Tuesday, September 22


With word from The New York Times that at least two of the replacement officials to be hired by the NBA were fired less than a decade ago, the anti-league ammunition has grown even more powerful.

Then, if you add in the words of Julie Davis, wife of current ref Marc Davis, in an indignant letter to David Stern, that ammunition begins to take on military-like levels.

But, honestly, when I look at this situation from a broader perspective, I do not believe this is an argument that current NBA referees can win.

Essentially, the refs are counting on the ineptitude of their replacements to swing public opinion in their favor, forcing the league to capitulate to their demands and reinstate them to their rightful place on the NBA's courts.

But look closely - who are these men (and women?) who will be replacing them? They are, by and large, officials who are on the precipice of becoming NBA officials themselves. Look at it from this perspective - the last time you watched a high-level NCAA game, did you notice the poor quality of officiating?

I doubt it.

Or try this argument: Are the 61 current NBA referees truly the best 61 refs in the world? Or, more likely, are more than a handful of them past their prime and only in possession of their job(s) because of seniority?

As Bill Simmons has noted numerous times at ESPN.com, it's a bit odd that some of the men calling NBA games today are old enough to collect social security benefits. Sure, the five refs between the ages of 61 and 70 were exceptional at one time, but does that mean they are at the same level today? Or, just possibly, have their skills eroded with age, and their union has enabled them to hang on?

I'm not saying that a man loses his ability to call an NBA game at the age of 65. Rather, my argument is that if the current officials believe that the general public will be up in arms over the poor quality of the replacement refs, well, I believe they are sadly mistaken.

It's not fair, and it's incredibly sad that the NBA will, once again, be able to yield its power like a sledgehammer against a much weaker opponent. Being right, as Seattle was in its argument with the league a year ago, doesn't mean squat when it comes to dealing with the league.

It is painfully true that barring a horrible call in a crucial playoff game, the viewing public will, by and large, completely ignore the situation and forget about the "real" refs. By February, if this situation lasts this long and I seriously doubt it will, any leverage the current officials think they had will have evaporated, leaving them in the perilous position of having to beg David Stern for their jobs back.

Which, sadly, is what he was looking for all along.

(hat-tips to commenter JAS and to TrueHoop)