Posts Tagged ‘Joe Borgia’

NBA’s new replay center a high-tech house of correctness


VIDEO: NBA houses new replay center to aid in correct calls

SECAUCUS, N.J. – In the not-so-distant future, a microchip sewn into the fabric of Kevin Durant III‘s uniform shirt (or perhaps embedded painlessly beneath his skin) will be able to sense physical contact from a defender. A signal transmitted instantly through the scoreboard simultaneously will stop the clock and trigger a whistle-like sound. And the NBA players on the court will dutifully line up for a couple free throws, no human referee necessary.

For now, though, the league’s state-of-the-art technology is housed on the first floor of a nondescript office building, in a corporate park on the west side of the Hudson River from Manhattan. Every instant of every NBA game to be played this season, this postseason and beyond will be processed through the new replay center located within, the game footage available to be searched and “scrubbed” (in the parlance of video editing) to get right as many replay situations as possible.

Considering the old arena-and-TV-production-truck method of replay review had a 90 percent success rate, as estimated Thursday by NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn, the league’s quest for greater accuracy and efficiency in swiftly adjudicating the trickiest plays is an admirable one.

Complicated and expensive, too. No one talked of the price tag Thursday during a media walk-through of the facility, which is headquartered with NBA Entertainment. But some of the other numbers tossed around were staggering:

  • 300 billion bits of information per second, in terms of processing multiple HD video streams and photos. The new network’s capacity is 66 times greater than the previous system, vast and fast enough to download the entire digitized content of the Library of Congress (more than 158 million items) in about a half hour.
  • 31,500 hours of video to be reviewed in the 2014-15 season alone.
  • 94 flat-screen TV monitors, 32 of them touch-screen, and 20 replay stations in the center.
  • 15 replay operators, one each for the maximum number of games in a single day, finding and feeding the critical plays to one of three replay managers for interaction with the in-arena referee crew chief.
  • 15 replay “triggers” or game situations that allow for review, up from 14 last season.

The room looks like the wonkiest sports bar in America, a cross between a TV production booth, an air-traffic control tower and the CTU HQ Jack Bauer occasionally dropped by.

As formidable as the replay center looks, the process will continue to be dictated by the game officials in Charlotte, Portland or wherever. But rather than relying on a monitor at the scorer’s table linked only to a truck in the arena parking lot – where the broadcast production staffers have enough work to manage the telecast – the crew chief will connect directly to a replay manager.

That manager – described by Joe Borgia, NBA senior VP, replay and referee operations, as a “basketball junkie” with training as a ref, a techie or both – will have at his disposal angles quickly cued up from the assigned replay operator. The crew chief will be able to request zoom, split screens, slo-motion, real-time speed, freeze frames and up to four angles on one screen. Until now, the refs were shown angles sequentially, sometimes seeing the best one after it already had appeared on the arena videoboard.

One important point: The crew chief still will make the final decision. The replay gurus in Secaucus – who occasionally will be watched while they’re watching by a camera mounted high in the room, to show TV audiences how the sausage gets made – will simply select what they deem to be the best angles of the plays in question.

“They’re just giving us the views so we can make the correct calls,” ref Jim Capers said Thursday during a Q&A session.

That’s different from the NHL and MLB, where determinations are made by the replay center administrators. The NBA isn’t ready to take that step yet, Thorn said.

“We don’t want to take it away from the referee right now,” Thorn said. “But he may ask for some support from here. We’re going to have these things cued up for him and most of ‘em are going to be, ‘Well, there it is.’

“Our feeling was, we’re going to leave the ultimate decision in the hand of the on-court crew chief with his guys – for right now. But that may come. You have a chip in your ear, you’re running down the floor, you wave your hand about a 3-point shot and Joe Borgia says [from back at the replay center] ‘His foot was on the line. It was a 2.’ So you don’t even have to go over to the [monitor]. But we’re not there yet.”

Nor, Thorn said, is the NBA ready to adopt a challenge system similar to those used in the NFL and MLB in which coaches and managers can choose to have certain calls reviewed. That will be experimented with this season in the NBA Development League and it was discussed “very seriously,” Thorn said, at the NBA Competition Committee’s two more recent meetings.

“If you talk to the coaches, and we have three coaches on our Competition Committee, they would like to challenge judgment calls,” Thorn said. “That’s a little different.”

Those second-guesses might be better left to the microchips when the time comes. In the meantime, the NBA has its new high-tech house of correctness.

