Instant Replay Here To Stay — And Seems Likely To Grow, As Well


SAN ANTONIO – No game in The Finals has been decided or even tilted dramatically in the final seconds by the use of the NBA’s replay rule. But some day that will happen, at which point we know these things will happen:

  • The officiating crew will huddle, then move as one to the sideline. The crew chief will don a headset to put him in communication with the broadcast truck outside the arena, and all three refs will watch and re-watch a series of slow- and regular-motion video clips, sometimes zoomed to the brink of graininess.
  • Fans, players and coaches will simultaneously focus their gazes on the video screens in house.
  • Players will gulp water, towel off and catch their breath while coaches pounce on the moment to call out a play, offer some advice and do otherwise timeout-ly things.
  • If the replays support the home team’s side of the disputed play, home fans will amp up their noise in hopes of influencing the refs down below. If the video evidence looks to support the visitors, the joint gets quieter.
  • ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy will sneer at the whole process, saying that the correct call was obvious from the start. He’ll do this whether he’s working the game for ABC/Disney or whether he’s on a weekend getaway in the Alps.
  • Folks at home, remote in hand, feet raised, will glance at the time and realize how soon that morning alarm clock is going to go off. They too will get antsy.
  • The people at NBA HQ in New York’s Olympic Tower will smile, satisfied that the game will be adjudicated correctly and that there will be less work waiting in the morning in terms of appeals, error reports and cranky feedback.

That last item, you should know, carries enough weight to trump everything else on that list when it comes to current and future usage of “instant relay review triggers,” as Rule No. 13 of the official NBA rulebook calls them.

Just the other day in Miami, as the 2013 Finals started, NBA commissioner David Stern reaffirmed his support of the rule and talked of broadening it. It’s one of the agenda items for the league’s competition committee when it meets this week in San Antonio.

“Everyone with a smart phone can see it, everyone at home can see it, and everyone who is sitting with the scoreboards that are going to be the new toy of our arenas that give a great view [can see it].” Stern said. “But the poor officials don’t really see it that way. It’s discordant to us. The idea is to have the game decided on its merits.”

Players, coaches, referees and NBA sages contacted for this story also landed overwhelmingly on the side of getting calls correct. Many suggested tweaks, but the bottom line for all was accuracy over elapsed time or any other objection.

“You’re stopping the flow of the game and you’re lengthening the game,” coach and broadcaster Hubie Brown said. “Pretty soon it’s going to be like baseball, where it never ends. But coaches and players do not want to have a game lost because somebody blew a call, either on an out-of-bounds play or a bad call.”

The last two minutes of games, in which plays such as Brown mentioned bring action to a halt, turn the spotlight on replay in a way that’s not always enjoyable. There is a delay. There is what sometimes appears to be indecision being played out in front of the world. But the alternative seems unthinkable to many.

“Hey, c’mon, they’re all big inside of two minutes,” Brown said. “If they have enough cameras on the game, they will pick up where the mistake was.”

Said Indiana forward David West: “You’d rather they have as many opportunities to get it right as possible. Especially this time of year. The biggest thing is, you don’t want to leave anything out there. They try to get rid of the human error, have as many camera views as possible. If it’s not your ball, you don’t get it.”

Miami guard Dwyane Wade smiled and admitted that he welcomes the occasional unscheduled timeout. “I’m cool with it,” he said. “Give me a little break.”

But the objective is much greater than that. “This game is so fast. With the naked eye, sometimes things look like something but it’s not,” Wade said. “If it doesn’t go your way, at least you feel better knowing you got some different eyes on it. Sometimes you think, ‘It didn’t go off me,’ but it grazed your leg on the way out and you just didn’t feel it.”

Brown would like to see the players on the court herded to their respective foul lines to prevent replay-time strategizing or rest. Stern said he gets e-mails from friends suggesting that fans would vote thumbs-down because of the time delay.

“And honestly, I say we have asked the fans, and they say it’s absolutely worth the delay,” the commissioner said.

Or as Stu Jackson, senior vice president of basketball operations, said: “If you don’t go, you’re always going to be subject to situation where you say, ‘Yes, they knew they were right. That’s why they didn’t go to replay — only to find out seconds later on the broadcast, or worse yet the next day, that they were wrong.’ Then everybody loses in that case.”

Van Gundy has been a vocal critic of the review process. One in particular drew a chuckle from Bob Delaney, the longtime NBA referee who, now retired, provides insight for NBA TV. Late in an East semifinals game between Miami and Indiana, a ball went over the end line. The crew went to replay.

“The original call was that it was Miami ball. When in reality, Dwyane Wade touched that ball,” Delaney said. “And Jeff says he thinks the referees got it right and ‘I think they know they have it right.’ But Jeff has the capability [on the announcers’ monitor] to see it before the referees even see it. So he waits until he sees it, then says, ‘Yeah, they got it right. But I don’t know why we have to wait for them to go see it.’

“Well, Jeff, it wasn’t until you saw that it was confirmed that you were so adamant we should not go over to the side.”

Delaney laughed. “I love Jeff’s terminology: ‘That’s an obvious call.’ Yeah, when you’re sitting there with a replay it’s obvious. It’s easy when you’re sitting in the stands. It’s easy from my couch — I haven’t gotten a call wrong yet. But it’s hard when you’re running around out there on the floor.”

There are problems with it, no doubt. Sometimes a replay of a boundary call will reveal an uncalled foul smiling back at the referees. That’s a judgment call that — as the rules currently are written — cannot be reviewed or overturned.

Delaney wanted that point to be clear to fans: The referees only enforce the rules they are given. The competition committee and the Board of Governors are the ones who will restrict or, more likely, broaden the use of replay and its triggers — up from two when it started in 2002 to 13 now — in the future.

Where is that future taking everyone? Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver talked about the advantages of off-site replay reviews, similar to what the NHL does (plays are replayed in the league office, with game officials notified by phone).

“An off‑site review would potentially speed up the process,” Silver said. “In addition to the noise and the complication, you have an official trying to talk to a producer in the truck calling for a particular replays. … If you have a group of officials in a broadcast center somewhere, location could almost be anywhere in this day of age of digital media, there wouldn’t be that delay which officials need to walk over, turn the monitor around, put the headphones on, call for the replays.  You could have off‑site officials looking at multiple monitors at once.”

Perhaps the league will consider an NFL-type challenge system. Then again, with enough triggers, the need for a coach to challenge what most likely, by then, would be a judgment call might be unnecessary.

Still, the NFL — thanks largely to the pace of its games — has taken replay use to its highest point.

“There’s very little talk about NFL officiating because every one of their calls is confirmed or denied up top,” Delaney said. “There [was] a Super Bowl a few years back where there were eight overturned calls. Well, if we didn’t have replay, at the end of that game people would all be talking about the officiating. But because they have replay and they get the calls right, there was no conversation about officiating.”

No conversation about the officiating? A lot of diehard NBA fans would have to find a new hobby. As for the ones grumbling about their bed time, the best suggestion might be: Take naps.

“We can’t have it both ways,” Delaney said. “We either have to be willing to say we’ll take a delay in the game in order to have the call right – and quite honestly, that’s all referees want – or we won’t. I don’t see where this delay causes that big of a problem. We’d be writing a lot more articles about bad calls than we will about delays.”


  1. kanuk says:

    this has nothing to do with the teams getting calls reviewed. video reviews by the refs are used to make sure the call is right according to the rule book as the rules are what the calls must follow to ensure the game is fair per the rules. there should be no discretionary calls, and certainly none that are missed because a team didn’t use ‘one of their available reviews’. every call should be the right call.

    the only way to get the right call is by a couple of refs off-court that can make the call immediately and inform the on-court refs without any delay in the game. this is not that hard to do.

  2. justsayin says:

    Ha ha, Van Gundy. Sometimes he’s right on, or funny, sometimes he’s asinine. But I appreciate his honesty.

    Come to think of it, he should have a show with Barkley.

  3. bodjee says:

    Replay is not being used effectively because when looking at a out of bounce play, the official cannot call a missed foul. I think the league should review contested calls that may determine the outcome of a game. And, and, referees should be summoned to the panels to discuss controversial calls and be fined by the league for not making the right way.

    May the best team wins!

  4. Darrell says:

    I don’t have a problem with the way its setup now. They ONLY review the last two minutes of the game!!

  5. No Idea says:

    “No game in The Finals has been decided or even tilted dramatically in the final seconds by the use of the NBA’s replay rule”

    Have you seen the first game of this years finals?! To me that was a dramatic tilt: If the refs get this call wrong, which they easily could have, it’s a shot clock violation, Miami gets the ball back down 2 with over 5 seconds! If they get it right, it’s a two possession game and much, much harder to win the game for Miami.

  6. MarcoCzen says:

    Ben’s idea is awesome.

    Each time has a limited amount of video reviews. They get to choose when to use it . If they get it wrong , they lose that review( -1). If they get it right, they still have that review to be used.

    I say 2 reviews per game.

  7. Heisenberg says:

    NFL style: the coaches should have red flags on their pocket if they want to challenge a missed call. This should be exciting.

  8. J says:

    awesome article just great!!!!!!

    something like these

    a replay can be reviewed any time in the whole game best choice

    a coach can call for a replay say 5 times in a game max also good

    review the replay like 5 mins left in 4th bad

    i think any time in the game is great oviously take more time late and less time early
    deffinetley keep the replay its great and important

  9. eCabi13 says:

    One thing that makes basketball great is the game’s pace. please don’t make it like baseball and american football (5 second plays vs a lot of minutes standing around). Replays are good to determine close calls but rather than let the on court referees review plays, they should just add a couple of refs dedicated to video review for call/play validation or otherwise. Just to keep the game going. In the long run, it is almost certain that replays and video reviews will be used
    as an excuse to squeeze in advertisements.

    • MarcoCzen says:

      Agreed. Replays should not be abused. They need to be used BUT the usage needs to be limited.

  10. sanjay says:

    that is a good idea but americans do not believe unless they see it themselves( they have been taught that way). So unless the ground umpires see it . They already have 3 officials on the floor and they all must concur. What you say is implemented to some extent in american football which has similar arrangement. they look at the replay at the giant screen and the referee tells what he is going to do and why!
    They are trying to do their best but in basketball it is so fast that the moment you debate a decision it will bring everything to a halt.
    For some blatant calls they must do like you say( but with all that noise, even ear piece may not work)

  11. isaac2 says:

    i don’t have a problema with it, as long as they don’t do those replays all game long. the last 2 or 3 minutes of the game is enough.

  12. Ajax says:

    Here in NZ, we have this game called rugby. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of it (which puts me in about 0.5% of the Kiwi population) but I respect how they’ve already implemented a 3rd (tv umpire).

    Basically, the head ref has an earpiece and at any time can ask for clarification on a play via replay. I’d like to see this implemented in pretty much every sport. Its still the job of the head ref to call plays as they see them, and of course there is always potential for them to have differing interpretations of rules or specific plays (or to just be flat out wrong, in the opinion of many fans). But as this article points out, announcers, fans, anyone watching on tv will see the play and probably 3 or 4 slow motion replays from varying angles before the refs have even decided to review it. Get a head start, give the refs an earpiece and let them choose when to use it. They could even use it between plays or during timeouts to review their own calls and figure out how accurate they are being.

  13. kanuk says:

    here are my thoughts to bring this issue into the 21st century …

    everyone has bluetooth pieces these days. the refs should have them stuck in their ears as well. there should be 2 additional refs officiating the game off-court. we as fans can, typically, can see on screen, whether in the arena or at home, what the call should be in seconds. the off-court refs should do the same and provide resolution to an undetermined call immediately, to the on-court refs, and the game moves on. these stoppages are ridiculous and can easily be controlled in this manner. in fact, this method should be used throughout the entire game, not just in the final 2 minutes.

    • broderick says:

      I like this. It’s a perfect solution. I think the only fouls that should be overturned should be charges and flops. Shooting fouls and reach ins should stand as called

  14. dear lord says:

    NFL officiating has no merit in this comparison. Not to say that NBA shouldn’t advance towards that, but NFL broadcasts are 4 times longer anyway than the actual game.

  15. Sekans says:

    If they are doing it, they have to do it quick. I just don’t like what they have right now. Coaches are abusing the use of replay. They want every play to be reviewed so they get free time out and draw plays. This is just not right. I thought Jeff van Gundy also mentioned it before on TV. If they want review, players have to stayed on the court and no huddle for plays from coaches. I want the refs to get it right but really don’t want the coaches to abuse it.

  16. Ben says:

    International cricket has a system which ends up working well.

    Each team gets a certain number of reviews per period, so lets say 1 per half per team. They can seek review of a decision, and there are objective criteria on which a decision can be overturned (so, for instance, a foul call which was very close and could have gone either way would not be overturned). The goal is to sort out any calls which are howlers.

    Each review used successfully doesn’t ‘use up’ your review – so although you have only 1 per half, if you keep reviewing calls and being right, and having them overturned, you continue to have one review to use. Once the review is used unsuccessfully, you lose it and can’t seek any more reviews for that half.

    It hasn’t slowed down the game significantly at all because in the end, teams generally only use them either when they know they are right or when they have nothing to lose – because you don’t want to lose your review for a silly reason and then need it later. The other reason it works is that, if a call is bad its harder to blame the ref if you could have reviewed it but blew your review for a silly reason earlier. It can make teams as culpable as refs for an incorrect possession late in the game.

    On the other hand, though, cricket is a much slower game than basketball to begin with. But I think it can work.

  17. i dont know my name says:

    i dont know about anyone else, but seeing Tony Parker’s shot clock buzzer beater shot in slo mo, it looked like he double dribbled. if the replay was there, Parkers shot would not have counted, Miami could have possibly sent it to OT, and they could have won, making them clear favorites. I’m all in for this replay thing, even if it means a delay.

  18. Objectivity says:

    Why don’t they just have a 4th ref who is always watching replays, and so, when the Referees aren’t sure, they can just ask the guy, who was already reviewing the play. Time saver. It’s similar to how it’s used in Rugby.

    • skrutz says:

      Similar to the NHL review method that was mentioned. A dedicated office of officials that are there to review, can do it quickly and efficiently, and dont have to deal with noisy fans.

  19. LeeMan says:

    Hey, I think bad calls would even out for all teams in the end…Just keep playing – no replays.
    Stopping the game is pretty weak. So what if someone tipped it instead of someone else between 0.0001 seconds…if it is unclear…give the ball to the last team with possession.

  20. Lance Cain says:

    If you really want to get the calls right and not slow the game down it can be done. It would require some unorthodox changes, but it can be done.

    Take an example from last night.

    The ball deflects off Udonis Haslem but because his arm was wedged between two Spurs it was difficult for the on court ref to see. The ball was given to Miami and the game played on even though it was the wrong call. So Miami ended up with a possession they shouldn’t have had (not that it mattered in last night’s game).

    My idea is to review that play and adjust for it later. For example, next time Miami is scheduled to get the ball, give it to the Spurs instead. It evens out and the teams end up with the correct number of possessions.

    It would be weird and require a change, and it wouldn’t be exactly the same because who knows what the Spurs would have done with that prior possession, but at least Miami wouldn’t be getting an advantage by having an extra possession that they shouldn’t have had because the refs made a bad call, or the action happened to quick for the refs to know what happened, or when player positioning was blocking the refs’ view.

    I don’t think you could do this for fouls because those are more judgement calls – maybe on foul calls where there obviously wasn’t any contact, but then what do you do- give the team extra free throws if the original misfoul resulted in free throws (and would it have to be by a player with a similar free throw precentage)? remove a foul? who knows?

    But for out of bounds plays it would solve the two problems of (1) getting the calls right and (2) not stopping play.

    • dd def says:

      game 7 of the finals. out of bounds play is called wrong and changes the out come of the game. how do you make up for it now? another scenario, last game or 2 of the regular season, you’re not going to see either of these teams till next season, how do you make up for it then?

  21. Game Time says:

    I don’t have a problem with replay within the last 2 minutes of a close game. If we start seeing 5-10 then it will really ruin the game.

  22. JohnDoe says:

    I like replay in certain situation (pretty much as it is now) but make it quicker. Have some official(s) ready to watch the replay and get the call right. No free timeouts, no rest. Don’t stop the game that long.

    But of course you get more money since you can run more commercials – so it will stay a slow process….