SI Vault
Jack McCallum
November 07, 1988
Of muzzled refs, muddled geography, modern arenas, modish fashion statements and myriad other matters of note
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November 07, 1988

Opening Tips

Of muzzled refs, muddled geography, modern arenas, modish fashion statements and myriad other matters of note

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•The Detroit Pistons have the most ostentatious—or, at least, the most ostentatiously named—new place, the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich. Where's Auburn Hills, you ask? Why, it's 35 miles north of downtown Detroit, or three miles farther out than the Pontiac Silverdome, the Pistons' previous home.

The 21,519-seat Palace is situated in Oakland County, one of the richest counties in America. And the Palace reflects that, what with its $2 million TV studio and 180 private boxes, which will generate about $11.2 million annually for Piston owner William Davidson, who owns 80% of the building.

•The Sacramento Kings will be moving to their new 16,747-seat facility, Arco Arena. It should not be confused with their old home, also known as Arco Arena. The Kings sold every seat for every home game in their three seasons at Arco I and have topped off season tickets at 15,000 at Arco II this year. Imagine the fan interest if the Kings were actually a good basketball team.


After the NBA's Board of Governors voted last April to add a third referee for the coming season, more than 250 refs. most of them from the college ranks, expressed interest. They were evaluated on videotapes and in persons at summer camps by Rods Thorn and Darell Garretson, the chief of the officiating staff. No wonder there was so much interest; top NBA officials make as much as $135,000 a year, including the playoffs. The starting salary for a rookie ref is $32,000, plus $2,100 a month for hotels and meals, plus airfare (first class, if the trip is more than two hours).

Sixteen of the new officials are from the colleges and five from the Continental Basketball Association. The average age of the newcomers is 37.6, compared with 44.1 for the 34 holdovers (who average 11.4 years of NBA experience). The youngest referee hired was Greg Willard, 29, from Huntington Beach, Calif. The new men spent five days last summer at training camps in Indianapolis and Cleveland. Finally, in September, they joined the veteran officials at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., for a week of orientation.

The decision to add the third official, at a cost of $1.5 million a year to the league, stemmed from a number of ugly confrontations between players in the past few years. "Too many things have gone undetected, and now is the time to detect them," says Stern. "Certain conduct is prohibited, and if it is not called, it undermines our credibility." Thorn says the third official usually will be on the weak side of the court—the side away from where the ball is—at a point on the wing about even with the free throw line. "T think the idea is to clean up the game underneath, and it needs it," says Celtics center Robert Parish.

Thorn also figures the new system will provide much better coverage of the out-of-bounds lines, better calls on three-point shots and more consistency in detecting illegal defenses and three-second violations.

There's worry that a third official also will mean more fouls and more foul shots—by far the most boring aspect of basketball—and longer games. Statistics, however, don't support such fears. In 1977-78, the season before the NBA first tried a third ref—that experiment lasted one season—there were 50.3 fouls called per game; with the three-referee system, there were 50.6. As for average length of a game, it was 2:04 in '77-78 and 2:02 the following season.


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