Five Ways to Fix the NBA Officiating Problem

NBA officials have a difficult job and, right now, a lot of people think they are doing it poorly.
NBA officials have a difficult job and, right now, a lot of people think they are doing it poorly. Photo by Keith Allison via Flickr
No one should put the blame for the Rockets loss in game one on the officials, not entirely. If there were a percentage of blame to go around, the Warriors probably merit 50 percent, the Rockets 40 and the refs perhaps 10, maybe 20 if you are really steamed about it. But, the fact is, there are far too many blown calls and not blown whistles on a nightly basis in the NBA to the point that the perception of a problem is becoming a reality. So much so on Sunday, scores of national writers, players, talking heads, former coaches and owners called out the league for the disaster they just witnessed.

This is only compounded by the league's two-minute report issued after every game relating to the final two minutes of the game in which the Rockets got hosed on at least three critical calls (one that would have fouled out Steph Curry and sent James Harden to the free throw line) and only one on the Warriors. Then there is the report compiled by the Rockets from the NBA's own records showing that the missed calls in last year's Western Conference Finals against Golden State cost the Rockets 93 points including 10 in game seven.

Conspiracy theorists chime in about rigged games and certain teams the league would prefer to see on TV, but that all seems like nonsense. That doesn't mean The Association doesn't have credibility problems, but there are ways to repair them. Here are five of them.

Release all reports publicly.

One of the reason there are conspiracy theorists is that there are only theories. No one outside of teams know exactly what is happening with the league and games. Teams leak the full reports on occasion and the two-minute reports are available for public consumption, but that isn't nearly enough to satiate fans, nor should it be. People pay a lot of money to keep the game afloat. They should have the right to review what the league is thinking, particularly given how many analytics experts have come from the ranks of everyday folks who are good with numbers and code.

Be transparent about discipline.

The NBA is very quick to tell everyone exactly how much a player has been fined or how many games he has been suspended for any violation of league policy. They point to what happened and they often come down harder than is necessary because they want to set an example. The officials should be no different.

Recognize beefs between officials and players and act on them.

When Clyde Drexler was a Rocket, it was no secret that he and former official Jake O'Donnell did not see eye to eye. It got so bad that O'Donnell ejected Drexler in game one of the Western Conference semifinals against Phoenix. O'Donnell never officiated another game. It is widely known that James Harden and current official Scott Foster are not on good terms. If there is ANY indication of a legitimate beef that would cause Foster to change his calls during Rockets games, he should be shown the door just like O'Donnell, if for no other reason than to set an example that behavior will not be tolerated.

Make calls reviewable by instant replay.

Former Rocket players and current TV color commentator Matt Bullard has some of the more insightful comments during broadcasts and on Twitter. He is in favor of replays on calls during games, something currently not reviewable. We all should be willing to put that level of scrutiny on refs during games. If the whole idea is to get the call right, that should be standard practice. But, Bullard (and many others) doesn't stop there...

Add officials to every game, playoff games at minimum.

Bull suggests adding a full-time video replay official in the building, maybe in a video replay booth. He could speak to New York on any review and make the process even faster than it is now. More importantly, they could get it right. But, we would like to take it one further and suggest the league add an additional official on the floor as well. Players are too big and fast for three refs. Put a fourth out there and let two run the sidelines while the other two man the baselines. Far fewer calls would be missed.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke