NBA players think referees are too dismissive of their constant complaints

Referee Courtney Kirkland and Warriors guard Shaun Livingston butted heads earlier this season. (AP)
Referee Courtney Kirkland and Warriors guard Shaun Livingston butted heads earlier this season. (AP)

If you felt like NBA players and referees were complaining about each other more often than ever, you’re not alone. Tensions between the two sides has reached a boiling point, reportedly resulting in one airing of grievances between their unions, with another reportedly planned for the All-Star break.

National Basketball Referees Association general counsel Lee Seham and players’ association executive director Michele Roberts held a two-hour meeting in New York recently to discuss the growing animosity between their members, which has resulted in ejections for a handful of the game’s biggest stars and a referee suspension this season, according to’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

“The greatest issue of consternation is the officiating,” Roberts told ESPN. “I could almost write the script. You’d bring it up, and there would be groans, groans and groans.”


“Our players also complained about being ignored, told to ‘shut up,’ told to ‘move’ or, in extreme circumstances, hit with a technical.”

The most specific NBPA complaint: Referees are holding their hands up to players when they approach arguing a call, as if to suggest they shouldn’t bother. Roberts said Seham informed her that’s what the officials have been trained to do, and a referees’ association source confirmed it to Wojnarowski. But NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell told, “That’s not in their tool kit now.”

This does seem like something the two unions, along with the NBA, should sort out.

But here’s another idea: Hey, players, maybe don’t complain so much? When’s the last time you remember a player’s argument resulting in a call being changed? And how many times do you see a player arguing a call throughout the course of a game? Every play? Two hundred times a game? Imagine the boy who cried wolf. Now, imagine the boy who cried wolf 500,000 times a season.

Maybe it’s just me getting old, but if referees throwing their hands up, ignoring players, asking them to “move” or hitting them with a technical “for something other than an F-bomb” is the players’ “greatest issue of consternation,” the NBA has got it pretty good. “Shut up”? OK, maybe that’s a little much, but you should hear what these referees put up with from players throughout the course of 48 minutes.

If the NBPA’s baseline for acceptable behavior is, “We should be allowed to do everything short of cussing out the refs,” and also, “The refs shouldn’t be allowed to tell us to shut up,” then they need to get their priorities in order. I’m guessing this is why, per Wojnarowski, the referees’ union believes the NBA’s front office “has become too lenient in allowing players’ aggressive verbiage toward refs.”

A handful of referees and a handful of players will meet over All-Star Weekend to discuss these issues, according to Wojnarowski, and the league office wants in on the action, too. Surely, the results will be relayed to all of their members, who will resolve what has been decades in the making.

Yikes. Maybe I’m being too cynical here. I sound like an old man complaining about how kids these days want to have their cake and eat it, too. But what’s the end goal here? Refs stop putting their hands up, and we have a respectful conversation after every whistle about the merits of each call? That should make for some fun four-hour games. Or maybe the players could play, the officials could officiate, and everyone could do their jobs to the best of their abilities, without being cussed out.

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