Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe

I watched an NBA game last night, and yet again the contest was plagued by unbelievably inconsistent officiating.  It seems every game I’ve watched lately has a bad call, which will then, with uncanny predictability, be followed by an equally bad “make up” call.  Maybe the refs are trained to offset miscues, but even a 5 year old knows that two wrongs do not make a right.  The league, and by that I mean The Dictator (d/b/a David Stern), needs to put some more effort behind this problem.

I get that the game moves at incredible speed, but if to err is human, NBA refs are proving themselves to be super human.  Not only is there gross inconsistency when fouls are called, but there also seems to be certain players who are at less risk of being penalized.  With respect to the latter, stars rule the NBA.  All of them have guaranteed contracts, meaning that short of murdering their team’s payroll administrator, the checks will keep coming.  It’s not unheard of for a star to actually get his own coach fired, and in reality, if they do murder their payroll administrator, it’s more likely that their next check will simply be delayed pending the hiring of a new administrator, subject to that star’s approval.  There are not a lot of other jobs where that can happen.  But it’s the way the league works, and it won’t be changing soon.  And since it is so well known, I’m kind of OK with it.  If everyone knows that Kobe Bryant will get a shooting foul, even if he is on the bench or a defendant in court at the time, then opponents can adjust accordingly.  The issue that is driving me nuts, though, is the seemingly random calls that occur on a nightly basis.

I’ll pose the following scenario to you.  A blazing fast power forward drives into the lane, and an equally fast member of the defense slides over to deny easy access to the basket.  At some point, the two players may bump into each other.  Two questions come up: 1) Is there a foul?,  and 2) if there is a foul, who is it on?  The answer to question #1 is that it’s usually a defensive foul, unless the defender is a star or the offensive player falls into the “decidedly not a star” bucket.

But if both players are of equal star value, the official’s thoughts seems to play out like this. “I heard a whistle…why is everyone looking at me…oh, that was my whistle?…crap…what happened…that guy bumped into that other guy…I think…damn, it happened so fast…sure neither of them is a star?…no?… damn…ok, remember to breathe….this is easy….you’ve done it hundreds of times…wow, that girl is cute; is she looking at me?…stop, focus…do I need to make up for a recent bad call?…no…she looked at me again…wait, everyone is looking at me…did I turn the hallway lights off?…mmmmm, pork chops….eeny, meeny, miny, moe…it’s a charge.”  And then with great panache and dramatic flair, the ref signals the foul.  All of that happens in less than a second, so I suppose there is superhuman processing in there somewhere.

As a proponent of fair play, losing a contest due to poor officiating is only slightly more annoying than winning a contest for the exact same reason.  Other sports seem to have cracked this nut, either through the judicious use of instant replay or the aggressive evaluation and training of officials.  However they go at it, the NBA needs to do something soon.  One of the other common complaints with the NBA is in reference to the ferocity at which players argue with referees about foul calls.  But in light of the inconsistency, I understand their frustration.  More to the point, I share it.

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