Posted on: June 8, 2010 8:57 pm

NBA's Jackson defends Finals officiating

BOSTON – NBA executive vice president for basketball operations Stu Jackson dismissed complaints from both coaches about the officiating in the NBA Finals, saying Tuesday night that blown calls and missed calls in the first two games were “within the range” of what has been seen throughout the postseason.

“We felt pretty confident that both the first two games of the Finals were officiated very well,” Jackson told CBSSports.com on the court before Game 3. “As expected, in the playoffs in general but certainly during the first few games of the Finals, the level of intensity and aggression is very, very high. You couple that with the fact that both of these teams have a great deal of movement in their offenses and the officials’ emphasis on allowing freedom of movement, and you’ve got a situation where when you put those factors together and you’ve got a lot of fouls called.”

The first two games resulted in 57 personal fouls called against the Celtics and 55 against the Lakers. Overall in the postseason, fouls called are up roughly one per game over last year’s playoffs, Jackson said. The difference has been in the free throws – 72 attempted by the Lakers in Games 1-2 compared to 62 by the Celtics. That’s an average of between six and seven per game more than last year’s Finals between the Lakers and Magic.

“That’s not controllable,” Jackson said of the preponderance free throws, which obviously depends on the timing of fouls and whether they are shooting or non-shooting fouls. Though Jackson refused to give a percentage grade for call accuracy through the first two games, he said the officials are aware of two areas of emphasis based on how these teams play.

“One is, both teams have a lot of movement by perimeter players,” Jackson said. “But also there’s a great deal of post play in this series. When you add up the sum total of Big Baby [Davis] , Rasheed [Wallace], [Kevin] Garnett, and [Kendrick] Perkins against [Lamar] Odom, Pau [Gasol] and [Andrew] Bynum, it’s a war in the paint in this series. And it needs to be called as such.”

Both coaches have complained about there being too many whistles – and the direction of the whistle – in the first two games. That’s just standard politicking in the NBA playoffs. But the pace of both games was slowed by the number of fouls called, and the way particular players have been officiated – such as all the Celtics’ big men getting into foul trouble and Kobe Bryant getting whistled for five fouls in Game 2 – has raised awareness about the refs’ performance. But Jackson said the league’s video review of the first two games showed nothing out of the ordinary.

“I’m just miffed and amazed how the other team complained about the fouls since we’ve been the team that’s been in foul trouble for two games,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before Game 2. “Maybe they do different math there or something. I don’t get that one.”

The best indication of how the officials have done might be the simple fact that both teams are complaining. When I mentioned that to Jackson, he smiled and said, “That’s not in our analytics.”
Posted on: May 20, 2010 6:40 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2010 7:02 pm

NBA gets it right with ref ban

What Joe DeRosa did at halftime Tuesday night wasn't egregious. It wasn't close to a federal offense, even in David Stern's court of law.

A fan in the first row behind the scorer's table was heckling DeRosa, an 18-year veteran NBA referee. DeRosa didn't like it, so he tossed the basketball at the fan. The fan caught it and fired it back. DeRosa motioned for the fan to be ejected. That was it. Nobody got hurt.

No harm, no foul. Right? The Eastern Conference finals between the Magic and Celtics would continue without incident.

Not quite. The NBA did the right thing Thursday when it suspended DeRosa for one game without pay over the incident.

Was the punishment too harsh? Too draconian? Not at all, and here's why: The NBA has zero tolerance for player behavior when it comes to interacting with fans. Players are simply not allowed to physically engage fans in any way for obvious reasons -- the 2004 Palace brawl chief among them.

One of the best things about the NBA is how close the fans are to the action. When media seats used to be courtside in every arena, one of the most enjoyable aspects of sitting there was the verbal sparring between hecklers and players, and oftentimes, hecklers and refs. In many cases, the players and refs respected the hecklers who brought some creative material to their courtside seats.

But under no circumstances can a player lose his cool to the point where he physically engages a heckler -- even from a distance by, say, throwing a ball at somebody. If a player did that, he'd be suspended without a doubt. And the NBA shouldn't have different standards for referees.
DeRosa's suspension speaks to that very need for consistency and was well deserved. Especially in light of the fallout from the Tim Donaghy scandal, what's good for the players has to be good for the refs, too.

Nobody in any job in America takes as much abuse, or has a greater responsibility to maintain his composure, than an NBA ref. It's certainly understandable why DeRosa lost his cool. He's human. But he still had to be punished. And in this case, the punishment fit the crime.

