NBA Beat: Lousy officiating result of warped rules

Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) before a game against the Indiana Pacers at American Airlines Arena.

Steve Mitchell/Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

How much longer do NBA fans have to tolerate this?

How much longer do they have to watch Houston Rockets guard James Harden shoot 25 free throws in one game, or shake their heads in disgust as Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade gets away with a seven-step shuffle, as evidenced on YouTube?

How many times do fans have to listen to the league apologize that somebody should’ve been called for a foul in the deciding moments of a game — but wasn’t?

It’s happened twice in two weeks, the latest example taking place in the Dallas Mavericks’ 110-107 win over the New Orleans Pelicans over the weekend.

"After reviewing postgame video, we have determined a foul should have been called on Dallas’ Monta Ellis for illegal contact on the arms of New Orleans’ Austin Rivers while Rivers was attempting a three-point field goal," NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn said in a statement released Sunday, the day after the Mavs beat the Pelicans.

"Rivers should have been awarded three free throws with 0.6 left on the clock."

Really? You don’t say.

Perhaps the statement should’ve read: "NBA officiating blows, and we’re not just talking about the whistles every time a defender gets within 10 feet of Harden."

Oh, we’ve long had to put up with the "superstar calls" of the commissioner David Stern era. That unofficial decree states that being better than everyone else isn’t enough of an advantage.

You’re allowed to break the rules, too.

You’re allowed to carry the ball, slap an opponent’s wrist when he’s trying to shoot, shove an opponent out of the way when going for a rebound and take seven steps without taking one dribble.

Seven, people. Seven.

Then there are the rookies, to whom the exact opposite of all of the above applies.

But rookies have to "prove themselves" to the referees, the experts tell us. Rookies must "earn" their calls through time and experience and playing for a winning organization.

What makes all of this so awful is we have been beaten into submission. We just accept this nonsense. We know what’s coming when Harden drives to the basket. We know what isn’t coming when the Heat play an illegal defense that could be identified by a 7-year old with one good eye.

In both instances, the answer is an actual call from an official. In neither instance do we get the fair call. Or the correct call. We get an NBA call.

In no other league anywhere is this OK.

MLB umpires don’t suddenly tighten the strike zone when a first-year player comes up to bat. You never hear, "Oh, that’s a rookie strike."

NFL refs don’t flag defenders for making a legal tackle just because the running back is an All-Pro. You never hear, "Well, that was great defense, but we ARE talking about Adrian Peterson here."

But in the NBA, downright shoddy officiating is assumed. It’s part of an unspoken edict: Make sure the superstars remain superstars, and everyone else gets penalized because they’re not.

Stern retires next month after a 20-year reign as the man who oversees everything in pro basketball. He’s a marketing genius and someone who genuinely cares about the game. He deserves credit for rescuing the league from the ashes, for being a pioneer in digital media and for expanding the audience and helping the game "go global."

But the refereeing on his watch has been undeniably shady.

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver will replace Stern and has the opportunity to clean up some of this garbage. Silver has a chance to make all the rules apply to everyone — regardless of a team’s market size, or a player’s experience or status, or the rooting interest of season ticket-holders or those following along in China or Spain.

It’s time for NBA refs to call a clean game. A foul is a foul, or not a foul, no matter who you are. Traveling now applies to everyone. Rookies are people, too.

Refs deserve the leniency of being humans. They’re going to make some mistakes. That’s OK, provided those mistakes aren’t of the colossal variety and cost a team a game (or sometimes, a season or postseason).

Fans have been asked to sit down, shut up and look the other way for much too long. They care about the integrity of the NBA, and starting soon, the NBA ought to, too.

 

Five Dribbles

1. Exiled center Andrews Bynum is drawing little interest on the open market. The Cleveland Cavaliers suspended and finally traded Bynum to the Chicago Bulls (for forward Luol Deng) last week. The Bulls immediately waived Bynum. He cleared waivers and has been lost in basketball space since. While the Heat are said to be interested, it’s doubtful they want to risk jeopardizing a good thing by actually signing the unpredictable 7-footer. The Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets, both mostly centerless thanks to injuries to Al Horford and Brook Lopez, respectively, could take a flyer on Bynum later in the year, perhaps in early March. Sounds like he’ll still be available then.

2. As for the Cavs, it’s pretty clear the forever-professional Deng is not used to the immaturity displayed by his young teammates in Sunday’s 44-point loss to the Sacramento Kings. "If you’re trying to be in this league a long time, you’re going to have many days where you’re not playing your best," Deng told reporters in Sacramento. "What I asked of everyone is just to have each other’s back. If you say something to somebody on the court, it can never be personal. We’re on the same team, we’re going to battle together."

3. Deng becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. He said he’s open to signing an extension or re-signing with the Cavs. But too many more games like Sunday, and you can forget it. Blowout losses and team discord aren’t appealing to anyone, especially a refined individual with a winning mindset such as Deng.

4. Former University of North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston, thrown off the team for possible NCAA violations, is expected to sign with the Texas Legends of the NBA D-League, according to Yahoo! Sports. Hairson led the Tar Heels in scoring last year as a sophomore. He is not eligible to sign with an NBA team this season, but will be eligible for the draft in June.

5. Speaking of D-Leaguers, most league executives seem to think it’s just a matter of days (weeks at most) before Los Angeles D-Fenders guard Manny Harris gets his first call-up of the season. Harris is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who’s been scoring at will. The Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers are among those whose interest appears to be high.