In an effort to focus on the action instead of the personal dramas of the game, the NBA is blowing the whistle. Literally. Last month the league announced a crackdown on player complaining. Any overt gestures or a reaction an official deems excessive will be met with a technical foul. The decision is part of the NBA's effort to enhance the fans' experience and stems from research the league says indicates its customers are growing tired of seeing players act out. Teams got their first taste of the new rule last week, when referees in a preseason game between the Celtics and the Knicks called four technicals within 16 seconds, including two on Boston's Kevin Garnett, who was ejected.
Player response has been profoundly negative. "If you give [the referees] that much control," says Shaquille O'Neal, "you might as well start selling their jerseys at Foot Locker." Last week the players' union announced plans to slap the league with a lawsuit. The union's beef is less about the quicker whistles than about the punishment that comes with them. In addition to showing less tolerance toward complaints, the NBA doubled the cost of each technical. The first five offenses will draw $2,000 fines, the next five $3,000, and techs 11 through 15 will cost players and coaches $4,000 each. "The new unilateral rule changes are an unnecessary and unwarranted overreaction on the league's behalf," said NBPA director Billy Hunter. "We fear these changes may actually harm our product."
The NBA hasn't had much success tinkering with the game recently. In 2006 the league proudly introduced a microfiber ball. The reviews for the new rock were resoundingly negative, and after two months the league pulled the plug and reverted to leather. The crusade against complaining may meet a similar fate. A little less yapping on the players' part is not a bad prospect, but no fan's experience is enhanced by seeing the stars he or she shelled out hundreds of dollars to watch get tossed for showing a little emotion.