There has been no shortage lately of criticism for the NBA’s officials. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, Lakers coach Phil Jackson (twice), and Mavericks center Erick Dampier are only some of the most recent figures to speak out and incur fines from the league office for detrimental comments.
In fact, it has been such a problem that Commissioner David Stern has threatened further violators with potential suspensions for verbal abuse of the referees. And I understand.
First, from a league standpoint, questioning the authority of professional officials hired to make correct calls in games reflects poorly on the league. The decisions of the referees are largely judgment-based and not cut-and-dried interpretations of rules.
From the standpoint of the officials, it is rough. Having officiated basketball for a semester at USC myself, I know firsthand how difficult it is to make split-second determinations with confidence. Viewers and analysts, who have the lofty benefit of replay, are unforgiving of the refs’ circumstances.
That said, these comments are in some ways justifiable, too. The criticisms are rarely manifestations of deep-seated anger and dissatisfaction with the officiating in the league (after all, it does not make the news when a referee gets a call right a very high percentage of the time) but instead are just outlets for the venting of frustration following a loss, and in the playoffs that becomes even more apparent. Honestly, no one ever sees a coach or player complain about poor calls after a win.
My true beef, then, comes with something incredibly abhorrent that I observed today. While partaking of Game 5 between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat today, I picked up — over and over again — on negative remarks directed at the refs from the color commentator whenever a call or n0-call went against Boston. I found it quite nauseating.
At halftime, the studio host mentioned the commentator’s name, Tom Heinsohn, so I quickly looked him up. Reads his NBA.com bio:
Known for his hard-nosed style of play, yet possessing a superb shooting touch and good body control, Tom Heinsohn was a vital cog in the Boston Celtics’ dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s.
I forgot to tell you that the game was broadcast on NBA TV.
What an outrage. How is it that the league can put up with such clearly partisan commentating on a national network let alone its own representative TV station? I understand that many broadcasters support their respective teams. As such, if it were a local Celtics broadcast, this would all be slightly less offensive. But it wasn’t. It was a national broadcast of a playoff game.
Despite his career as a player, Heinsohn is now a journalist and an ambassador of the media. Accordingly, he is bound by the objectivity required of any other journalist.
Openly flaunting his favoritism for his former team is journalistically unethical and downright wrong. In my opinion, he shouldn’t get to call any more games. It is bad for the referees, it is bad for the league, and it is bad for the profession.