NBA announces plan to improve substandard sportsmanship between players, refs

Yahoo Sports
Referee Marc Davis works on his conflict resolution with Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau. (AP)
Referee Marc Davis works on his conflict resolution with Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau. (AP)

While members of the NBA player and referee unions will meet during All-Star Weekend to discuss the growing divide between the two factions, the league office announced its own plan to bridge the gap, because both sides “have not lived up to our own collective standards with regard to sportsmanship.”

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The NBA’s five-prong plan is designed to reemphasize current rules interpretations for all parties, improve and monitor officials’ conflict resolution, and clarify referee expectations with players and coaches. The NBA’s new heads of referee operations and development — Michelle Johnson and Monty McCutchen, respectively — will begin meeting with all 30 teams before the All-Star break.

“As a league, we take great pride in standing for the best things about sports: competition, teamwork, respect, sportsmanship, diversity and inclusion,” NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell said in a statement. “Recently we have seen instances in which we have not lived up to our own collective standards with regard to sportsmanship. It is important for us to place a renewed emphasis on proper communication and respect to make sure we are meeting the standards expected from all members of the NBA family.”

The deluge of player-referee confrontations in recent months includes harsh criticism from both National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul and vice president Carmelo Anthony. The issue literally came to a head when Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston and referee Courtney Kirkland made contact during a game last month, both earning suspensions from the league.

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The following is the NBA’s five-prong plan:

  • Johnson, McCutchen and their staffs will conduct meetings with all 30 teams to discuss rules interpretations, on-court conduct and the expectations of NBA referees. These meetings will begin before the NBA All-Star break.

  • The league will re-emphasize its “Respect for the Game” rules with referees, coaches and players to ensure consistent enforcement of those violations.

  • The NBA Referee Operations department will expand its overall rules education initiative for coaches, players and team personnel to ensure clarity of the game’s rules and their proper interpretations.

  • Johnson and McCutchen will conduct enhanced training for the referees on conflict resolution. In addition, they will more closely monitor the on-court interactions of coaches, players and referees to ensure referee decorum meets league standards.

  • Through the NBA’s Officiating Advisory Council, the league will create opportunities for engagement with all key stakeholders to find common ground between all parties.

From the sound of it, players will be expected to adhere to the current set of rules regarding their conduct with officials, and the referees will be expected to improve their conflict management skills. Three members of each union are expected to sit down and discuss their issues next month.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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