NBA referees’ union calls for end to ‘Last Two-Minute’ reports

CLEVELAND – The problem with transparency is that not everything is see-through-ready.

Even in the most tranquil times, the efficacy of the NBA’s Last Two-Minute Reports has been very much in doubt. Informing the public which foul calls and rulings an officiating crew got right, which it got wrong and which it missed entirely may have lent an air of openness to an otherwise black-box process. But it didn’t change anything, as far as the game’s outcome.

It’s a little like being told exactly how the sausage gets made and then still having to eat it. And while NBA fans still tend to focus only on the calls that a) were wrong against b) their favorite teams, the mechanism may have changed the way the referees feel about, and go about, their jobs. The fever pitch of the NBA playoffs seems to have heightened their doubts about the mandated second-guessing.

Skepticism permeated the National Basketball Referees Association’s news release Tuesday asking the league to do away with the L2M reports. The NBRA’s distaste for and distrust of the practice was apparent in the bullet points under the heading, “Reasons to End L2M Reporting and Other “Transparency” Measures:

  • Transparency does nothing to change the outcome of the game.
  • Transparency encourages anger and hostility towards NBA officials.
  • Focusing on officiating statistics encourages stat-oriented, versus game-oriented, officiating. It is in the best interest of the NBA and its fans to encourage and develop game-oriented referees that balance game flow and fair play.
  • Efforts to promote transparency have encouraged the idea that perfection in officiating is possible. Perfection is neither possible nor desirable; if every possible infraction were to be called, the game would be unwatchable and would cease to exist as a form of entertainment in this country.
  • Transparency has been misused as a catalyst by some teams to mobilize fans against the officials in an attempt to coerce more favorable treatment.
  • While the goal of transparency was to promote understanding and credibility, there is no evidence that progress against these goals is being made.

The NBRA’s stance comes five days after NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he remained “strongly behind” the L2M procedure. At his news conference before Game 1 of The Finals Thursday at Oracle Arena, Silver said consistency and transparency are worthy goals that are approached, if not completely achieved, with the reports.

“It’s our hope that you take the Last Two-Minute Reports together with using a certain amount of replay that we’re building … trust and integrity in the league,” Silver said. “That people are going to recognize that we are going to make mistakes, the officials are going to make mistakes. Human error is going to be a part of this game, just as it is with the players.”

Silver said the L2M reports, along with the full-game evaluations of each night’s officials, show that “the referees get it right about 90 percent of the time.” He added: “Now, from a fan standpoint … ‘they’re getting it wrong one out of 10 calls?’ And I accept that.”

Before meeting with reporters Thursday, Silver had visited with the referees for Game 1. “They understand there is huge potential to be embarrassed when the league is putting out reports and acknowledging that calls are wrong, and they want to get it right too,” the commissioner said. “When they go back into the locker room after a game and somebody shows them a replay …and they realize they got it wrong, there is a terrible pit in their stomachs and they lose a lot of sleep over that.”

Perhaps anticipating that the league won’t be easy to sway on the L2M practice, the refs’ union raised questions about who reviews game footage and writes the reports, whether the same instructions the referees must heed in their live calls are heeded in the report process, and why the L2M reports cannot be challenged.

The objections seem legit enough, considering how different a split-second of action can look – and sound and feel – in the moment, live and in 3-D with 20,000 screaming fans present compared to stop-action, slow-motion replays reviewed again and again, free from distractions.

The NBRA allowed for the possibility their request to end the L2M reports won’t be granted, recommending some reforms if the practice continues. They want the reviewer’s identity and qualifications made public just like their correct and incorrect calls. They ask that the same officiating guidelines be applied when assessing calls for the reports. And they seek an appeals process to challenge L2M reports that, just maybe, merit L2M reports of their own.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass responded Tuesday night: “We understand the referee union’s desire to protect its members, but the fact is that in today’s world, transparency is necessary for any organization. “The NBA is no different and we are committed to protecting the integrity of our game.”

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