Cuban & The Problem With Refs 'Transparency'
It's a rallying cry that would seem to trigger no possible objection. Like a politician saying, "I'm against raising taxes!''
Except, sometimes politicians end up raising taxes. Because, you know, we need paved streets and libraries and a sewage system and stuff.
The call for more NBA officiating "transparency'' comes now from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the wake of the NBA having twice in the last two weeks announced that last-second calls that went in Dallas' favor were ... (oh-no!!!) wrong calls.
Hey, what's wrong with trying to get something right?
"I love the transparency," Cuban said. "Now if I can just get them to do the same level of transparency for the other 47 minutes, 55 seconds, we'll really be making progress."
Oh for gosh sake, let's put the brakes on this.
I certainly don't think of NBA officiating as a "non-story.'' Yes, it's true that I prefer to think about, cover and write about the games (as DB.com does so well here in blanketing Dallas' win over Orlando that puts the Mavs at 23-16).
I also like gaining an understanding of Mavs moves and the personalities behind them. (An example: Our update on the status of Devin Harris, Shawn Marion and Frisco-bound P.J. Hairston).
And then there is the thrill of previewing and reviewing Mavs games on live TV, as I do tonight with Dallas at the Clippers and the telecast starting at 9 p.m. on FOX Sports Southwest.
The referees? They wear fade-into-the-scenery gray for a reason. I don't want to notice them any more than I want to "notice'' a street light. I just want it to stand there, blinking and operating as best it can.
Obviously, referees can't just "blink'' mechanically. And therein lies the point of contention I have with this "cause'' of "transparency.''
Cuban is correct in suggesting that the NBA has a "credibility'' problem in regard to its refs. But he's wrong in thinking "public debate'' adds something to the sport. He's wrong in thinking certain system flaws are truly solvable. He's wrong in believing we need 48 minutes of detailed "accountability.''
"It's better if it's public," Cuban said. "Why not? What's to hide? ... All you've got to do is do a tweet search for NBA refs during any multi-game night. And it's an interesting source of knowledge.''
It is? Heat fans complaining about calls that go against the Heat in the same game with Pacers fans complaining about calls that go against the Pacers is "a source of knowledge''? And once the NBA issues its "report'' on every single f'in call (and every non-call, by the way, because we want full transparency) from that 48-minute Heat-Pacers game ... that'll settle it? No more complaining in "tweet search''?
Cuban has been instrumental in improving the way the NBA does its business regarding officiating. (As vocal as he is in front of the camera, some of his best work has been smart and subtle and is recognized only in the NBA's inner circle.) And his outside-the-box approach to virtually everything has great value. But what, exactly, is helped by the postgame admission of one wrong call? And if the league sends out a memo noting that there were actually 17 missed calls in the Dallas-Orlando game -- including a travel on Jose Calderon at the 2:35 mark of the first quarter -- how does that change anything?
"The evaluation of the officiating evolves over the course of the season as they notice what's being called and not being called," Cuban said. "And it would be great if we had ongoing updates, as opposed to just finding out in the course of the game."
I'm with Tony Cubes there. But "evaluation of the officials'' is vastly different than "transparency on every call.'' There is, in fact -- along with evaluation -- a human element here that is impossible to remove from the game. We can improve the humans and we can make them more accountable with some form of "transparency.'' We can make them younger, or older. Full-time or not. Taller. More athletic. Better-paid. Heavily-fined.
But we cannot go back and fix the 2006 NBA Finals. We cannot go back and blow the whistle on Jose's innocuous non-travel. We cannot go back and re-call a foul on Ellis against New Orleans or re-call a foul on Shawn Marion in Minnesota.
And one more thing about the human element: If we could go re-call a foul on Shawn Marion in Minnesota on that snowy Dec. 30 night ... would we? The league definitively judges Marion hit Love's arm. The replay I keep looking at shows hand-on-hand-on-ball -- not a foul.
Hand-on-hand-on-ball. Hand-on-hand-on-ball. Hand-on-hand-on-ball. That's what I see.
The NBA is admitting guilt for something it may have not done wrong. Why? Because even in the haughty NBA office ... there exists a human element. A judgment call is a judgment call is a judgment call. No matter how loud you and I and Mark yell about the call ... or yell about the system.
No matter how officiously the league attempts to "settle'' it. ... some things are un-settle-able. It's what makes the NFL's "indisputable evidence'' rulings as a result of "Refereeplay'' such a joke to me. You are a human looking through a pane of glass reflecting an image from another pane of glass featuring impossible-to-gauge angles and shadows and slivers of blades of artificial turf being bent or not bent ...
And you've convinced yourself you are viewing "indisputable evidence"?
(Maybe the reason I see "hand-on-hand-on-ball'' is because there is an angle I'm missing or there is a shadow I'm seeing. Or maybe I'M biased. But I don't think so. Just in case, though ... how would we go about cleansing me of what I know I see?)
"If you're evaluating and you're being held accountable and you're proud of the work you do,'' Mark asked, "why wouldn't you (be even more transparent?"
Here's my answer to that: Because officiating a game isn't black-and-white. I've done it. Basketball, football, baseball. I started when I was 16, when briefly I considered trying to make a living at it. I continued working games on the side until I was 29. It's challenging. You do your best.
Bang-bang plays at first base really were bang-bang. Spotting a first down in football really was a best-guess effort. Counting down a ten-second violation in the backcourt really was a matter of me trying to run, chew gum at the same time, make sure each team had five guys, make sure coaches weren't on the floor, make sure none of the 10 guys were fouling anybody, make sure the ballhandler wasn't carrying or traveling ...
Oh yeah. And making sure to tick my forearm back and forth like a horizontal pendulum, adding up to 10 ... and if the ball hasn't crossed mid-court by 9.9, that's cool, but 10.1 is uncool.
You do all that for 48 or 60 minutes and you do your best and then hope the winning team and the losing team recognize as much, so they don't throw beer bottles at you in the parking lot.
The "transparency'' I desire is about training and effort and earnestness and being Tim Donaghy-free. Because for the most part, the debates about the "human element'' are forever inconclusive ... and therefore actually subtract from the fan experience, which should be chock-full of conversations about the players and coaches ... not the zebras.
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