Posted on: October 23, 2009 10:33 pm
Edited on: October 23, 2009 10:59 pm

NBA referees ratify contract, set to return

The refs you love to hate are back.

Locked-out referees approved a new contract agreement with the NBA Friday night, clearing the way for them to return to work in time for the start of the regular season Tuesday night, a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com.

UPDATE: Shortly after the vote, the NBA released a statement confirming that the two-year contract was ratified by a majority of the 57 referees, who were locked out Sept. 18 after multiple breakdowns in contract talks. Details of the vote were not immediately available, but it needed to be approved by a majority -- 29 -- of the referees.

“We are pleased to reach this agreement,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in the league statement. “The negotiations extended further than either side had hoped, but when our regular season tips off on Tuesday we’ll have the best referees in the world officiating our games. We appreciate the job done by our replacement officials during the preseason.”

The refs will open a three-day training camp Saturday in Jersey City, N.J., to prepare for the season, which had been set to begin with replacement referees for the first time since 1995. In his annual preseason conference call with national media earlier Friday, Stern praised the replacement refs -- culled mostly from the D-League and WNBA ranks -- but welcomed the return of the regular staff referees.

UPDATE: Stern also acknowledged on the call that the referees' negotiators had invited him back to the negotiating table earlier in the week after the two sides had engaged quietly in an encouraging resumption in talks last week. Stern agreed, according to sources, only due to the stipulation that the referees' executive board -- comprised of five veterans refs -- would get behind any agreement that was reached. Earlier in the process, negotiators for the NBA and the referees' union had agreed to a deal, only to have it rejected overwhelmingly in a vote by the refs.

UPDATE: The replacement refs were thoroughly evaluated by the NBA's officiating department throughout the preseason, Stern said Friday. Despite what Stern characterized as satisfactory performance, it was never a viable option to enter the season with referees who'd mostly never officiating NBA games before. The league endures controversy on almost a weekly basis with regard to officiating by its regular staff -- mostly generated by coaches' criticism, which is sometimes valid and other times not -- and using replacement refs would've resulted in open season on the officials. With the NBA affected by the economic downturn -- Stern said season-ticket renewals are down 3 percent this year and overall revenue will decline between 2.5 and 5 percent -- the last thing the NBA needed was the perception that fans are paying scarce disposable income to see games that are not officiated by the most qualified refs.

UPDATE: League officials claimed that teams had given positive feedback on the replacement refs throughout the preseason. But despite official reminders from the league office that fines would be issued for criticizing the officials, several high-profile coaches -- including Larry Brown and Stan Van Gundy -- were fined for expressing their opinions about the quality of the officiating. 

Earlier this month, Lakers coach Phil Jackson -- a serial referee agitator -- walked a fine line between poking fun at the replacement refs and violating the NBA's policy on criticizing them. "They're interesting to look at," Jackson said after a recent game. "I always kind of wonder what their profession is -- dog catchers, office managers. They're moonlighting."

In a few short days, such punchlines will be directed at the real refs. As the real ones and replacements can attest, it sort of goes with the territory.

Category: NBA
Tags: referees
Posted on: October 1, 2009 12:40 pm

NBA: Deal with refs 'far from reality'

In announcing that they've assembled a staff of 62 replacement referees to work preseason games beginning Thursday night, NBA president of league and basketball operations Joel Litvin expressed little optimism that a deal with the locked out refs could be reached.

"That is not close to being reality right now," Litvin said Thursday when I asked him when a contract agreement would have to be signed in order to get the real refs back to work in time for the start of the regular season Oct. 27.

No additional negotiations have been held since the referees voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to reject an agreement in principle that had been reached last Friday between negotiators for the league and the referees' union. No new talks are scheduled, Litvin said.

So in speaking with several reporters along with Ron Johnson, the NBA's senior vice president for referee operations, Litvin went about the business of defending the performance of the replacements before they've even suited up for a game. The first game with replacement refs is scheduled for Thursday night in Utah, where Tre Maddox, Deldre Carr, and C.J. Washington will officiate the preseason game between the Nuggets and Jazz. All three were most recently D-League refs.

"We don't anticipate these guys not doing well," Litvin said.

Of the 62 replacements, 36 have been D-League refs while another 14 have either WNBA or NCAA Division I experience. The other 12 have worked in some other type of pro league, Litvin said, while 57 have worked NBA Summer League games under the direction of the league's officiating staff.

