Undying challenge of ‘what’s a foul?’

MIAMI — Reputations and situations.

When it comes to NBA on-court violations, those other “-tions” seem to count just as much as the actual flesh-on-flesh interactions. At least, that’s how columnist Rick Morrisey of the Chicago Sun-Times sees it after watching the Bulls up close in their playoff run against Indiana, Atlanta and now Miami and the rest of the postseason on flat screens.

Morrissey verbally scratched his head over what he feels is the trickiest part of the referee-player dynamic: Adhering to a consistent standard – across stars and non-stars, across quarters, across games and series – for what is and is not a foul.

What is tolerated in the lane, he suggests, is forbidden outside of it. A slap by a big name doesn’t generate the same whistle as a tickle from a journeyman. Then there is the convergence of those tricky reputations and situations, Morrissey wrote:

In Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Thursday, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s James Harden went to the basket on a fast break. The Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki, who has a reputation for being a defensive liability, met him there. Nowitzki made a passing attempt at stopping Harden, who scored. There was hardly any contact, but that didn’t stop the ref from calling a foul on Nowitzki.

Two factors were at work to explain the foul that wasn’t a foul:

  1. Everybody knows Nowitzki is bad at defense.
  2. A fast-break layup? There’s bound to be contact.

Whistle. Foul, Nowitzki.

Let’s face it, officiating an NBA game has to be a nearly impossible job. Call everything you see and the game becomes unwatchable, a Sousa march of whistles. Let too much go and mayhem ensues.

As always, it comes down to consistency, game to game and, more important, throughout a game, regardless of players involved or clock. If a Kyle Korver-on-Dwyane Wade foul is the same, first quarter as last, and the same as a Wade-on-Krover foul that night, that’s probably the most anyone can hope for.

As Chicago center Joakim Noah said after practice Friday: “As a player, you’ve just got to get a feel for what you can get away with. Sometimes they call it tighter than others. That’s just part of the game.”


  1. John says:

    You have to be blind to not see the bias refs give depending on the player. Even looking past the OKC-DAL series, the Boston-Miami series was some of the worse officiating I’ve ever seen, People can say it’s hard to ref an nba game at full speed, but when the refs have so much influence in who wins the game, whether it be from bad technical/flagrant calls or back-to-back travels on legitimate baskets, it’s pretty hard to say that these games are “fair”. In all reality,in this year’s playoffs, anyone not named Wade, James, Durant, Nowitzki, or Rose is getting the short end of the stick as far as officiating goes,

  2. hardwood0001 says:

    Its not a matter of bad call vs good call.. its a matter of consistency in the calls.

  3. Kobe? says:

    kobe bryant? anyone with me on this one? dude fouls more than anyone and refs call less than a quarter of his fouls

  4. Nisha-Let's Talk says:

    Some of these refs need to go back to ref school.. They are calling UNBELIEVABLE FAKE fouls on everybody! Tyson Chandler and James Harden.. Really? Harden was soooo faking and should get an Oscar for that. All Chandler did was bring up his arms so his team could get back on offense.. He knows that he wasn’t hurt. I bet if the ref DIDN’T call a “foul”.. he would have gotten up much quicker than ACTING “shaken up”.. If you watch it from Harden’s view, and then when Chandler’s back is to the hoop, you’ll see that Chandler didn’t even TOUCH him.. Good acting job.. Maybe you should give up basketball for that, I bet he’ll be better and bigger at it cause right now, he’s just a bench player that picks up the slack that OKC has… Good job NBA office for picking up the SLOPPY job the refs do when it comes to fouls.. Applause 🙂

    • OKCKD35 says:

      Are you serious? Harden did get hit in the eye with an elbow, yes he did “flop” to show he got hit. The reason the tech was called is if youactually paid attention you will see at the moment harden was hit chandler has his right elbow out and was not only swinging his elbow but he stepped through it. Wether the contact was hard or not he still swung an elbow and hit a defender in the face. That and if you also watched the film Harden was trying to get out of the way, he was ducking and leaning left, chandler stepped through him. you can whine about that one but lets just say it evens out with either Dirk pushing westbrook and Westbrooks “retaliation” gets us the tech, or whn Dirk fouled the crap out of Durant driving to the lane, didnt make a play on the ball and there was no flagrant, or how about in game one when Barea, took out Ibaka like a linebacker to give Dirk a layup on an out of bounds play. What would chandler brining his arms up have anything to do with his team getting back, it was a dead ball as we made the shot, and he didnt bring the ball up, if you notice it was the same height as his elbow

  5. homer edwars says:

    i still like the idea of coaches getting one chance in each quarter to have a call reviewed, and if the coach is right then he gets another one for that quarter. If the refs are completely not fure of a call then they should do a “jump ball”. Refs should not have a choice whether to decide to review a call or not; that choice should be left to the coaches: if the coach used his “review call” for the quarter and he was wrong about the call, then he will have to wait for the next quarter to recieve another “review call” to use. This way players will complain to their coach and not to the refs. This way things will be more consistent and blame towards the refs will not be so frequent.

