The NBA announced on Thursday that Ronald Johnson, a two-star U.S. Army General and the NBA's senior vice president of referee operations, will resign at the end of July.
Johnson was hired by the NBA in 2008 to help get its officiating house in order following the resignation of Tim Donaghy, a former NBA referee who was investigated by the FBI and quit in disgrace in 2007 before later pleading guilty to gambling charges involving bets made on NBA games.
“When I was hired, Commissioner Stern asked me to apply my military and engineering background to improve the management processes and methods of an already superior officiating program,” Johnson said. “I feel I have accomplished that mission and, with great pride in having led the best referees in the world, I am ready to move on to my next challenge.”
“From day one, Ron has worked tirelessly to maximize the on-court performance of NBA referees, while fostering a culture of compliance and discipline that is at the core of any officiating program's success,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “We deeply appreciate Ron's contributions during his tenure and wish him well in his future endeavors.”
The NBA said in its statement that the league will look to replace Johnson.
Calling on a general in the league's time of need was an obvious move to restore credibility and order to the league's officials, who have taken flak before, during and after Donaghy. Whether because of Johnson or simply because of the passage of time, the general hysteria about the state of the league's officials has subsided substantially over the last four years.
Still, though, the NBA deals with questions about its credibility and referees at seemingly every turn. Stern was so fed up with questions about whether Thursday's NBA Draft order was fixed that he memorably snapped at Jim Rome, accusing him of asking a loaded question. The referees are still accused of big-market bias and superstar calls, with flopping and goaltending calls at the center of this year's outrage.
If there's been a positive development in recent years, it's been the NBA's nudges toward transparenecy and accountability. The NBA has worked to explain complicated calls online, and it even made a Twitter account to explain controversial calls that impacted games. On multiple occasions, the league even admitted its referees got those calls wrong.
Johnson doesn't leave the NBA's officiating arm in perfect shape. But there's no question it's better than when he started, given those dire circumstances.