NBA referees

How the NBA explains away all of those missed traveling calls

How the NBA explains away all of those missed traveling calls

The NBA has decided it is going to attempt to clarify its traveling rules very soon but the rules haven’t changed – the league is just going to attempt to further explain a rule that seems to be different than what’s called a travel at all other levels of basketball.

At the heart of the matter is what the league calls “the gather” – the time when a player finishes his dribble and begins a drive to the basket. The NBA allows players to gather the ball before its referees begin to count that player’s steps. The result is a situation like this, which appears to everybody who has ever played the game as a flagrant travel – but isn’t by NBA rule.

The league’s long and lean players are taking advantage of this rule, of course. They move so fast that very often humans can’t really ascertain in real time when the “gather” ends and the dribble should begin. Combine that with the league’s desire to keep its game moving and not clutter it with too many whistles and you get some uncalled travels. And then, of course, there’s the James Harden step-back move, which has become controversial because he certainly appears to be traveling before shooting.

My personal definition has always had to do with keeping track of a player’s pivot foot. As you shoot or pass, you’re allowed to lift that foot and as long as it doesn’t hit the ground before you unload the ball. That’s not traveling, at any level of basketball. It’s why young players are taught to jump stop – land on both feet at the same time – so that they can use either foot as their pivot foot.

Beyond that -- in spite of the NBA’s explanation of its “gather” – it’s still a mystery to me in the NBA. It’s so difficult to find that “gather” that I’ve given up. And I’m sticking to the opinion I’ve had since 2009, when I first heard about this gather thing – it’s just something the NBA made up to justify some of its players taking an extra step.

At least today's NBA refs aren't out to get somebody every night

At least today's NBA refs aren't out to get somebody every night

You’ve probably heard about it by now – NBA referees have announced they are going to live tweet with fans during games every week, explaining calls and answering questions.

This can’t possible end well, can it?

A Twitter exchange with the referees trying to explain why James Harden gets that extra step on his step-back jumper would take more time and bandwidth than Twitter can afford.

And I would hope somebody would ask why the referees are now made to put up with so much guff from players compared to what they used to have to hear. Draymond Green is allowed to go bonkers on those guys every night and seldom even gets a technical foul.

I’m sure Rasheed Wallace would like to know why that’s allowed to happen.

But seriously, if I’m one of the refs tasked with operating the Twitter account during a game when one of my counterparts makes a very bad call, I’m not sure I want to have to call him out on it.

And I certainly don’t want to be the referee sitting in that Twitter chair when the trolls come out, spewing all kinds of nasty stuff that doesn’t merit a response but sometimes can drive you over the edge and into some sort of crazy debate you can’t win.

I feel for the men with the whistles in the NBA. They are analyzed and critiqued to death by the league these days – much more than ever before. But it’s impossible to do their job and any criticism of these people must start with that.

And what I see from the on-court officials these days is an effort to get the call correct and not nearly as much bias as I saw a few decades ago.

When I started covering the league in the 1980s, I can tell you there were nights when the bias of some of the old-school referees was obvious.

There was bias against certain players, coaches and teams. And I saw a lot of it. There were people out there dispensing their own brand of justice as they pleased, with apparently no oversight. They carried grudges, friendships, prejudices and arguments onto the court every night -- setting themselves up on some nights as the most powerful people in the sport.

They got away with way too much.

I don’t see it often these days. And that has nothing to do with anything that’s going to be discussed on Twitter.


NBA referees vs. Mark Cuban -- if fines don't work, suspend him

NBA referees vs. Mark Cuban -- if fines don't work, suspend him

If you haven't read about the latest shots fired in the war between the NBA and its officials, you need to go here to check it out. Already irked about the league's "last two minute reports," referees are up in arms about all the harassment they're taking from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. A letter from the officials' association's counsel details several examples of Cuban's mistreatment of officials and the impact it may be having:

In a recent letter to Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, NBRA general counsel Lee Seham outlined what the union considers to be a lengthy pattern of documented violations by Cuban of the NBA constitution and “undue influence of the league’s management of its officials.”

“We consider the threat to the integrity of NBA basketball presented by Mr. Cuban’s misconduct to be real and growing,” Seham wrote on Dec. 9.

Cuban's public harassment of officials has been documented in the past and anyone who has watched Dallas games frequently has seen examples. He is not shy about showing them up -- conduct league owners are not supposed to engage in.  The problem is, like a lot of NBA owners, the league cannot influence Cuban's behavior with fines. He is too rich. He mocks them. I believe at some point the NBA is going to have to start barring him from arenas or from the vicinity of the court if it wants to deter him.

At the same time, if the league's officials are being intimidated by his antics, they need to take inventory. His behavior should not impact them any more than fan reaction to their calls. In fact, I would assume his antics would push the average official into making more calls against Cuban's team. In the old days of rogue officials, that stuff happened all the time in the NBA with players. Referees held grudges and never hesitated to show it.

I don't want that day to ever return. But I also believe that in order to recruit and maintain the best officials in the world -- which the NBA has -- they must be treated properly by everyone associated with the league. If fines don't stop poor behavior, suspensions must be next.