  6. Rich says:

    If James Soften shaved his beard, it will be like Peter Griffin’s chin.

    Bottom line is the MAVs can still win games even if OKC gets help from the refs. Refs have to do an even better ‘job’ for OKC to win.

  7. lol @ dirk not getting calls. says:

    lol because dirk didn’t get favorable calls in game 1 with twenty-four free throws made. typical dallas fans.

    • monk says:

      Bad defense is why he got to the line… When Van Gundy says that’s not a foul multiple times… about the mavs thats saying something

  8. kaypee says:

    @sio didn’t you also noticed that in game 1 DAL has 36 FTA while OKC 43 FTA… this DAL-OKC series. all the fouls were in favor of OKC so don’t say those calls for Nowitzki is favorable for dallas. OKC can’t defeat Dallas even even with the help of those 3 Zebras.

  9. heatfan says:

    its ok to make a bad call once in a while but cmmon, for example, miami vs bulls game 2 charging fouls for d.rose in the 4thquarter, became a blocking foul, and obviusly d.wade was foul by asik, atleast make up for ur mistakes not do it again.

  10. sio says:

    did you guys watch the okc-dal game1? how about those VERY FAVORABLE calls for Nowitzki? –there were slight or no contacts at all on those plays. why are you whining about that single harden#13 call? had nowitzki not been awarded those 24 GIFT shots, the intensity would have changed in that opener. But in fairness to nowitzki, he shot pretty well in that game in both FT and FG.

    • Rondow says:

      In that game 1, durant had 19 FT and westbrook had 18 FT ATTEMPTS EACH. Hardly a foul for both, And in three games OKC always has more FT ATTEMPTS than DALLAS.

    • sure? says:

      dude, Durant and Westbrook had 18 fts EACH.. and you remind of us of Dirk having 24 fts

      • OKCKD35 says:

        there are questionable calls on both teams throughout the series, it is what it is. Dont get mad at Harden for “flopping” when J.J. Barea is the flop master, that little guy flails his arms every play, he gets touched and he jumps backwards. Then gets up with a dumbfounded look on his face. Guy reminds me of martin short lol

  11. Sunsman says:

    come on people…. at any level of basketball calls change from game to game, even with the same officials. Just simply because nearly every possession is different. The game is fast and there is contact. Regarding conspiracies – grow up and accept that this IS about money or stop watching. But then, why would the Spurs be allowed to beat the Suns when Phoenix and Nash were the “sexy” sale from 2006 onwards.

    Finally, compare the NBA officiating to any Rugby Union match, nothing to complain about here at all.

  12. SV says:

    May not be rigged, but when it could affect the outcome, i.e. Thunder 36 times to the line, Mavericks 12 (not including the last intentional fouls), then it’s a problem. And the tech on Chandler was such a joke. That was such a dive by the bearded idiot.

    • GMONEYBAG011 says:


      • Law064 says:

        @SV Dirk went to the line and made 24 ft’s in game 1 so they just let them play a little more in game 2 and OKC was aggresive going to the basket.

      • monk says:

        Aggressive yes, and in lots of those drive out of control (meaning it isn’t a foul every time) Admit there have been questionable calls.

  13. MK says:

    I think the NBA has the most inconsistent officiating out of all the major sports. Sure mistakes will be made your going to miss a call now and then but how the definition of a foul changes every game sometimes within a game is ridiculous.

    • K says:

      MK, I’ve played the game, coached the game and for the past 16 years officiated the game. Each capacity holds a different understanding of the game. Until you’ve gone through proper training and had the opportunity of actually being out on the court as an official making on the fly decisions and being able to maintain your compsure in some of the most hostile environments; because, everytime you blow your whistle 50% of the people will like your call and the other 50% will hate it. You will never be able to understand why certain calls are made and why certain call are not; the answer to that question is so varied that it would make the average persons head spin out of control! Stop trying to figure it out, just enjoy the game!

  14. Jodelax says:

    I guess keeping the game close is what drives the refs to such. Never mind fairness, could there be any right in it?

  15. Realist says:


    Or you can just accept something at face value, not everything is deep, dark, and evil. The NBA may or may not be rigged, but I really doubt it is. In almost every game I see, the ref might make about 5 bad calls in the first half, but then I see about 5 bad calls against the other team in the second half. My point is, it almost always balances out. I have watched my team play every chance I get this year, and have only seen 2 games where the officiating decided the game to where players couldn’t do anything about it. Other than that, I haven’t seen any problems with the refs this year at all. I think the refs do a great job, and shouldn’t be as criticized as they are, but hey that’s just one man’s opinion I guess.

