- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Refs Need a Ref
A rift between Darell Garretson, the NBA's supervisor of officials since 1981, and several of the league's respected veteran referees is widening. Several coaches told SI they believe the split has had an effect on the way some games are officiated.
Rod Thorn, the NBA's director of operations, who oversees Garretson and his officials, says that he stands behind Garretson, who is in his 24th season as a ref. Thorn says that complaints about Garretson "are no greater than when I took this job five years ago." Garretson did not respond to telephone calls.
It is important to note that the rift is much more than a personality clash between Garretson and former NBA official Earl Strom, who, from the free-speech harbor of retirement, has been extremely critical of Garretson, first in his book Calling the Shots, published last fall, and lately in interviews. Strom's latest—and most serious—charge is that philosophical conflicts among officials are influencing their calls. "I see guys trying to upstage each other out on the court," says Strom. "The feelings of the pro-Garretson refs and the anti-Garretson refs are so strong that one guy will make a call at one end, and the other guy will say, 'I'll get that s.o.b.,' and make a call that upstages him at the other end."
One widely respected referee, who asked for anonymity, says, "This isn't just about Earl Strom shooting off his mouth. There is such a division of referees right now, it's unbelievable. It affects close games if you get the wrong mix of a crew, and politics while officiating a game is the last thing any game needs."
Although identified strongly with the anti-Garretson faction, another veteran official doesn't agree that personalities are dictating some calls. "That would amount to cheating," says this ref, "and I don't believe that any of our staff is unprofessional enough to let personal matters interfere with our job."
Still, this official does concur with Strom's claims that Garretson is "power hungry" and that he "intimidates" and "dehumanizes" his charges with threats, tongue-lashings, strongly worded letters and a system that encourages referees to, in Strom's words, "spy on each other."
Says this official: "Darell has made the refs so afraid that when they go out on the floor, they can't do their job because they're worrying about him. Let's say that you've taken all you can take from a coach, and you want to eject him. But you hesitate because you think about that red phone light that might be on when you get back to your hotel room. 'Uh-oh,' you think. 'Darell disagreed with me.' "
There are, to be sure, other veteran—and respected—refs who are solidly aligned with Garretson. But his hold is strongest on the younger officials, many of whom were added in the last few years because of the three-referee system.
At least half a dozen coaches say that there are cliques among the officials and that, in the words of one who also asked to remain anonymous, "they are affecting the consistency of calls."