NEW YORK – Lost in David Stern’s no soup for you proclamation Thursday about slashing player salaries by one-third was this nugget from the NBA commissioner: There is “widespread support” among NBA owners for the league-ordered crackdown on players’ complaining, and the referees will have to adjust to the new enforcement, too.
“In some cases, players were a little confused,” Stern said, referring to the flurry of preseason technical fouls resulting from the lower tolerance for complaining and demonstrative protests about calls. “They’re being illuminated with respect to it. In some cases, a referee might have reacted too soon, and they’re being alerted to it. So overall, we think it’s moving its way. We don’t take it as a major problem.”
Stern went so far as to invite the National Basketball Players Association – with which the NBA is locked in a challenging labor negotiation – to “exercise all of their rights” in challenging the league’s new guidelines. The day after the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett was ejected with a double-technical last week against the Knicks, the union threatened to file a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board over the NBA’s anti-whining campaign.
“We’ll be talking to them,” Stern said of the union. “I don’t think it’s going to come to that. I think you’ll see that they will come to understand that we actually have a joint goal here. To have the greatest athletes in the world whining up and down the court is nothing that anyone that loves this game would want to see. … This, to me, is about protecting and promoting the players.”
While Stern gave a little ground in admitting that some referees have overstepped in the early enforcement of the anti-whining rule, he tried to take the ground back with this statement: “I think the players will do more adjusting than the referees, but there will be some referee adjustments as well. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.
“They’re the best athletes in the world,” Stern said. “And they do have passion, intensity, teamwork and the like. We just think if we can clear the stage for them to demonstrate those skills, and they’re not perceived as debaters and whining, that elevates them to a place where they should be.”
Several players have spoken out publicly against the new guidelines, which call for an end to emotional outbursts over referees’ calls as well as repetitive complaining about the officiating during the games. The owners, however, are on board with the league’s determination to clean up the whining.
“The owners are behind that,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said after the league’s Board of Governors meeting wrapped up at the St. Regis Hotel. “We all see that as the best for the game – not only for the appearance of the game, but it’ll speed the game up by having the players not demonstrate or talk too much.”
Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president for basketball operations who is overseeing enforcement of the new policy, showed the owners video examples of techs that have been called or not called during the preseason to drive home the point that a middle ground can be achieved. Taylor said the owners were “pretty comfortable that it was being handled all right.”
“If we say to our players, ‘You can’t go up and throw your fist in the air in the face of a referee,’ they stop that, and they run over to the other side [of the court] and they throw their fist in the air,” Stern said. “We say, ‘OK, guys, stop it.’ Guess what? They’re stopping it. … They know exactly how to adjust. They will adjust here and the referees will call fair games, and our fans will have a better appreciation for how good our players really are.”