THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Cuban Referee Crisis
Although basketball season may not be on the forefront of everyone's mind right now, let's take a minute to examine a topic that started to gain some legs in January of this year regarding Maverick's owner Mark Cuban.
The National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) has alleged via legal counsel that Cuban is influencing referees during games with threats. Based on Cuban's history of receiving fines from the league for his behavior towards referees, Cuban's response denying such acts holds little to no water.
This brings up further issues with officiating basketball, namely the topic of anyone who might be able to "work" a referee, converse to the fact that basketball officials give off the appearance of inconsistency based on how easy it can be to miss some calls.
Basketball is at a severe disadvantage compared to the other major sports (baseball, football, hockey) due to the fact that the officials are in close proximity to the fans (or any non-game/team personnel). In the other sports, the playing fields are set in such a way that fans have little to no influence over the way an official calls a game; baseball sets its fans significantly far back from where the umpires are positioned, while football has a large ring of space for the entire team and its corresponding personnel that buffers the on-field officials from being even remotely close to a spectator. Hockey, which frequently shares an arena with basketball in each city, is set up very much like basketball, but the addition of the plexiglass border (not to mention the constant skating) practically eliminates any contact with fans.
In essence, it's just unfair that anyone, including a team owner, can sit so close to the court and be in earshot of a referee. Sure, it may be nice to sit court side and feel like you're part of the action, but that doesn't give an advantage to anyone, especially the officials. So why does anyone, spectator or owner, get the right to talk to an official in such a derogatory way?
The fact of the matter is that nobody gets that right. It wouldn't be very economical or practical to try to change the setup at this juncture to prevent this from happening, but maybe something has to be done to restrict this poor behavior.
Digging deeper, we come to the idea that coaches infamously "work" referees to get calls for their team. In fact, Cuban's response to the accusation that he threatens officials includes a clause that states that any official who changes his calls based on what he hears from team personnel or fans does not deserve to work in the NBA.
Okay, just back up one second...
Let's start with the philosophical reality of what officials should be doing. They should be calling the game as they see it. No one person should influence or change how an official calls his/her game. However, coaches and players have been yelling at officials for eons (much to my dismay), so how is it that basketball officials come off as some of the most influential officials in sports? In no other sport does a head coach get to talk to an official while the game is going on, forcing multi-tasking that is really impossible.
Practically, however, we can summarize this whole ordeal very simply. Officials in every sport are human. If they reach the professional level, they are probably at the very top of their game, but that doesn't give 100% assurance that they will get every call right. There's a right way and a wrong way to talk to officials, and if your attitude towards officials includes dismay, saying inappropriate things involving threats is the first thing that should not come to your mind.
The best coaches I've encountered as an umpire contain many similar and unique factors, and one of them is the knowledge of the proper way to talk to officials: with respect, class, and dignity, but knowing what you're entitled to know, ask, and discuss. Disagreements happen, but they shouldn't involve the owner of the team threatening to have an official thrown out of the league.
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Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.