When Zebras Take Over, the NBA Officially Has Problems

In baseball he’s referred to as “blue,” but his distinguished title is umpire. “Come on blue, that ball was a foot off the plate!” As a batter, biting his lip and eliciting this displeasure has the potential to determine the difference between continuing an at-bat and hitting the showers upon ejection.

In tennis, he’s an umpire as well, sans the nickname blue. During Wimbledon in 1981, the hot-tempered, tennis legend John McEnroe infamously stated, “You cannot be serious! That ball was on the line, chalk flew up! It was clearly in! … You guys are the absolute tits of the world, do you know that?” His tirade cost him a point.

In March, the Chicago Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich was given a technical for voicing vulgarity towards a National Basketball Association official that had something to do with his team mascot’s manure (also referred to as BS).

All of these offenses were various grounds for punishment in their respective sports, but any could have been disregarded. These judgment calls are often taken on a case-by-case basis and depend on the official’s current disposition.

Ever since Ron Artest’s November 2004 eruption in the “Malice at the Palace” brawl, the NBA’s front office has instructed referees to implement stricter technical foul penalties, which have attempted to mitigate the ogre-esque behaviors of the bad boys of the league.

Over the years in the NBA, slamming a ball down, cursing at an official or overtly antagonizing the striped-shirt enforcer was obviously grounds for being “t’d up.” But the NBA’s newly acquired 2010 rules handed down from the front office to the zebras working the courts are absolutely ludicrous.

According to ESPN.com, referees have been instructed to call technical fouls if any player has “excessive inquiries about a call, even in a civilized tone” or for “demonstrative [disagreements], such as when a player incredulously raises his hands, or smacks his own arm to demonstrate how he was fouled”.

It’s annoying to witness NBA players continuously hounding officials, but referees can’t see everything. If Kevin Love feels that Kevin Garnett is being too hands-on in the low-post, he should be able to alert the referees to pay attention to their interaction on the next possession, without the fear of costing his team a technical shot.

The rule change has resulted in an alarming rate of technical fouls and has led the NBA Players Association to discuss potentially taking legal action. In the first week of the 2010-2011 season, 2.47 technicals were handed out per game. Compare this to 1.18 per game in the 2007-2008 season.

Paranoid of his league’s image, Stern has assisted in stripping the players of their emotions. Stern stated a few days into the season, “Our players deserve credit for all that they do on and off the court rather than being perceived as people who complain because they’ve never been fouled or never committed a foul.” Improving the character of the individuals within a business is important, but is micromanaging worth taking the fun out of the job?

Virtually giving a lobotomy to the game, Stern treats his players as if they’re Miss America contestants. They’re professional athletes!

Chicago Bulls forward Kyle Korver was recently “t’d up” after taking a shot in a preseason game for simply making a shot, pointing to his elbow indicating that he felt contact from the opposition, and continuing down the court to play defense. That harmless motion cost his team a point.

The NCAA would make a mistake in following the NBA’s lead in regard to technical foul rulings. Imagine Irvine’s Darren Moore taking the ball with seconds left in a one-point game and then being called for a charge when he adamantly considered it to be a blocking foul. Is he supposed to remain impassive? Fans want to see that it matters to players. An athlete shouldn’t punch another or show any intention to harm, but the NBA’s decision to regard non-threatening emotional reactions as flagrant turns basketball into cotillion and fans into skeptics.

The best referees are virtually invisible, as they aren’t spotlighted for their miscalculations. Poor officiating is unfortunate, but that’s what brings a human quality to sports. Whether it was MLB umpire Jim Joyce’s safe call at first base which robbed Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game or the previous scenario with Moore, it’s forgivable when a human official makes mistakes.

Replay technology is working to repair the gaffes of referees, holding them less accountable for their errors. The NBA uses replay based on certain situations and not on a play-by-play basis. This enhancement helps reduce their shortcomings which are uncontrollable; however, what remains controllable is how referees react to criticism.

Few calls are straightforward in basketball. There are 10 athletes on the court in a tight space with just three officials present. Blunders certainly aren’t unheard of. But police officers don’t ticket citizens without explanation. Professors don’t take tests away without telling students that they witnessed them cheating. Likewise, basketball players should have the right to determine what exactly they did that resulted in a violation or a no-call.

Rewarding opposing teams a free throw, because a player grimaces or attempts to discuss a disputable decision, is game-changing. Players should be held accountable for malicious intent and acts, but shouldn’t be punished for attempting to reason with officials.

Fanatics embrace or despise the emotions of polarizing players. Whether it was perceived as stupid or sexy, Michael Jordan still stuck his tongue out after hitting threes. Whether you love him or hate him, the Black Mamba (Kobe Bryant) will still unhinge his jaw like a snake after sinking a clutch shot.

If the league wants to be able to profit off of the players’ positive emotions, they should have to settle for their occasional complaints.