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Report: NBA referee association met with NBPA to discuss rising tensions

Shaun Livingston, Courtney Kirkland

Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston (34) argues a call with referee Courtney Kirkland before he was called for a technical foul and was ejected, during an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)


Things have seemed different this season on NBA courts. We’ve had players never before thrown out of games, like LeBron James, ejected.

Others, like Shaun Livingston, have been tossed despite lacking a reputation for combativeness. Indeed, the interaction between Livingston and official Courtney Kirkland earned them both a suspension, and was just plain odd.

So that’s where we are heading into 2018. Referees seem extra touchy, and most of us are looking around wondering if we missed a memo from the league about a point of emphasis explaining officials weren’t going to take any crap from players this season.

It appears that has players scratching their heads as well, and according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBRA and NBPA recently sat down to hash things out. Present were Lee Seham, the NBRA’s general counsel, and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts.


In a recent two-hour-plus conversation at the National Basketball Players Association’s Manhattan offices, Seham and Roberts discussed several referee-player issues, including the NBRA’s belief that the league office has become too lenient in allowing players’ aggressive verbiage toward refs.

Roberts countered that players are overwhelmingly disconcerted by what they believe is the disrespectful manner with which refs address players on the court.


For example, players expressed frustration with referees holding up a hand -- like a stop sign -- when approached on the floor. “Our players also complained about being ignored, told to ‘shut up,’ told to ‘move’ or, in extreme circumstances, hit with a technical,” Roberts said.

“There have been four or five occasions when a player has gone to say, ‘Hey, what’s up with that?’ and the official holds his hand up like a stop sign, like, ‘I don’t have time to talk to you.’ ... Lee [Seham] told me, ‘That’s what they’re trained to do.’


The NBA says officials aren’t taught to use “the stop sign” to de-escalate situations, but an NBRA source told ESPN that it had indeed been a device previously taught as part of the league’s training program.

I don’t have historical data (if there even is any) for one-technical ejections, but the 2017-18 season has to have the most I’ve ever seen in two decades watching professional basketball. DeMarcus Cousins has complained that despite of better behavior, he has continued to get techs on reputation alone.

For what it’s worth, the NBRA says they are “all over” this subject matter, and are working to try to find a solution to the escalation between officials and players this season.

It’s unclear whether the league, NBRA, or NBPA will be transparent about any changes the sides agree on, but hopefully we will see evidence of progress on the court.