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No matter how competent a replacement might be, he doesn't get the respect a regular ref does, and the players try to get away with more and more on the court. The replacements are also largely unaware of the key matchups. To rectify that, Darell Garretson, the chief of officiating, has been phoning the subs to review the matchups in the games they're scheduled to work. Also, the NBA has had Garretson work a full load of games until there's a settlement, which may not happen for quite a while.
Stirling contends that Richie Phillips, the counsel for the locked-out officials, "isn't motivated to make a deal." Phillips has been highly visible throughout the lockout. During the Shelton-Williams dustup, he was hustling from behind one bench to the other, imploring New Jersey Coach Stan Albeck and Cleveland's Tom Nissalke, "Hey, are you gonna let them [the substitute officials] get away with that?" The next night, in Boston, Phillips and some of his referees handed out 2,000 whistles to fans, urging them to "blow the whistle on the scabs."
Stirling himself has become one of the key issues in the situation. The officials are evaluated each year, and Stirling's rating of a referee counts for 25% of the final evaluation. Coaches, general managers. Garretson and a six-man panel of observers account for the other 75% Phillips and the refs contend that Stirling, whose background is in administration, isn't qualified to rate the refs. Aside from the usual differences over regular-season salaries, expense money and air travel, the biggest stumbling block has been the amount of money the officials will receive for working during the playoffs. The NBA has offered what amounts to a pay cut for work in the postseason—when the owners accrue their greatest revenues—from a per game average of $1,240 to approximately $1,130, but with more games to work "That's like telling a worker that he's being given a raise but he has to come in on Saturdays and Sundays to earn it," says Phillips.
On the whole, the fans could probably care less about who's officiating as long as Larry Bird can be Larry Bird and Julius Erving can be Dr. J. But that hasn't been the case, which, as time goes on, could become a bigger problem than the fisticuffs.
In at least one case, a questionable call and a non-call indirectly decided the result of a game. In the final minute of a contest in Philadelphia on Oct. 28, Washington had come back to tie the 76ers at 114. Jeff Ruland, who scored the tying basket, claimed he was slapped in the face by the Sixers' Bobby Jones, who later admitted that he had fouled Ruland. When Ruland objected too vociferously about the non-call to substitute Ref Bernie Fryer, a former NBA player who had failed two tryouts as a league ref, he was given a technical. Jones sank the technical, then Andrew Toney made two free throws, and Philly won 117-114 There is an unwritten rule in the referee community that says that technical fouls are never issued in the waning moments of a close game unless a player either makes physical contact with an official or utters that obscenity known to the players as the magic word."
One person in the referees' corner is Bird, whose $2 million annual salary will be more than the total salaries of the 29 locked-out officials. "You've gotta have good refs to play good games," Bird says. "I don't think they're asking for enough. I guess I've always been a union man. I mean, I respect the substitute officials, but I have a helluva lot more respect for the other ones walking outside with families and mouths to feed."
And how badly has the quality of play deteriorated? On Oct. 29 Los Angeles defeated Utah 120-115 in an endless game in which there were 68 fouls five technicals and 99 free throws. "Playing out there," said Laker Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, "was like ending up in London and driving on the wrong side of the road."
Well, that's still preferable to hitting the bricks.