    • homer edwars says:

      Your right, sometimes it is balance, but not always. Just one game can decide a series, The comment from “Troy”, the refs at the end of game slow it down by reviewing almost every close call, what is the point of reviewing the calls at the end of game if the refs do not do it in the earlier part of the game. IT IS NOT CONSISTENT. The NBA can emial me if they want to know how the coach’s can question a call, and that way we will not have every NBA player complaining about calls that are made; they can look at their coaches to help them out, not the refs.

    • andyblessie says:

      You obivously are blind or in denial because all you have to do is look around you on a daily basis. The referee’s or horrible and it’s usually one sided, do you ever ask yourself why, no i don’t think so. Wake up? are you asleep, it’s all about the dollar bill and they want the sexiest match up so, they can make the most money. You need to learn more on how this world works that we live in, it’s all black and white literally there is no gray area, its all about money and power one goes with the other, enough said!!

      • K says:

        Wow!!! You must live a horrible life if that’s your views about life and the World! People are so quick to play the blame game about the referees when their teams lose; so, do the referees deserve the credit when your team wins? Not at all; then, it’s all about how great the players played! So why not; when they lose, it’s all about how bad they played? In every sport; there’s good and bad calls for both teams; however, the only ones that we focus on are the bad ones that go against the team we are rooting for and only after they lose. A good official if he blows his/ her whistle 20 times in the course of a game; 16 times that whistle is probably correct and the 4 that they missed more then likely had nothing to do with the outcome of the game! How about this; let’s just have the players call their own fouls, then who would you blame?

  16. homer edwars says:

    Easy solution: do like in football, where if the coach see’s a bad call he can throw a red flag to have it review; if the coach was right he get’s to keep the flag for another call. For more on how this will work the NBA can email me.

    • Troy says:

      that would take too long they are on a schedule

    • monk says:

      I’m with ya on the review… Make the coach call a time out and say hey go look at the video. The refs can review things in the last 2 minutes now, and it kills the flow, make the coach call the timeout and thats how much time they get to look.

      • K says:

        For all you arm chair referees out there; if you think officiating a basketball game is so easy, especially at the speed of an NBA game, then suit up an try your hand at it. True there are some bad calls in every game at every level; however, one thing for sure; the referees are right more times then not! I would challenge all the people who complain about officiating to get out on the court for just one half of a competitve eighth grade game and take a shot at getting every call correct; I guarantee if you’ve never officiated before, you will after that experience; gain a true respect for the job that any trained official does. Referees are truly cut from a different cloth! Run a mile in their shoes before you take for granted the job they do!

  17. andyblessie says:

    You guys must be watching a different game. There are double standards for however is appointed by the league to get favorable calls one way or another. Lets take for instance Kobe Bryant, if you can’t see he gets his elbow hit on just about ever shot when he closely guarded than you guys are living in a dream world, just review the tapes. Is it because of what happen in Colorado or is it something deeper than that. Lets be real people if you can’t tell that the games are rigged, then you guys have got a lot to learn about the world we live in, this goes deeper than basketball.

  18. Jodelax says:

    I saw that play of Harden against NOwitzki. Makes your head shake and degrade your respect on the officials. I never forget that almost similar play when Dirk was called for a foul on Wade during the 2006 Finals game 6. Dirk might have irked these officials. I just don’t know how or why.

  19. Rich says:

    James Harden has been the recipient of most ‘favorable’ calls in the western conf finals series. But that’s the way it goes. Players has to keep their composure and adjust their plays according to the calls that are being made in any given game.

    • OKCKD35 says:

      We all know Dirk has had the most favorable calls, game 1 OKC couldnt even breath on him without a foul. Its riDIRKulous. not to mention all the extra bumping and pushing he has been doing after the whistle with no calls. we actually got the Tech for one of them. They dont call his defensive fouls but OKC sure cant get anywhere near him.

  20. WITNESS says:


    • OKCKD35 says:

      i love the fact they didnt post my previous comment, tearing into the writer of this blog. Using this one call as the reference for this blog. Nothing about all the other calls that have been completely terrible, but the one they called on Dirk (that yes, was a bad call) gets this blog, what about the 8 in the first game that were called for Dirk? 2 in 5 seconds on Durant! dont hear any of that in here, I am sick off all this “DirkMania” now that all the writes cant jump on Kobe’s bandwagon they are on to the next. Will it ever end? Can we for once have an unbiased opinion? And yes i know my opinion is biased, but i am not being paid for mine, these guys are.