Already bracing for a cascade of criticism from players and coaches, the league sent out a memo to all 30 teams Wednesday reminding them of the fines that will be assessed for publicly criticizing the officials. The league has completed background checks on the replacement refs, many of whom already had undergone such scrutiny in the course of their D-League or WNBA employment. They'll be paid approximately $1,100 per game, the going rate for an entry-level NBA ref, Litvin said.

Two of the replacements were previously fired as NBA referees: Michael Henderson, the ref at the center of the inside-out jersey protest on his behalf in 2004, and Robbie Robinson. Litvin said the reason they were let go was not incompetence, but rather that their performance wasn't "up to the standard of those upper echelon officials." But by acknowledging that those same officials are good enough to work as replacements, Litvin and Johnson only underscored the problem: While the replacements may be competent, earnest, and enthusiastic, they're not as good as the real thing.

"We're moving on with this group," Litvin said. "Do we expect some players to vent about the quality of the play calling? Sure. But as far as teams are concerned, they understand the situation and we've reminded them of our policy of not criticizing the referees publicly. This is not something that’s new for us, and we’re moving forward. We’ve got a business to run."

The business of hiring, vetting, monitoring, and evaluating officials changed forever when rogue ref Tim Donaghy was discovered to have bet on NBA games and shared confidential information with gamblers. Aside from the obvious issue that the league won't know how competent the replacements are until they start working, the league also has to be especially vigilant about making sure there isn't another Donaghy or three on the replacement roster.

"We’ve got our safeguards in place," Litvin said. "They apply to these officials. They’ve been thoroughly trained in our gambling policies. You say [they're on the] low and of the pay scale, but these guys are making more money than they were making previously. I don’t view this as an added risk whatsoever."

Category: NBA
Tags: referees
Posted on: September 29, 2009 6:54 pm

Refs have put themselves on an island

I'm not sure what the NBA referees were trying to prove by taking this hard-line stance against the league in collective bargaining negotiations that haven't so much stalled as dived headfirst into an empty swimming pool.

Whatever it was, and whatever it is, it's time to stop it. Not only for the good of the game, but for the refs' own good, too.

According to a sobering memo released by the NBA on Tuesday -- a copy of which was obtained by CBSSports.com -- negotiators for the league and the refs had an agreement in principle last Friday on a two-year contract. On Sunday night, "an overwhelming majority of the entire membership" voted to reject it, according to a source.

Where does that leave the NBA? "Proceeding with replacement referees," according to the memo from NBA counsel Rick Buchanan to the 30 teams.

Where does it leave the refs? Someplace between an air-traffic control tower and a hard place.

Now, President Obama presumably has more important issues to attend to than firing the 57 active referees in professional basketball. Even for a president who has been lauded for his knowledge of and attention to the game, bickering refs do not quite rise to the level of executive order. As for issues related to the quality and integrity of the NBA product, that is David Stern's problem.

It remains unfathomable to me that the two sides will not come to an agreement before the regular season tips off Oct. 27, and my belief has only been strengthened by the fact that an agreement was reached Friday to send the refs back to work. One person involved in the process said Tuesday that while no new talks have been formally scheduled, the process remains "fluid." The most important thing to remember in any negotiation is that when both sides want a deal to be done, it almost always gets done.

The refs' negotiating position wasn't so enviable to begin with, given public sentiment about their performance and the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who would claw the next person's eyes out for a chance to make six figures officiating basketball games. It's my guess that there are only a few dozen people in the country who are actually qualified to do so, and it looks increasingly like we will find out how good my math is -- at least during meaningless preseason games.

But the refs' unanimity -- not to mention their credibility -- has taken a big hit with counter-attacks from the league office about their negotiators reneging on provisions that were agreed to months ago. The refs' standing in all of this has plummeted even further with word that Lamell McMorris, the talkative negotiator who has learned the hard way not to launch verbal cocktails at Stern, has removed himself from the process. If that gesture was aimed at sparking progress in the talks, it went over like a lead balloon with this past weekend's events. League negotiators are now not only pessimistic about coming to terms on a deal, they're also confused as to where the buck stops for the referees themselves.

The buck will stop sometime between now and Oct. 27, because it has to for the referees' sake. As many of you can attest, this isn't the ideal time for a career makeover.

I'm not saying that everyone with a job in this economy should submit to whatever whims their employers can dream up. But a fair view of these proceedings shows that the league has made concessions and been flexible to the extent that's possible, given the way this recession has eroded revenue league-wide.