NBA offers some ref transparency, playoff ‘points of emphasis’

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Granted, it’s not always satisfying when the NBA issues an officiating verdict the day after a disputed play. Learning 18 hours later that, yes, a foul should have been called on that final missed field-goal attempt in Team A’s 1-point loss doesn’t change the W-L records of the squads involved and rarely calms fans who felt their team got jobbed.

But transparency beats opacity, even after the fact, so the league regularly has tried to review, interpret and explain its many calls and non-calls ASAP. One way to do that now, with the playoffs approaching and stakes and emotions getting ever higher, is through a follow of @NBAOfficial on Twitter. That account will provide updates and clarifications on rules and fouls in the closest thing to real time, while educating some fans on what does or doesn’t constitute an instant-replay “trigger.”

The Twitter feed was one of the reminders Thursday to media folks in the league’s 2014 basketball & referee operations WebEx online meeting. A fleet of NBA executives provided updates and answered questions about the season and looming postseason, including “points of emphasis” that will remain high on referees’ radar as the playoffs unfold.

Participating in the multi-media event: Rod Thorn, president, basketball operations; Mike Bantom, executive vice president, referee operations; Kiki VanDeWeghe, senior vice president, basketball operations; Joe Borgia, vice president, referee operations; and Don Vaden, VP & director of officials.

One thing fans might notice again this spring is a change that was initiated for the 2013 playoffs: Keeping referees together in the same crew to develop familiarity and continuity in their court coverage.

Traditionally, three referees come together pretty much randomly to officiate NBA games, compared to MLB umpires, who work most of the season in set four-man crews.

Vaden said that last spring, the league booked two referees as a tandem for each game, with the third official rotating through. “Ken Mauer and Ed Malloy worked every game together,” Vaden said, offering an example. “We’re more consistent in what we’re doing on the floor when we do that.”

This used to be standard procedure, Thorn recalled. “There was a time way back when crews were kept together,” he said. “There was a time when the same two referees refereed all the games in The Finals.”

In addition to the logical benefits of refs working together, Vaden mentioned some secondary ones off the floor in terms of reviews and communication.

“Keeping the guys together, traveling together, they can review more video of the games,” he said. “They’re easier for me to get a hold of than in the regular season. Even on off-days they’re together in the same hotels, so we can do a review from their last game and give them a preview of the game to come.”

The review process of referee performance has grown more thorough through the years, with a centralized group of eight reviewers in the office in New Jersey handling most of the heavy lifting. Teams also submit feedback, and the league has made it a priority to keep teams, players, coaches, media and fans in the loop with rulings and updated points of emphasis.

The selection process to work in, and advance through, the postseason is rigorous, Bantom said. From the regular-season pool of 62 referees, 32 are identified based on performance criteria to work the first round. That gets cut to 20 for the conference semifinals, 16 for the East and West finals and 12 assigned to The Finals. Guidelines in the playoffs include: no back-to-back games for officials, no more than three games worked in a week and, ideally, not reappearing in a series before Game 6 (loosened to Game 5 in The Finals).

Speaking about the NBA in general in 2013-14, with the transition from David Stern to Adam Silver in the commissioner’s office, VanDeWeghe said: “Our focus has been transparency and inclusion. We want to include more people in our discussions. Improve communications with teams, players, media and fans. We want to share more information and just the processes of what we go through. You can never tell where a great idea comes from, and we’d like to hear from you. This is our game together.”

The POE this postseason will largely be a continuation of those introduced back in October. Among them, Vaden spoke of:

  • Freedom of movement, including illegal screens.
  • Traveling calls, especially on the perimeter.
  • Point-of-contact plays, before, during and after shot attempts. “We have clarified the rule for teams, that if it affects the natural follow-through, even though the ball was released, we would penalize the defender,” Vaden said. “Hits on the elbow, we’ve gotten better at.”
  • Push or pull plays, physically redirecting an opponent.
  • Delay-of-game calls for handling the ball after it passes through the net. Said Vaden: “Everybody complained, but after about a month of the season, everybody’s running from the ball. The players have done a great job in adapting to this.”
  • Verticality. “It’s easy for us to call ‘A’ to ‘B’ movement,” Vaden said, referring to a defender who goes up in the air but not quite straight up. “As the season went on, we saw more of the defender turning in the air and [confronting the ball handler] with his side.” That’s a defensive foul too. But a scorer who wards off the defender with an arm, leads with a knee or elbow or even “displaces” the man so he cannot rebound can wind up with an offensive foul.

Borgia reminded participants that the NBA’s system of points and suspensions for flagrant fouls and technical fouls resets for the playoffs. The trigger numbers in the postseason are four points for flagrants, seven for technicals.

