Three nights after LaVar Ball caused an uproar by insisting on the removal of a female referee who had given him a technical foul while coaching a game during the Adidas Uprising Summer Championships in Las Vegas, the group that provided the officials for the tournament decided to end its relationship with the sneaker giant … which, after a weekend of flack, now says it screwed things up.
“The events that led to the removal of a female official on Friday are something that shall not and will not be accepted within the officiating community,” Court Club Elite, an organization that trains and develops referees at amateur and professional levels, said in its statement to ESPN.
“Adidas and their leadership acted in a manner that does not parallel our views on integrity or professionalism, and neither should be compromised as they were in this situation. It was clear that the actions of the official in enforcing and addressing unsporting behavior were defendable and fitting of the behavior displayed; however, the agenda and lack of courage to do the right thing by Adidas leadership sent a clear message that the game and those chosen to protect the integrity were not of priority.”
Ball, the father of Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball and coach of the Big Baller Brand AAU team (featuring youngest son LaMelo), threatened to pull his team off the court if Adidas did not replace the referee, who had also officiated BBB’s Wednesday night game and hit him with a technical then, too. Adidas decided first to replace the official, and then, after Ball received a second technical foul (and an automatic ejection) from a different ref and refused to leave the court, to end the game with just over two minutes remaining in the opening half. Big Baller Brand, which was trailing by 10 at the time of the stoppage, received the loss.
After the game, Ball lambasted the female referee, claiming she had “a vendetta” against him. He said, “She needs to stay in her lane, because she ain’t ready for this,” echoing comments he made to Fox Sports 1 host Kristine Leahy during a controversial interview back in May. He also said that the referee — who officiates Division I women’s college basketball during the season — wasn’t in shape, wasn’t “calling the game right,” and was “trying to make a name for herself.”
“You guys are trying to make it like a gender thing. It’s not that,” Ball said, according to ESPN. “[…] It’s not about me hating that lady or something like that,” he added. “She just got caught in a bad place: messing with me. She’s good. She’s probably a great ref with the women. But this men’s stuff? It’s a difference between women’s basketball and men’s basketball.”
On Sunday, the National Basketball Referees Association issued stern rebukes of both Ball and Adidas for how they handled themselves in the affair. The union that represents NBA officials said the “misogynistic comments and intimidation by the coach have no place in basketball – or anywhere,” and that Adidas’ actions “show what happens when an organization does not support those tasked with protecting the integrity of the game.”
After the incident, Adidas director of global sports marketing Chris Rivers confirmed that it was the company’s decision to replace the referee, claiming that “miscommunication” was the ultimate culprit: “The NBA don’t put certain people with certain guys, either. If there’s a history or miscommunication, that happens.”
Rivers also suggested the referee’s gender wasn’t an issue, because “I guarantee [Ball has] had issues with officials of every color, gender, height, weight — as have all of our coaches who lose games this week.”
But coming off a weekend of blowback — and a report suggesting that the three-stripes had been pressuring refs to refrain from giving LaVar technicals “because of his drawing power and [Adidas’s] potential courtship of” sneaker free agent Lonzo — Adidas sang a different tune.
“The referee substitutions made during our tournament last week are not in line with our company values. It was the wrong decision,” Adidas spokesperson Madeline Breskin told For the Win on Monday. “We regret the situation and are looking into the matter to make sure our standards for sportsmanship, equality and fair play are met in the future. Supporting all athletes is critical to who we are. We believe in the power of sport to create positivity and bring people together. Importantly, any representation that we would compromise our values and inclusive approach for the benefit of any individual is inaccurate.”
Whether such an apology is enough to rekindle the relationship between Adidas and Court Club Elite — or to stem further criticism of the initial enabling behavior — remains to be seen.
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