The tense relationship between NBA players and officials is coming to a head. Spencer Dinwiddie and Draymond Green are the latest to speak up about refs alleged disrespect towards players, and not treating them like men.
But respect is a two-way street. Should it be automatically given by players to the officials? Do the officials have to earn the players respect and vice versa? Are the officials properly trained to mitigate intense situations when a player is upset? Do players know how to address their concerns without overstepping?
Let’s start with respect: the issue both sides believe is the root cause. Players say officials don’t respect them as men by the way they are treated. Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, after a string of no calls in a critical loss to the Celtics on Saturday, said the following in his postgame availability:
“We want to treat everybody with respect, because everybody is doing their job. We turned the ball over, calls are missed, whatever. But when you approach somebody and they ‘shush’ you or they wave you off like you’re not a man or something of that nature, that’s also very frustrating. To already be in a position of feeling like you’re not getting the same respect, whether true or false, it is an opinion. It’s very subjective.”
The referees believe they are not afforded the level of respect they are due as officials of the game. In a recent meeting between representatives for the officials and head of the Players’ Association, Michelle Roberts, the officials' main complaint is their belief that the league office has grown too lenient in allowing players to be aggressive verbally toward the refs.
The NBA has long been a players league, and to that end, a star players league. It’s what the marketing machine of the NBA is built around, charismatic, dynamic talents. You’d have to imagine that’s who the refs are speaking about in particular. A quick glance at the league leaders in technical fouls would confirm that. Among the top 10 are: Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.
Going even deeper and looking at the league leaders in ejections and there is overlap with Durant, Green, Cousins, Anthony, and even LeBron James.
Curious that star level players are experiencing this level of strife with the refs. Even Steph Curry got tossed from a game this season.
Looks like Dinwiddie has a point. The aforementioned players are all veterans and know the impact of amassing too many technicals and ejections. This can’t be a coincidence. Green, in a conversation with the Athletic, agreed with Dinwiddie and takes it further, saying:
“It's bad. It's horrible. It's really bad. I don't know why it is. But I think it's ridiculous. It's ruining the game. … It should be one of, if not the main priority, to be solved. It definitely should. I look at a lot of stuff and just shake my head. But I'm unfazed by it. Because at this point, it is what it is. They're going to do what they do. A lot of it is personal. When you give someone so much authority and they make it me against you, you can't overcome that.”
If Dinwiddie is a standard hammer driving a nail through wood, Green’s a jackhammer. But that’s Draymond, and that outburst cost him $25,000, per league sources. Can’t say he’s completely wrong, and of course he’s entitled to his opinions. On many occasions the “beef” does seem personal. If it is personal, what can a player do to an official? Nothing, if he wants to remain in the league.
But what is it about respect? The Oxford dictionary defines respect as a noun: due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others. This is where the real crux of the issue lies. Does either side have due regard for the feelings of the other?
Officials need to understand that the game isn’t about them. Despite any personal animus they may have towards a specific player or team, that can’t impact the way they officiate games. Yes, the refs are human and emotions play into it. But part of the responsibility of being an NBA game official is having the ability to rise above that and make the proper calls. These are well compensated professionals* and as such should act in accordance with the officials code of conduct. For their part, players need to understand how difficult the job of an NBA official is. They are human and mistakes will be made and calls will be missed. However, even when enraged over a perceived bad call, a player must afford the official the respect his position demands.
As adults, players and officials should be able to have a healthy exchange, even heated, without venturing into name calling or belittling. If an official doesn’t want to discuss the call with the player, he should advise when they can talk. Next dead ball timeout, in between quarters, etc. There is ample stoppage time in games for a brief conversation to be had. Officials cannot and should never shush the player or dismiss them as though they are not important. Acknowledge the player wants to talk and make a quick comment about when the conversation can continue. For players, when the official acknowledges and says it can be discussed, the matter has to be dropped until picked up at that specified time. Continuing to berate and hammer them after it has been acknowledged won’t help anyone.
This is all easier said than done. In the heat of competition, people get fired up and emotions boil over and things get done and said. Again, there must be a little leeway for that on both sides. But ultimately, both player and official must have due regard for the feelings and wishes of the other.
*Unlike the NFL, NBA officials are full-time employees during the 8-month season and several reports assert that annual salaries for officials range from $150-550K depending on experience. No, they don’t earn as much as the players. But they make more than teachers, policeman, fireman, and all the other professions people bring up when railing on athletes and their multi-million dollar salaries.
(Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)