Several execs weighed in on “hand on the ball” interpretations, which came up again Tuesday on the final play of the Brooklyn-Miami game. That’s when LeBron James went up for what could have been a game-winning dunk, only to have the ball knocked loose – and his hand or wrist smacked, James complained – by Nets forward Mason Plumlee.

Plumlee was credited with a game-saving block and the league’s brass supported that call.

“Frame by frame, you can see that Plumlee got his hand on the ball before there was any contact hand-to-hand,” Thorn said. “That was basically LeBron’s hand coming forward and interlocking with Plumlee. A very, very close play. Very, very difficult to see. I think the refs did a great job in ascertaining what they did.”

Borgia attempted to simplify for the online audience what many folks don’t get quite right.

“If they hit a part of my hand or finger that is physically on the ball, that is considered hitting the ball and not a foul,” the referee-turned-supervisor said. “I think there is some misconception out there. … On a jump shot, most of the time the ball is more on your fingertips and not sitting in the palm of your hand. If someone hits the back of the hand, that would be a foul.”

Transparency, see. It might not alter a critic’s opinion of a call but it can aid in the understanding.

Delay Of Game Rule Key Point Among Officials’ Points Of Emphasis For 2013-14



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The NBA preseason is more than just a time for teams and players to work out the kinks and fine tune their operations in advance of the new season.

It also serves as a real-time laboratory for the league’s officials, giving them an opportunity to execute whatever changes have been implemented, zero in on the modifications being made to existing rules and to get in the habit of showcasing the new rules for that season.

That’s right, it’s point-of-emphasis time for the 2013-14 season, and everyone — from the rules and competition committee, to the teams, to the players and officials — have all been schooled on the dos and don’ts, courtesy of a step-by-step explanation from members of the NBA’s referee operations staff (as seen here).

There are five major points of emphasis this season:

  • Illegal screens
  • Contact on jump shots
  • Traveling
  • Discontinued dribble
  • Delay of game after a made basket

All will require serious attention from both the players and game officials, who will need to adjust to the new interpretations.

The rule book is clear on what is and is not allowed in each of these instances. That makes it all about the interpretation on the part of the players and officials, per Joe Borgia, the NBA’s Vice President of Referee Operations.

“We’ve made it clear to the players and the officials that this is for both of you,” Borgia said, “We need you to get better at (knowing the rules) and the officials to get better at making the right call when they see you are doing something and doing it wrong. The players will change. They have proven it over and over, a great example is the respect for the game rule that went in place a few years back. We had the NBA Finals last year and didn’t have a technical foul. I don’t know when that’s happened before, or if it has.”

That doesn’t mean it won’t take some getting used to, specifically for players used to setting screens a certain way and not being called for the violation of the new interpretation of the rule. The same is true for players who have made a habit of messing with the ball after a made basket. That said, the referee operations staff is implementing changes based largely on the feedback they received from the teams, which is part of a “smorgasbord” of information Borgia said is used to refine the game on a continual basis.

Illegal screens and traveling garnered the largest volume of mentions from teams, Borgia said.

But the delay of game rule could be the most noticeable change of all, particularly for fans. Messing with the ball in any way after a made basket is supposed to result in a whistle being blown. And despite some chatter that the new interpretation has something to do with some calculated desire to speed up the games, Borgia insisted that is not the case.

“I’ve heard some of the announcers during the preseason saying we’re doing this to speed the game up and that’s just not true,” Borgia said. “We’re doing it because the new offensive team is being deprived of the opportunity to inbound the ball. [The new interpretation] might pick up the pace a little bit, but it has nothing to with making games go faster. It’s simple, don’t mess with the ball after a successful basket.

“And it’s like I said, our players are very smart. They will adjust to these new interpretations. And they will adjust quickly. Officials have to adjust as well. And they will.”



Two Women Among Top Ref Candidates

LAS VEGAS – Two females are “top candidates” to become NBA referees in 2012-13, Joe Borgia, the vice president of referee operations, said Monday.

Lauren Holtkamp and Brenda Pantoja are both WNBA officials who worked the semifinals of the National Basketball Development League playoffs. If chosen for a partial schedule or the entire season, they would join veteran Violet Palmer as the only active female ref in the NBA.

“They’re top candidates,” Borgia said at summer league. “In fairness to the other refs, I can’t go any farther than that.”

A decision on the staff of approximately 60 officials is expected in early September. The number of openings is uncertain, although it is believed no one from the 2011-12 lineup has retired and that Bennett Salvatore, one of the top referees, will be returning after missing all last season with injuries.