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At halftime of Tuesday night’s Game 2 in Orlando, veteran referee Joe DeRosa tossed a game ball at a heckling fan. The fan in question, Franz Hanning, was prowling the alley behind the official scorer’s table and clearly gesticulating and shouting toward DeRosa. As the two crossed paths, DeRosa threw the ball to Hanning, who immediately threw it back to the 18-year veteran. While Hanning appeared to be fired up, the overall feeling was that the two were merely having a bit of fun at the other’s expense. No harm, no foul – until now.
On Thursday, Ron Johnson, NBA Senior Vice President of Referee Operations elected to suspend DeRosa for one game without pay.
NBA Commissioner David Stern is known for his strict style of government, and after 2004’s brawl in which Ron Artest and others entered the stands, the NBA has made great strides to restrict negative interaction with fans. The rules are less clear for referees, who are usually unknown and mostly unnoticed. Though the exchange appeared rather harmless, it is important for the league to hold the line thus avoiding any double standard between player and referee treatment.