UPDATE (1:10 p.m. ET, 11/20/16): The NBA announced Sunday that Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has been fined $25,000 for “public criticism of officiating” as a result of the comments below.
Steve Kerr is pissed.
Well, not really. We’re just trying something, here. He is a little bemused, and he isn’t exactly complaining. NBA teams are traveling, Kerr says, and the modern-as-tomorrow architect of the forward-thinking Golden State Warriors’ offense isn’t exactly scanning as “Angry Uncle Steve” at the Thanksgiving table.
No, this Steve can actually remember your fiancee’s name, and he just seems a little perplexed that NBA referees – busied by the constant stream of motion during games – can’t find enough time to call what to him appear as easy travels.
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For his own team, even. From CSN Bay Area:
“How is it that everybody on Earth can see these traveling violations except for the three people that we pay to do the job? I don’t get it. It’s bizarre,” Kerr said on KNBR 680. “It’s (traveling) a point of emphasis on one particular play and that’s when you catch and go … it’s just the one that the officials are taught to see.
“But I can literally put together a blooper reel of plays that are embarrassing travels that are just not called. I believe it’s a case of they have so many things to look at — they are looking at defensive three seconds, the contact in the lane when people are cutting through the lane, they’re looking at the charge and block circle — they’re looking at everything except what they should be looking at which is the basic rule of the game, which is traveling.
“And it’s a shame because guys are getting away with murder out there and the fans see it. My favorite is when you see the visiting team travel and you see like a 1,000 fans in the background all doing the traveling signal with their hands. If those people saw it, how come the refs didn’t?”
“I want to make it clear — our guys travel all the time, too. So this is not me saying, ‘Hey, we’re getting a raw deal.’”
The game is getting a raw deal. The gaaaame, man.
Perhaps we haven’t been paying close enough attention – always a legitimate caveat! – but there haven’t appeared to be as many uncalled traveling violations thus far in the 2016-17 season as there have been in other campaigns. If anything, referees (mindful of the points of emphasis that are bashed into their collective heads during the exhibitions season) are more strident when it comes to calls during the autumn months, loosening up as the season moves along.
You wouldn’t be alone in aligning yourself with Kerr when it came time to lashing out against the lack of travel calls in the modern NBA, as those sort of carps have been around since the days in which Slater Martin dared curl his toes after coming to too sharp a stop in his canvas hightops. There are and will forever be observers ineffectually calling palming and walking violations that the punk, new-age refs just didn’t deign to whistle.
Kerr’s Warriors are storming along at 10-2, following Friday night’s win over Boston, and the forum for his rant (a discussion on Bay Area-local radio, KNBR, on Thursday afternoon) didn’t take place following a travel-heavy Warrior loss. Like his last anti-travel beef, in the minutes after a Golden State loss to San Antonio from last March (via For the Win):
Coach Kerr fed up with the non traveling calls ???? pic.twitter.com/AczosDTRbV
— Nai Saelee(Roy) (@Nai_Roy) March 20, 2016
What is worth getting into is Kerr’s assertion that this is “a case of they have so many things to look at.”
Think of all the things a referee has to pay attention to when a guard comes to meet a pass a step behind the three-point line, with a screener of a teammate rising from below to initiate screen and roll action. The ref has to watch his feet as he collects the ball for a travel, but also for his spot behind the line: Kerr’s Warriors have made it so once was a bad and quick shot from out there is now a strategic and efficient part of the repertoire.
You have to watch the defender’s hands – as Kerr points out, “you can’t handcheck, you can’t put a hand on a guy or it’s a foul” – and you have to make sure a second or third defender isn’t getting in the way of the screener coming to meet his teammate. That became a needed point of emphasis a few years back as the league, thankfully, moved to free up the ability to move away from the ball.
From there we have to make sure that the strong side helpers aren’t zoning up too much, that any big men defenders are keeping out of the lane in anticipation of a drive from the guard or a split from the screener.
Oh, yeah. The screen and roll. The ref has to watch to make sure the teammate doesn’t set an illegal, moving screen and that the ball-handler doesn’t push off in a Kevin Durant-styled rip-through move on a shot. He or she has to watch for the ball-handler pushing off to free himself as the screen sets up, and watch if the ball-handler takes off too quickly (leaving his screening teammate prone for an offensive foul). And, all along, refs have to watch if the two defenders in the possession act appropriately as they try to solve basketball’s Great Unsolvable Play: the pick and roll.
Watching for happy feet, as one would do minding the court in a pee-wee practice, seems not only quaint, but borderline impractical. Not unlike asking swimming meet judges to make sure swimmers have taken in enough oxygen into their lungs before going under water.
This isn’t to excuse the missteps, which do clearly exist. It’s to encourage room for empathy.
How is it that the best referees in the world, the ones that have spent decades practicing their craft, the ones that follow up nights spent on the court practicing that craft with unending film study and discussion (as mandated by the NBA), still miss calls that are so obvious to all of us as we watch?
Isn’t it clicking, yet? That this is an impossibly-tough game to call? Impractical to assume one can get anywhere close to calling it all correctly? Even for the obvious, entry-level stuff?
If the best can’t get it right, then maybe we should start to re-think things a bit. To understand that some Great Wave of New Refs That Would Nail It isn’t waiting in reserve. That while there is room to grow and get better and adapt, that we are working at our absolute peak when it comes to the quality of basketball referee work. If you think otherwise, treat yourself to an often uproariously bad afternoon spent watching NCAA ref calls.
Sometimes the best still miss the obvious. We are not watching robots, here.
Well, I mean, Isiah Thomas might think we are:
“Consequently, our game today is not about artistry and origination. It’s about shoot it 20 times from here. It’s been broken down into really a cold science, which takes emotions, feeling, love, passion – all of those things – out of the sport. And when you take those things out of the sport, do you really have a sport?”
But that’s Isiah Thomas. He thought that Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury in the same backcourt was a good idea. And then, when that failed, tried to sell Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph starting in the same frontcourt.
Light travels faster than sound, though, and sometimes these calls get lost along the way.
So it goes, on our way to another 110-point game. Given the alternative, as we saw during the NBA’s low years from 1999 through 2004, it’s hard to complain too fervently.
You’ll get your calls, eventually. A lot of other infractions along the way have to be minded as well, though.
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