Back in January 2014, after the NBA acknowledged that Monta Ellis got away with a closing-seconds foul on Austin Rivers that helped cost the New Orleans Pelicans a victory, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he loved that the league office was copping to missed calls, and not just because that particular one wound up working out in his favor.
"I love the transparency," Cuban said. "Now if I could just get them to do the same level of transparency for the other 47 minutes and 55 seconds, I'd really be making progress."
Well, we're not quite there yet, but starting Monday, the range will be down to a scant 46 minutes. (Progress!)
Beginning Monday, March 2, and continuing throughout the 2015 NBA playoffs, the NBA will provide after-the-fact play-by-play reports "regarding all calls and material non-calls that occur in the last two minutes of close games and during entire overtime periods," the league announced Friday, a move aimed at providing more specific responses to "the most scrutinized calls in NBA games."
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From the league's Friday statement announcing the new initiative:
The “Last Two Minutes” officiating report is the latest step in the league’s effort toward more transparency in its officiating program. Previous actions include this season’s launch of the NBA Replay Center, real-time postings on NBA.com and @NBAOfficial of the replays used by officials to make calls during replay reviews, and bi-weekly rule “points of emphasis” memos that are sent to teams, referees and the media. [...]
The league will release assessments of officiated events in the last two minutes of games decided in regulation that were within five points at the two-minute mark. Also, the reports will include plays from the last two minutes and overtime of OT games. Each play will be reviewed by a senior referee manager or basketball operations manager who will provide the assessments. Every play on the report will include a video link to that specific play. The reports will be posted on NBA.com/official and Media Central, the NBA’s media website (mediacentral.nba.com), by 5 p.m. ET the day after each game.
By "assessments of officiated events," according to Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press, the league means the reports "will say how the play was graded — correct or incorrect." While you might think referees would bristle at the league publishing such grades and thus inviting public scorn for missteps, the zebras are apparently on-board with the move:
"Our policy in the past was pretty much to wait until we had something that was controversial enough to really garner a lot of interest and we didn't think that that was a practical approach," NBA executive vice president of referee operations Mike Bantom said. "And it also wasn't very fair because they always tended to be errors that were made, so we tried to come up with a system that would allow us to provide some insight into our process and set a criteria that would allow us to be more standardized and more consistent."
Bantom said the referees had input into the plans and welcomed the change from the league's former policy of announcing only when calls were incorrect.
"Our prior practice of commenting only about mistakes that they made was a bone for them, something we didn't feel that was fair to them and also something that they weren't happy about as well," Bantom said. "So I think this is a solution that puts them in a much better light, doesn't hide the fact that they are human and will make mistakes, but also points out the fact that the overwhelming majority of the calls that they get correct."
(UPDATE: Apparently, the amount and nature of referee input are matters of some debate. Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday that the National Basketball Referee's Association had "no involvement in the NBA's decision to make [these reports] public.")
According to USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt, a sample report culled from the Portland Trail Blazers' Jan. 19 win over the Sacramento Kings included a review of "12 plays in the final two minutes [that] concluded officials made 11 correct calls and one incorrect call."
The publication of the "two minutes reports" represents the latest in a string of moves to increase transparency in officiating matters and the league at large. The league began acknowledging missed calls before David Stern ceded the commissioner's chair to Adam Silver in February of 2014, but while those mea culpas have continued — for better or for worse — but the pace of the transparency push has quickened since Silver's succession.
First, the NBA began distributing internal officiating memos to NBA teams; then, the league opened those memos up to everybody. Later, during the Donald Sterling saga, Silver published the league's long-private constitution and bylaws, allowing everybody to take a look at the nuts and bolts of how the NBA's Board of Governors operates.
This season, the league introduced its expansive new replay review center, a 94-screen, 20-replay-station command center in Secaucus, N.J., directly connected to all 29 NBA arenas aimed at centralizing official reviews and speeding up the process of replay decisions. Silver also expanded the number of triggers that could allow officials to initiate reviews, a decision that seemed to run counter to the league's desire to shorten game-length, but also appeared to be in lock step with the overarching interest in getting more stuff right.
The NBA has even considered more extreme steps, like introducing NFL-style coaches' challenges at the D-League level, in pursuit of more accurate calls and, perhaps even more importantly, a higher level of trust among NBA fans in the accuracy of officiating. Conducting regular post-mortems on the late stages of games — looking at the big decisions, what got called, what didn't get called, what should have happened, etc. — seems like another solid step in that direction.
That said, it's only a step. As Cuban initially noted, the last few minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime are merely the tip of the overall iceberg that is an NBA game; as professional gambler and very smart Twitter person Haralabos Voulgaris noted, an awful lot of other stuff can happen in the earlier stages of games.
The somewhat amorphous phrasing of "material non-call" seems to leave some room for things to go sideways, too. While you'd figure that would cover instances of fouls that shouldn't have been fouls or vice-versa, would it also include stuff like the Charlotte Hornets getting jobbed on a five-second violation late in an early-season loss to the New York Knicks? That certainly seemed material after the fact, but would it be captured in the league's re-review? And how much does something like this really matter in the context of a league where games like Wednesday's Kings vs. Grizzlies tilt — a ragged, at-times barely officiated affair in which elbows flew, tempers flared and precious little control was exerted — wouldn't be captured in the analysis, since it wasn't a five-point game in the final two minutes?
That said, while it's unlikely that the new initiative will perfectly encapsulate any and every potential problem after the fact, no system of evaluating officials' work is ever going to be perfect. All we can reasonably ask is that the league does everything it can to keep improving the quality of officiating, establish and maintain an even playing field for the players on the court, and not bury its head in the sand when things go wrong. On that score, at least, this seems to be another sound decision by Silver and company.
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