.”
“I just went up to him and said, ‘You can’t make the game personal, bro,’ ” Lee said. “I wasn’t even talking to him. I was talking to the rookie and nothing was even said that should have been a technical foul. I wasn’t even talking to the ref. You’re supposed to be getting ready to throw the ball up but you’re eyeing in on that situation. I wasn’t talking to him. It’s unbelievable.”
And here’s how Stafford framed the incident with a pool reporter:
The following is a transcript of the pool reporter interview following the Grizzlies/Knicks game with NBA Crew Chief Derrick Stafford by Peter Edmiston is Sports 56 WHBQ and The Commercial Appeal: pic.twitter.com/CLYmFKl7l2
— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) January 18, 2018
Whoever you believe, it does seem excessive to call Lee for a tech simply for something he said to another player, especially in that situation. If officials are going to start calling techs for trash talk and inappropriate language, then we’re going to be hearing whistles on almost every possession.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that both sides have legitimate gripes. Whether or not it’s a result of increased attention on such matters, all captured and analyzed from multiple angles on social media, officials do seem to be making an inordinate amount of crucial mistakes and getting quicker with their whistles than ever before when they’re called on it. On the other hand, players are complaining after almost every call, whether it’s justified or not, and the officials have few options but a quick whistle to rein in what has seemingly been an escalating number of player confrontations.
All of it only adds to the drama of the scheduled meeting between players and referees next month, and every day it seems less and less likely that the two unions will be able to settle their differences.
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