I haven’t been following the NBA/referee union negotiations/lockout all that closely, mainly, I guess, because I seem to be one of only about six diehard NBA fans who rarely cares — or even thinks — about officiating. Sure, there are tons of bad calls and there are probably some systemic problems, but my main position on the whole matter has always been that, in my entire lifetime, I don’t think I’ve seen more than a couple of well-officiated games of basketball at any level, whether that be the NBA, NCAA, high school, intramural or pickup. It’s just an incredibly difficult sport to officiate and I expect there to be a lot of bad calls given the speed, complexity and general nature of the sport — not to mention the vast number of subjective rules that regulate it.
Maybe my expectations are too low. That certainly may be the case.
But I watch and write about basketball because I love watching basketball players play basketball. I’m weird, I know. But I simply do not enjoy or even often pay attention to what the referees do on the court. Their role in the game is just entirely uninteresting and ranks somewhere below the roles of the fans, announcers and mascots on the things I care to pay attention to while watching my favorite sport.
That said, it is exceedingly troublesome that this year’s season might begin with replacement referees. You can read more about the negotiating impasses here if you like, but Tim Povtak describes what many have stated to be the most contentious stalemate.
The league has been asking for significant concessions from the union, most notably a reduction in pension benefits. The league has said that it wants the union to accept a deal that is more in line with the compensation awarded its office employees and administrative staff.
To let David Stern know why, in her opinion, NBA refs deserve a better pension than the typical NBA employee, one referee’s wife — a characterization she terms being a “referee widow” because of how little time NBA refs are able to spend with their families — wrote a heart-felt letter to the League office.
Julie Davis, the wife of Marc Davis (a long-time referee who, in addition to being a motivational speaker in his off time, has benefited from such on-the-job perks as having his bald head kissed by Rafer Alston), wrote the following:
“In any given season, we are lucky if my husband works three home games in a 75-game schedule. We are lucky if he is home more than five 24-hour periods a month. Who else on the NBA staff can say they do the same? Players can’t. David Stern can’t. Office staff can’t, nor can anyone else who works for the NBA. Referees are unique in what they give to and what they give up for the game.
“It was not my dream to be an NBA referee. It was not our kid’s dream to have a father who is one either. But it is a dream we are fully committed to supporting because it is my husband’s dream. I take on single parenthood and being a ‘referee widow’ because I love my husband and believe in him and his dream. All that has happened with this contract just has me questioning whether the NBA realizes the sacrifices 57 families of their employees make to continue to put out the ‘best product in the world.'”
This is just a portion of the letter, which I suggest you read in its entirety over at FanHouse.
If more real-life, referee-related revelations like this were discussed around the internet, maybe I would care a little more about NBA officials. I highly doubt it, but this inside look inside the life of a referee is infinitely more interesting to read about than the same clichéd complaints about poor performance and conspiracy theories.
* It required a Herculean effort on my part to not refer to a ref’s wife as a “whistleblower” in the headline. If I truly had any decorum, I would have also refrained from mentioning it here, too, but alas…
I try not to chastise NBA referees, but even I really don’t want to see what the JV squad has to offer. Let’s work this out, fellas. If not, our Hoop Head in Chief, Barry O, needs to fire up the White House kegerator and invite David Stern and Dick Bavetta over for a beer.