Are referees ruining the NBA?


Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) disputes a call by referee David Jones (36) during the first half against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Ryan Michalesko/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Tarik Fermin, Guest Writer

There’s always that one guy, who swears the game is “soft now”, and that players from this era “would never survive” in any older era of the NBA. And for me it’s annoying to hear, since the game and the way it’s played morphs into so many different versions and styles of play, that it’s more fun to just appreciate the change.

But lately referees and obviously bad calls have been playing a critical role in the outcome of games, and it’s  seeming as if that one guy might be right?

There have been a couple instances in games especially in the 2020-21 season, where referees and certain calls, especially foul calls and ejections have been faulty at best. A prime example would be when the Golden State Warriors and the Charlotte Hornets faced off on Feb. 20. 

Seconds left at the end of the fourth quarter, 100-98, Warriors lead. It’s a jump ball at half court, and point guard Lamelo Ball steps up to the challenge against Warriors’ Brad Wanamaker. After Ball wins the tip-off,  forward Gordon Hayward loses control of the ball, and Warriors power forward Draymond Green rushes to wrestle the ball free to gain possession.

 The refs make the call and the ball somehow goes to the Hornets, Draymond Green angrily gets up, rightfully confused as it was a bad call. The referees promptly ejected Draymond Green with no hesitation, letting the Hornets win the game at the buzzer, while the Warriors had lost one of their most capable defenders.

Instances like these, where the game is on the line, and the refs have made a debatable call, have been increasingly happening in today’s NBA. Now I’m not saying that “the game is too soft nowadays”, but I am saying this is a major problem. It’s no secret that officials will tend to make more calls in favor of the offense, especially as of late. This allows players to bend the nuances of the rulebook to help them score more and in some cases even win games.

 A couple years back, James Harden was lighting up the NBA’s best defenders and racking in absurd stats, partly because of his massive free throw count. There was a lot of talk about James Harden’s stepback move, regarding whether it was a travel or not, and his excessive foul drawing. 

Go back even further, you’ll see the NBA have to institute the “Rip-Through Rule” simply because Kevin Durant drew fouls so effortlessly by purposefully pushing his arms into the defenders hand when he shot. Even now, Atlanta Hawks point guard, Trae Young, has time and time again, thrown himself into defenders to draw a call and nine times out of ten, the refs will give him the foul call. Nowadays drawing contact and getting to the free throw line isn’t just another rule, it’s part of the game, and it’s nearly a skill.

I think this problem is easily solved though. Referees obviously have a tough job as it is. If they make the right call, they’re “just doing their job right” and they get no praise for it. If they don’t make the right call, they’re heavily bashed and painted as the villain in the situation. Often I think that officials aren’t given enough credit as it is, and I think there are a couple solutions to the problem of referees in the NBA. 

First of all, I think as a community of fans and not just NBA fans but this goes for any sport, we need to stop dehumanizing referees for doing their jobs. Unless there were under-the-table dealings where the officials were bought off or bribed to change the outcome of a game, referees should not get the hate that they do. At least if they do get the hate that they do, they should get the praise that they deserve for making the right call when it counts. Another, less general solution, would be for the NBA to put more cameras at different, and newer angles, to help put an end to the unknown, hearsay situations on the court. This could give a more concrete answer to what really happened during a situation where there’s a tough call to make. 

Either way, referees have become a problem in the NBA now, and the higher-ups need to dial the power of the rulebook back enough to let the players play the game we all love to watch.