I don't think anyone can find me a referee who wants to sign up for his own personal revenue being completely eliminated.

Category: NBA
Tags: referees
Posted on: September 22, 2009 7:39 pm

Fisher: Replacement refs 'unacceptable'

Derek Fisher, the president of the NBA Players Association, has released a statement condemning the possible use of replacement referees.

This is a bold move, considering the union and league are scheduled to continue negotiations on their own collective bargaining agreement later this week in New York.

"I, along with the NBPA Executive Committee, unanimously endorse the quickest possible resolution to the negotiations between the National Basketball Referees Association and the NBA," Fisher, the Lakers' point guard, said in a statement released by the players' union. "Our referees are the best in the world at what they do and they deserve to be treated fairly.

"Players throughout the league are concerned that the use of replacement referees could compromise the integrity of our games," Fisher said. "Our fans deserve the best product that we can put on the court and that includes having the best referees. Anything less is unacceptable to our union and our members."

Category: NBA
Posted on: September 19, 2009 11:13 am

NBA sets replacement refs camp

The NBA has invited 45 replacement referees to a meeting in New York this week, the next step in the escalating showdown between the league and its locked-out referees.

According to an internal memo obtained by CBSSports.com, the replacement referees will meet in New York Sept. 24-27. Among the potential replacements invited to the meeting is Michael Henderson, the ref who was the focal point of a showdown between the officials' union and David Stern in 2004. Henderson was publicly reprimanded and suspended after an inadvertent whistle during a game between the Lakers and Nuggets. The mistake led to the Lakers' 112-111 win.

In a show of solidarity and support for Henderson, his fellow referees wore their jerseys inside-out with Henderson's No. 62 on the back. The protest was an early test of the referee union's strength early in the tenure of Lamell McMorris, the lead negotiator who is at odds with the league over proposed reductions in retirement benefits and other issues that prompted the NBA to impose a lockout on Friday.

After McMorris told CBSSports.com on Thursday that the 57 active refs would not attend the scheduled training camp in Jersey City, N.J., beginning Sunday, the NBA imposed the lockout on Friday and announced that it would reschedule the training camp with replacements. With preseason games scheduled to begin Oct. 1, the league faces the prospect of replacements refs working games for the first time since 1995.

Category: NBA
Posted on: September 18, 2009 5:47 pm

Refs: NBA management got raises during recession

At some point in the next month, it would seem logical that cooler heads will prevail, the sniping will stop, and the NBA and its referees will do what makes sense for both sides: End the lockout imposed Friday and agree on a new two-year contract. Until then, it's open season on animosity.

Lamell McMorris, the referees' lead negotiator, reacted angrily to the NBA's decision to cite the starting and senior salaries of referees in its news release Friday announcing that it will begin recruiting replacement referees.

"Did they put David Stern's salary in there?" McMorris told CBSSports.com. "Did they put Joe Borgia's raise, Ron Johnson's raise, and Bernie Fryer's raise?"

McMorris stated that Johnson, the NBA's senior vice president of referee operations, received a $50,000 raise this summer -- in the midst of the longest recession in decades -- plus a bonus for his work last season. Fryer, the vice president and director of officials, and Borgia, vice president of referee operations, each received a $25,000 raise and bonus, according to McMorris. The NBA declined to comment on McMorris' assertions and would not discuss the salaries of its employees. But clearly we have ourselves a good old fashioned case of class warfare and mudslinging on our hands.

If McMorris' assertions are true -- it isn't clear how he'd have access to such sensitive, internal information -- then it would seem to fly in the face of the league's argument that the referees should accept the same wide-ranging cost cuts that are occurring throughout the NBA. McMorris also took issue with the referee salary figures, taken from last season, that were publicized by the league Friday: $150,000 for entry-level refs and $550,000 for the most senior officials.

McMorris stated that the starting salary is $91,000 and that the only way a referee could make $550,000 would be to have upwards of 30 years experience and officiate the playoffs all the way through the NBA Finals. He placed the top salary for most senior refs in the $350,000 to $400,000 range and said the top figure cited by the league is no longer valid because it includes playoff money that the refs agreed to reduce in their latest proposal.

Despite the ugliness, McMorris said he is open to continuing negotiations while the 57 active officials are locked out.

"Our phone lines are open," McMorris said. "We're the ones who got kicked out of the meeting last week. We're not the ones who ended the call (Thursday). It's not on us."

But until the two sides cool off and get back to the negotiating table, it's on all of them.
Category: NBA
Tags: lockout, referees
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com