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Refs, techs, political correctness? the NBA is becoming a joke


The NBA playoffs started this past week, and I have to tell you, the excitement doesn’t match March Madness by any stretch of the imagination. At least, not yet. But the more troubling aspects of the NBA playoffs are the manifestations of league President David Stern attempt to “manage” the NBA brand, in particular the temperament of the game.

Now, to basketball purists, it seemed like meddling as Stern put in place technical foul limits on players who might complain too much. You know, ruining the-all-too-precious fan experience (more on this in a minute), tinkering at the edges of game for tinkering’s sake.

But this year, we have witnessed a player bias unlike we’ve seen in prior years; particularly against Orlando center and defensive player of the year for the third year in a row, Dwight Howard, who gets hammered every night, can barely get a call, and when he complains about it gets hammered with a technical foul.

That same bias works in Kobe Bryant’s favor. Now, I’m a Lakers fan, but Kobe Bryant is the league’s biggest whiner and should have twice as many technical fouls as Howard, if the refs were being consistent. The real stars of the game are the young, “edgy” guys who have put the swag back in the game but can say nothing for fear of costing their team a game due to technical fouls.

The star treatment has become a figment of one’s imagination, to a large degree as a result of the referees being empowered by Sterns to manage the game. I have a problem with this and I will expound upon momentarily, but I will just say that some of the referees have gotten so caught up in managing the game, they’ve forgotten how to referee the game. Three of the first or second games of the first-round series were adversely impacted by referee calls.

In the final minutes of game 1 of the Portland-Dallas series, game 2 of the Chicago-Indiana series; and most notably, the last minute of game one of the Boston-New York matchup, a questionable call changed the momentum of the game.

The call against Carmelo Anthony in the final half minute of the Celtics-Knicks game damn near made me throw a shoe through a restaurant flat screen. There was a highly questionable foul, which took the ball from the Knicks, and the Celtics won the game in a very anticlimatic ending.

Not only should Knicks fans feel robbed, but every NBA fan who was watching should feel robbed as well. Let the players play, man! This management is part of what is making the NBA a joke to hardcore fans.

Let’s go back to this issue of managing the game, because it has really has its roots in the vestiges of the managing of labor who question authority. I know, you think I see race in everything. Nope.

Not everything. Just most things, because in a racial society there are many vestiges of racial behavior, and if we want to manage “behavior,” let’s call both sides of it. Not just one side. I really started thinking about this last week around the league’s (Stern’s) reaction to Kobe Bryant’s “f*ckin’ fa***t” comments.

Now, I do not condone anyone making disparaging comments about a race of people, a group of people, or a single person out in our society. But in sports, where the heat of the moment meets the competitive desire to win, controlled emotional outbursts and psychological banter (getting inside someone’s head) are all a part of the game. Anyone who’s ever played the game knows damn near anything can be and will be said during play.

It’s not the same, and we all know it’s not the same. It’s not like Kobe was walking down the street and saw a same-sex couple and blurted out his “ff” comment like some homophobes have been known to do. While the comment can’t be totally defended, neither can anything else that’s said in the heat of passion, whether the engagement is sport, war or sex. What is said is said, then forgotten, after cooler heads prevail.

Now here’s the racial edge to this, and maybe even the double standard. The NBA is a 90 percent African American league, with players chasing “street cred” like it’s cocaine. You can’t even tell where the uniforms end and the tattoos begin, and of course, most players have a crew and a Hip Hop “theme song.” And the NBA markets and partners with the rap artists, the shoe companies, the clothiers and “elements” where you know damn well, the n-word has been said more than once. Probably at a game. On the floor and in the stands.

But what if Kobe had called the ref “a nig*a,” would the fine have been $100,000, or would there have even been a fine? Of course, Stern would say there would’ve, but I doubt it. How do you manage the emotion of sport? An ejection, OK. A fine–really? If the NBA is so image-conscious, why doesn’t it ban tattoos? It’s hypocritical.

Stern has been accused of operating with a plantation mentality over the years, and is trying to keep the fan base, mostly White (at least at the games) appeased; when that same behavior appeasement doesn’t take place with the same veracity in other sports. We spare a child verbal assaults at an NBA game, when he can go the next night and see all the verbal assaults, violence and bloodshed they want at an NHL game. Please! We haven’t seen so many behavior changes since the NCAA rewrote the rule book for the University of Miami in 1990s. That was a Black thang, too. And pro football followed, but not to the extent of the NBA.

Other popular “pro” sports (hockey, boxing, wrestling, ultimate fighting) aren’t managing behavior in their sport. It doesn’t compromise the integrity or marketability of the sport. And the sports sells. Case in point, when is hockey gonna manage fighting, which seems to break out more often now, particularly just before playoffs? According to their fans, it makes the game “more exciting.” The player’s sporting culture can give each other concussions, and the referees just make sure it’s one-on-one fighting. In this instance, the refs don’t try to manage the emotion of the game, and I bet these hockey players are calling each other disparaging names all day (in between punches in the mouth). You don’t see the head of the league intervening.

Of course, the NBA banned fighting years ago. Now a player can’t leave the bench to defend a teammate.

A few year’s ago, the league instituted a per-player, per-person technical foul cap. Taking a player’s money wasn’t enough, although the fans come to see the players. They have to sit out games if they reach the limit set by the league. This year, the NBA implemented a “no complaining” rule. If a player so much as shouts or raises his hands, he gets a technical foul.

What’s next? No name-calling? Give me a break with that bullsh#t. Now I’ve reached my limit. Is this pro basketball, or pro powder puff? Name-calling is part of the sport … even for the referees.

If someone calls me a nig*a walking up the street, that’s a problem. There’s no place in society for it (although some do it regularly, because that’s what they do in nearly every part of America). But if someone calls me a nig*a playing basketball, they’re trying to distract me. You play harder, and call them a worse name. And if they called me a gay derogatory term, I’d probably laugh at them and ask “is that all you got?”

Hell, I might call the referee the same one, too, for not calling a foul, and they can give a technical for it–as they have in past years–for having a potty mouth. That’s what Kobe did, and that what he should’ve gotten. Passion and emotion are part of the game. At least they were. Now the refs manages the game, and get in the way, when the excitement is the highest. Then the league president uses it as an opportunity to make a social-tolerance statement. This is too much. Since the NBA is so socially conscious, let’s see what they do after the season. But let ’em play during the season.

If you’re gonna ban emotion from sports, fine. Ban it from all sports. We can be politically correct across the board. But stop it already in the NBA! The behavior make-over is too extreme and is ruining the emotion of the game on one level, and racializing the game on another. Nobody’s trying to stigmatize Blacks, Jews, Gays, Whites or anybody else. Yet, we see a shock culture, mock shock when sports gets intensely emotional. Stern needs to quit it or be noble about it. Clean up all of sports language.

The NBA needs a behavior overseer, I guess. And the NHL doesn’t? It’s a continuation of the social control mindset that suggests the Black league has to be managed to keep “the natives” in check.

It’s really insulting and really making me want to stop watching this soft-soap version of NBA games.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at

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