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NBA Threatens Criticism of Officials With Suspensions

David Stern is fed up with people voicing their displeasure with referees. (thebiglead.com)

NBA Commissioner David Stern is fed up with constant complaining about referees and officiating, calling it “corrosive” to the game. He is now threatening to suspend players and coaches who do so instead of the standard $35,000 fine. This announcement came in the wake of fines against Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy and Forward Matt Barnes, in addition to Boston’s own Rasheed Wallace. In a press conference at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City on Thursday before Game 3 between the Thunder and Lakers, Stern said such things as:

“I wish I had it to do all over again. Starting 20 years ago, I’d be suspending Phil [Jackson] [for saying a Bulls series was extended because NBC wanted another game] and Pat Riley [for saying Michael Jordan got preferential calls] for all the games they play in the media.”

In addition to saying such criticism undermined consumer confidence in the NBA, Stern also said,

“So, our coaches should be quiet because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families, and if they don’t like it, they should go get a job someplace else. I don’t mean to be too subtle.”

No kidding, he doesn’t mean to be too subtle. He actually had the cajones to remark,

“And if someone wants to try me in the rest of this playoffs, you know, make my day. Because the game is too important and I don’t think that the people who trash it are respecting it, and we’ll do what we have to do — the players and coaches alike — because they give the impression to our fans that the referees somehow have an agenda.”

He actually said, “Make my day.” First of all, did Stern ever stop to think that any of these gripes are legitimate? Quite obviously, he did not. They do make a good living in a good business. That’s why they’re complaining: to try to protect it. Referees are human, yes. They make mistakes, yes. A close call that couldn’t be easily made wouldn’t be given as much attention, but blatantly bad calls should not be obvious. There’s a fine line between freedom of speech and slander, but there’s video evidence for many of these complaints. Even the NBA itself has admitted to referees blowing game-changing calls.

And the referees, in plenty of instances, would have an agenda. It’s not as blatant as Tim Donaghy by any means, but think about it. If referees weren’t basketball fans, they wouldn’t be referees. Since they’re fans of the product, big enough fans to actually break into the business, it logically follows that the referees started as fans of a particular team, likely the nearest team to their place of residence. That would give the referees an incentive to give a close call here and there to the home team. Not that all referees do this, but if only one in three do it sometimes, you can expect one referee each game to be bias.

Even though the majority of referees probably don’t have an agenda, they still make bad calls, and all players and coaches are doing is stating their opinions of bad calls. Opinions. David Stern believes that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to anyone just because it talks about Congress not passing laws to prohibit it. For that matter, the Second Amendment was only passed to keep Redcoats out of our face, not to allow crazy zealots to own guns. We also don’t really have much in terms of militias anymore, anyways.

The true meaning of free speech is to allow people to voice their opinions, even if they’re unpopular. And plenty of the fined figures’ opinions are quite popular. You can’t rightfully punish someone for their comments until they start advocating violence, which no NBA figure fined for criticism has ever done. There hasn’t been any slander or libel involved; there hasn’t even been any lewd comments about anyone’s mothers. David Stern is way out of line, and has clearly made some completely idiotic comments. Let’s look at another one:

“Players and coaches alike. They give the impression to our fans that referees somehow have an agenda. Yeah, they have an agenda – to knock themselves out to give the best calls that they can give, and then to send their checks home to their mothers and give the rest to charity.”

Some referees probably do give to charity and support their mothers. But how many of them actually do all of that? Stern is saying it like every official does it. I find Stern is acting quite defensively, and is trying to shape basketball to his whims without considering that it is a quality product already, leading him to make hyperbolic of the kind shown above.

The referees and their bad calls are the reason why basketball is being ruined, and not the “disrespectful” comments being made, as Stern views them. What if Game 7 of the NBA Finals comes down to the final seconds, with a team leading by one point? What if the referees make a completely and obviously wrong call? Would Stern still think the referees were immune to criticism just because, even though they handed the championship to someone? If the NBA were the Government, Stern would be supporting the Wall Street crooks who caused this economic mess to begin with, allowing them to continue what they’re doing without regulation, and punishing everyone else for their misdeeds. Stern is just as hypocritical as Comedy Central is for censoring South Park’s mention of Mohammed, despite much worse occurring on the show, including an appearance and speaking role by the Prophet. If people aren’t allowed to vent, then Tommy Heinsohn will soon die of a simultaneous stroke and heart attack.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who was fined twice in April (one of them for saying Kevin Durant gets preferential calls), essentially called Stern out, saying that nobody would fooled into thinking favoritism for star players doesn’t exist or believe Stern’s opinions of criticism tainting the game. On Friday, Jackson said,

“I think when you start throwing one- and two-game suspensions in the threats, I think that means a lot to both ball clubs and coaches. It seems awful heavy-handed to me, but David is one who isn’t shy about being heavy-handed. It never was explained to us until it suddenly came down in this last week that arbitrarily they were going to do this.”

When Jackson and Stern ran into each other before Game 3, Stern said that he said, “Hi,” to which Jackson responded, “I don’t like you today,” and Stern replied, “I like you.” Though Jackson did say his line really was, “I’m not happy with you.”

But the bottom line is, people need to be able to disagree with the referees and voice their opinions when the refs get a call wrong. There is no reason for them to get special privileges just because they make the calls. They’re human, they make mistakes, and without allowable criticism, there will be no incentive to stop corrupting the game of basketball with more attentive calls.

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