If it weren’t for the lucrative compensation and travel perks, the job of an NBA referee is about as thankless as a parking enforcement officer.
It feels like the zebra shirts have never been this scrutinized, and, contrary to popular belief, it’s not for their lack of aptitude or eyesight.
There are a few factors at play:
1) Most importantly, advances in technology ensures every call is dissected in slow motion on millions of phones and social media accounts. Any mistake is magnified.
2) Players continue their attempts to trick the officials and complain, incessantly, when they’re not rewarded.
3) Legalized gambling has undoubtedly added to anger from fans. One free throw could cost Fanduel Frank a few hondos.
4) The NBA recently instituted their two-minute report with a dual outcome of transparency and burying the referees.
5) The media and players engage in a dance around blaming the referees during these postgame interviews, which, in the COVID-19 era — the NBA still hasn’t allowed reporters in locker rooms — are all documented live on Zoom.
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So what do we have to show for it? Since March, so about the last two months, the NBA has doled out 11 different fines for criticizing the officiating, cursing at an official or throwing a ball at an official.
Fines for technical fouls, which are most often called for complaining to referees, reached $2.4M this season, according to spotrac — up from $1.98M last season. There were 1,162 technicals called in the 2021-22 regular season, according to @NBARefStats, which is the most in at least the last seven years. To no surprise, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green and Chris Paul were among the biggest culprits.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka could be the next disciplined after ripping the officials following Saturday’s Game 3 loss to the Bucks, ironically in the same postgame presser when he admonished his players for complaining to the refs.
“As much as they’re gonna let you play, you gotta play through that and have our composure,” Udoka said. “If they are gonna call it that way consistently that way on both ends, you gotta play through it and get back on defense and not b—- about calls.”
In the other conference, Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said after a first-round loss to the Timberwolves, “I’ve never seen a more inconsistent and arrogant officiated game.” He was fined $15,000.
The introduction of the coach’s challenge has done little to quell the anger. Neither the players nor coaches have been humbled by a low success rate (48% last season and just 25% in last year’s playoffs). To be fair, the threshold for overturning a foul call is steep. Still, the way the complaints are flooding in during and after games, you’d think the officials never get a call correct.
Beyond it leading to technicals and fines, it’s an unappealing aesthetic from a television or live viewer’s perspective. Give the refs a break.