Debate: Respect For The Game Techs
The NBA this season decided to crack down on player reactions following whistles under a "Respect for the Game" campaign. No longer can players make overly demonstrative negative reactions for calls and no longer can they complain incessantly. But has the NBA taken it too far? HOOPSWORLD’s Lang Greene and Jason Fleming debate.
NO: The NBA is Right On
So the NBA has decided to crack down on extended whining from players over every single call they make? I only have one thing to say to that: It’s about damn time.
For too long players have been allowed to get away with too much. The incessant whining and crying over every single call makes the players look like petulant children, is disrespectful to the officials who – upon review – almost always get the call right, and leaves fans bored out of their mind, wishing game play could just get moving.
It also plain makes the league look bad.
One of the biggest critiques in the media and from fans is the perceived poor quality of work done by the NBA’s officials. With detailed video reviews – note that these are done with slow motion replays, not in real time with instant reaction like an official must do during a game – it has been shown the officials are right something north of 95% of the time. That’s pretty good – plain amazing when you consider the size of the players involved, the speed with which they move, and how quickly a decision must be made and whistle blown during a game.
Still players whined over every perceived slight, for some reason thinking this bit of complaining or incorrect argument is going to skew calls their way later (usually it seems to have the opposite effect, keying officials’ attention on the arguing player, but that’s another issue). This whining leads to the perception of fans in the arena and watching on television that bad calls are being made, which leads to the general theory NBA officiating is bad, when it’s not.
By showing a little bit of respect for the officials – and therefore respecting the game itself as a whole – the players are going to be doing another small part in raising a positive perception of the NBA.
But, some will still say, they are regulating emotion! They are taking emotion away from the players and sport is so much built on emotion!
I’ll agree with the second half of the second statement – emotion is important to success. The NBA isn’t here to regulate emotion. Take for example Tuesday night’s league-opener between the Miami HEAT and Boston Celtics. Plenty of players – from LeBron James to Paul Pierce to Udonis Haslem to Zydrunas Ilgauskas were still able to disagree with a call and make their case without issue. Haslem in particular waited until after play had stopped, then went and tracked down the official who made a call against him, talking respectfully and getting an explanation. James was seen talking all the way down the floor to the other end after being called for a foul. Pierce, after being called for blocking on a James fast break, was still allowed to be mopey.
Emotion isn’t being regulated – it’s simply being reigned in to a point that can be considered respectful. Before players could do things like throwing an "air punch" as long as it wasn’t directed at an official (this is a ruling from 2006). Now they can’t. Is it any more respectful to make the same action in the opposite direction? Of course not – the meaning is the same.
Players are still allowed to disagree – they just can’t be overly demonstrative.
As for arguing, whining, and moping, that’s still going to be up to the official. Players and coaches will be given verbal warnings when enough is enough, when a discussion is over and it’s time to move on. They will also be warned directly before being given a technical foul, either verbally or with an overt action by the official of pushing outwards with both hands. If the player keeps arguing, it’s a technical.
And yes, like always, each official is probably going to have a different level of discussion they are willing to put up with, as much as the league would like them all to be the same.
Now let me ask this: Is that really any different from before? And is it really asking a lot of the players, to simply be civil and treat officials with respect and decency?
Officials are asked to do a very difficult, very public job in sometimes very, um, unwelcome environments. For the players to treat them with common courtesy shouldn’t put any one out.
"Respect for the Game"? Thank goodness, it’s been a long time coming.
YES: It Can’t Consistently Be Enforced
The "Respect for the Game" rule was adopted by the league to honor Rasheed Wallace, the recently retired all-time technical foul leader.
Seriously though, in theory the new mandate comes across as a solid principle, but at its core is flawed and will gradually fade from visibility rather quickly. Like most things in life, there will always be a huge difference between good theory and the reality of which we live and in this case the way the NBA game is played.
NBA commissioner David Stern is taking a proactive step to protect his league’s image that has constantly been under attack since Michael Jordan’s second retirement and the ushering in of a new generation of players that embraced a culture that differed dramatically from their predecessors.
After all, a lot of folks – including many respected media personalities – fell victim to the mob mentality of labeling the NBA a "thug league" so Stern and company are jumping ahead of the pack in issuing the new rule after research found fans felt NBA players complained too much and the flow of the game was disjointed.
Of course this is probably the same group of fans who let their emotions get the best of them during road rage-filled evening rush hour commutes from the job and the fact remains more technical fouls just leads to more free throws which in itself delays the game further.
There are a number of flaws in which the holes of this new rule will be exposed.
For starters, NBA officials were already empowered by the league to deliver technical fouls and control the flow of the game. The new rule is based on issuing a technical foul if players argue a call too long, make overt and demonstrative gestures or other actions, such as running at an official, that don’t show respect for the game.
I brought up Wallace earlier, not as a jab, but as a reminder that these guidelines were already in the rulebook in the first place. Wallace was hit for a record 300-plus technical fouls during his career for complaining long after a call was whistled and aiming visible signs of frustration toward officials.
The problem hasn’t been the players; it’s been the officials who haven’t been up to task to enforce the guidelines consistently. The new rule is being publicly aimed at players’ behavior, but in actuality the league should’ve addressed the proper enforcement of rules directly toward referees privately during the offseason.
The players are only going to do what you allow them to get away with. A strong baseball umpire keeps a consistent strike zone all night, while top boxing referees earn their money by making sure the fighters their officiating are keeping it clean in the ring. No matter the sport when officiating is consistent, players adapt accordingly — for the most part.
The equation is simple.
For example, veteran NBA official Steve Javie has a notoriously quick trigger when issuing technical fouls. Players and coaches around the league know this and have adjusted how they react in his vicinity. Javie is so consistent with his quick whistle that he doesn’t have to worry about guys running up on him full of rage after a call and if they do decide to pursue that path everyone knows a technical will be issued without delay.
Another reason that the mandate is flawed is the subjective nature of enforcement. Is a referee truly going to make this call on Kobe Bryant or LeBron James in the waning minutes of a pivotal clash? Consistently? Does the league really want to place all of their chips on referee discretion in those instances? There is also the fact that the league rescinds technical fouls all the time. So does the league really want to put more of a spotlight on its much maligned officiating team?
I understand that the league is attempting to alter player behavior. This in itself will ultimately help the referees who haven’t been able to pull the trigger on technical fouls consistently. However, those same officials will still have to make this call in crunch time where the game intensifies and raw emotion typically runs higher.
Besides, when did player complaints about calls become so shocking?
I spoke with a former NBA official from the late 60s / early 70s a few weeks ago and he stated that some of the game’s best during that era such as Wilt Chamberlain always worked the refs — stating their case and constantly questioning calls. He understood it was the nature of the business and stated that the guys he officiated knew there was a fine line before a technical would be issued when dealing with him on the court.
As a spectator from pee-wee to the pros who hasn’t muttered the phrase "come on ref" after a call against their respective team?
So what’s next? Cracking down on the fans that boo referee calls nightly at sporting venues worldwide? Guys constantly work the refs at your local YMCA recreation league, so does the NBA truly believe they’ll be able to curb this natural tendency of stating one’s case to officials?
New enforcement of previously established rules or not, inconsistent officials will still allow things to get out of hand.
Respect is earned and not given easily. It’s the reason why head coaches like Phil Jackson, Larry Brown and Pat Riley are able to demand more accountability from players than your average rookie head coach. They have demonstrated over time a consistent approach to their values and, much like Javie, players either get in line with the program or suffer the consequences.
You’ve heard what our voices have to say – how about you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!