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Giving officals more power a big mistake

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Kevin Hench

An accomplished film and television writer, Kevin Hench's latest screenwriting credit is for The Hammer, which stars Adam Carolla. His podcast, Spider and the Henchman, is available every Friday on iTunes. MORE>>
   
 

The two best players on the planet are on a collision course for what could be an epic torch-passing final between the Lakers and Heat.

The Celtics, the most storied franchise in NBA history, will start five certain, likely or potential Hall of Famers.

A superstar is rising in Oklahoma City.

The greatest coach in all of sports history will be pursuing an almost incomprehensible fourth three-peat.

And so where does David Stern want to allocate more power?

The officials, of course.

With his so-called Respect for the Game rules, Stern is transferring power from the people he calls “the greatest athletes in the world” to a group of people who have consistently disgraced the sport.

Now that’s leadership.

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Who wouldn’t want to shift power from Steve Nash — an elite professional with an extraordinary skill set — to Bennett Salvatore, a national running joke among hardcore hoop fans?

Stern, having decided that the chronic bitching and moaning from players to refs had gone too far, addressed the symptom but not the cause.

Players will now be T’d up for waving off an official as a sign of disrespect; running up to an official from across the court, waving arms in disbelief or jumping up and down in disbelief; or clapping sarcastically at an official. (“Dude, I was clapping sincerely! That was a great call.”)

And those technicals will now cost double ($2,000 apiece for the first five, escalating from there).

This fails to address the real problem. The reason NBA players complain about the officiating is the same reason Jon Stewart gave it to Larry King for pillorying CNN: It’s terrible.

Forget the huge black eyes of the Tim Donaghy scandal and the 1990s first-class-ticket-downgrade tax evasion scandal for the moment. Never mind the criminal element that pops up from time to time among NBA officials. The actual in-game officiating is so suspect it almost — almost — makes Major League Baseball umpires look competent.

One obvious remedy is continued expansion of replay. In the NFL when a ref misses a (reviewable) call the player doesn’t jump up and shake his fist in his face. He frantically pantomimes to his own sideline the urgent need to throw the challenge flag. The most obvious place replay could smooth things out by getting the calls right would be on those high-speed block-charge collisions with the defender’s feet hovering around the dotted line. (And to anyone who is still holding onto that quaint, bygone notion that replay takes too long, I submit it would be a whole hell of a lot faster than teeing up a player, relaying it to the scorer’s table, engaging the coach, clearing the lane and shooting the free throws.)

Sure, we could expand replay by having the fourth official watch the game the way an NFL replay official watches the final two minutes and OT. Or we could just mandate that the (lousy) officials call techs for any reaction to their countless missed calls that signals disagreement.

In a shocking development, the players’ union is unhappy with the new rules. In an equally shocking development, David Stern could give a crap.

“They will come to understand that we actually have a joint goal here,” said Stern, at his condescending best. “That to have the greatest athletes in the world whining up and down the court is nothing that anyone who loves this game would love to see.”

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As opposed to watching a guy standing all alone at the foul line shooting technical free throws, which is something everyone loves to see.

The rules themselves don’t seem terribly unreasonable. Until, that is, you see them enforced by the gang that couldn’t whistle straight.

Check out this clip of Kyle Korver — that notorious hothead — getting T’d up for tapping his elbow as he (silently) runs back on D.

In another quick-trigger preseason massacre, the refs handed out four techs in 16 seconds and ejected Kevin Garnett in a game between the Celtics and Knicks, leading to KG laughing sarcastically, which will have to be added as a no-no next year.

One thing was clear: The players had no idea what was allowed and what wasn’t, a sad reality for which Stern naturally blames “the greatest athletes in the world.”

“Stu Jackson shared video with the teams about what is allowed and what isn’t allowed,” said Stern, referring to his Exec VP of Basketball Operations. “And it’s pretty easy. In some cases, players were a little confused and they’re being illuminated with respect to it.”

“Being illuminated.” That’s right. They’re not being controlled, robbed at whistle-point or infantilized. They’re “being illuminated.”

Stern is just Strother Martin trying to get Cool Hand Luke’s “mind right.”

Celtics broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn pretty much summed up the reaction of everyone not named David Stern or Stu Jackson to the new rules.

“This is stupid!” cried Tom Heinsohn as Garnett was banished to the showers.

When asked what he thought of fans’ hugely negative Twittering about the new rules, Stern couldn’t even feign concern that the consumers of his product are rejecting the new formula like so much New Coke.

“We love that our fans are engaged and discussing this,” he said, channeling FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s standard response to criticism of soccer officials. “And we are confident that by the opening of the season all will be calm.”

Calm? Really?

How can a player with a pulse hope to avoid being assessed a technical under these new rules? When a player makes a great play — say, running the length of the court and cleanly blocking a shot — only to be erroneously whistled for a foul, how is he supposed to remain perfectly placid?

The only way this would be possible is if the flesh-and-blood players were replaced by emotionless automatons. (Although, as the Korver clip proves, emotionless automatons can also be T’d up under the new rules.)

“To the extent that the harsher treatment from the referees leads to a stifling of the players’ passion and exuberance for their work, we fear these changes may actually harm our product,” said union executive director Billy Hunter, sounding like someone who, you know, cares about the product. “The changes were made without proper consultation with the Players Association, and we intend to file an appropriate legal challenge.”

C’mon, Billy, respect the game. And by “respect the game” we mean bow obsequiously to the three least-competent people on the court.

Stern is typically unfazed by Hunter’s threat of legal challenge.

“We encourage them to exercise all of the rights that they have,” said Stern in a tone that smugly conveyed his subtext: They have no rights.

So we can all look forward to Game 7 of the 2011 NBA Finals between the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.

Only Kobe Bryant won’t be able to play, having picked up his seventh technical of the postseason for sarcastic clapping in Game 6.

But, hey, David Stern respects the game.

Tagged: Celtics, Lakers

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