NBA now holding refs accountable, but issues remain
Posted: Tuesday April 17, 2007 5:41PM; Updated: Tuesday April 17, 2007 6:43PM
The irony of the Joey Crawford-Tim Duncan incident Sunday was that it happened on Mark Cuban's floor.
The Mavericks' owner was the first executive in NBA management to call out the league for its oversight -- or lack thereof, in his view -- of the referees. It is because of Cuban's initiative years ago that the league now pays closer attention to the performance of referees.
According to Duncan, Crawford twice asked whether he wanted to fight as one of the league's biggest stars was ejected while sitting on the bench during the nationally televised game at Dallas on Sunday. Had the same incident happened before Cuban's reforms, it's likely that Crawford would have faced no punishment.
So it made sense to seek Cuban's reaction to the NBA's surprising decision Tuesday to suspend Crawford for the remainder of this season, the postseason and possibly beyond. He responded with one e-mailed sentence.
"Pushing towards in-depth tracking of statistics may have been a mistake on my part,'' Cuban wrote cryptically.
Because he is no longer interested in being fined -- by my calendar Cuban is now concluding his freshman season in what he last year referred to as "the University of David Stern'' -- he would not elucidate. But I think it's reasonable to assume that Cuban believes the NBA is on the wrong track in its oversight of officials, that the league relies too much on statistical analysis and not enough on common sense.
Officials are now rated far more closely by the league than they used to be. The resulting complaints I've heard are that officials now feel micromanaged, that their authority has been usurped by oversight and that they feel less emboldened than ever to make the hard calls.
It's a funny time to raise this issue now that Crawford is being punished severely for making a very hard call.
My point is that it would be a mistake to look at this decision as proof that the NBA has figured out its ever-complicated relationship with the referees.
This was an easy call for Stern. He'd already put Crawford on notice after the 2003 playoffs -- when he infamously ejected Mavs coaches Don Nelson and Del Harris -- that Crawford could no longer flaunt his power at the expense of the NBA's stars. A league official said some of Crawford's colleagues felt that his behavior, which was acceptable in previous NBA generations, cast the rest of them in a bad light.
As a league executive pointed out: "If Joey Crawford had the hubris to toss out an MVP, in an important game, while on national TV and while he was miked for the telecast, than what else has he done on a personal whim in his career?''
It's also true that more attention now will be paid to Duncan's habit of complaining after calls, of bending down to plead his case in the referee's ear. His refusal to accept the refs' authority and play on is the one weakness in Duncan's game.
Stern took full advantage to demonstrate -- as he did in his suspensions of Ron Artest and Carmelo Anthony -- that he is in firm control of the NBA, after having allowed the league's image to diminish during the post-Jordan generation.
1 of 2