OAKLAND – Warriors coach Mark Jackson was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Thursday for comments that the league said were “an attempt to influence the officiating” after several statements in recent days about the physical play of the Nuggets in the first-round series.
He responded later in the day, about 90 minutes before tipoff of Game 6 at Oracle Arena, by saying he was “extremely thankful” he did not get disciplined for criticizing referees. The inference was clear: Jackson wanted it known he did not question the performance of the officials, but had to live with the ruling that his comments were a coach playing psychological games with referees, a ploy that doesn’t exactly make him a pioneer.
“I don’t like it,” he said of the decision. “And I disagree. And that’ll take care of itself. But at the end of the day, we’ve got a game at 7:30 and I’m excited about the opportunity that this team has in front of them. That’s the most important thing right now. We will not get sidetracked with anything that’s not on the track. We’ve got our blinders on and everything else will take care of itself.”
Jackson said he cannot remember being fined before, as a player or coach. When asked if he thinks he will get a fair whistle in Game 6 in the wake of the penalty, his replied:
More than a decade ago, Greg Willard got the sort of attention NBA referees traditionally abhor — and he wasn’t even working the game.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were on their way to getting ousted from the first round of the playoffs for the sixth time in as many years. This was back in 2002, in the best-of-five days, and the Wolves’ lone home game in the series against Dallas wasn’t half over when Minnesota coach Flip Saunders erupted. He had to be physically restrained by a pair of assistants from closing the gap on ref Bill Spooner.
Turns out, Spooner had dropped a line on Saunders that demonstrated he had Willard’s back. It wasn’t the first time, either — Steve Javie had said something similar to the Wolves’ coach in the aftermath of a snit Saunders had with Willard more than a month earlier.
Here’s the backstory: In a 112-80 blowout of Toronto on March 19, 2002, Willard made a remark as he ran past Saunders about Minnesota forward Sam Mitchell‘s 3-pointer in the final minute, possibly about the sportsmanship Mitchell showed or the trouble he could have incited. Saunders snapped back along the lines of, ”I thought referees were supposed to ref games. I didn’t know they were supposed to give opinions.”
Let Saunders pick up the story:
“Since that time,” he said after the Wolves were bounced that day 11 years ago, “I’ve had two referees that, when I asked them about something, said, ‘I thought you didn’t want referees to give opinions.’ … I told them I thought that was total bull. First of all, my problem was not with them, it was with Greg Willard. To bring something like that up in the heat of the battle, I don’t know what you’re thinkin’. … They all talk.”
They surely do. The fraternity of NBA referees is a tight one, reaffirmed constantly by the rigors of their travel, the pressures inherent in their jobs and the guff they take while working from players, coaches and fans. Then there are their shared experiences, the close quarters of the refs’ dressing rooms throughout the league and the collegial respect that comes from knowing who’s good and, well, who’s still learning in a tough profession of split-second decisions.
Willard had that respect and more, not just from how he worked as a ref but how he endured his year-long battle with the pancreatic cancer that killed him Monday at age 54. He was one of the NBA’s senior officials, officiating nearly 1,500 regular-season games along and 136 more in the playoffs, two in The Finals and the 2006 All-Star Game. He achieved the best kind of status for someone in a competitive pursuit, the appreciation not only of his peers but most of those — those coaches and players — with whom he butted heads in the heat of their most intense moments.
Saunders and Willard made peace over their dispute soon after it happened and shared, in their respective roles, NBA courts for another 10 years. That sort of on-court silliness evaporated with the news last spring of Willard’s illness. It’s another example of that instant perspective, and life’s reminders, that none of us ought to need.
“Greg epitomized what it meant to be an NBA referee through dedication to his craft, hard work, and integrity both on-and-off the court,” said Lee Seham, general counsel for the National Basketball Referees Association, said in a statement Tuesday. “He was not only a great NBA Referee, but more importantly a wonderful person, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Longtime referee Greg Willard, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June, had just taken the court and officiated the game even as his body showed the ravages of the pernicious disease.
The Lakers had already sent the game ball to the referees’ locker room. Several had shook Willard’s hand after the game. Bryant stopped by for a visit on his way out.
“He’s an extremely good ref,” Bryant said of Willard. “He doesn’t hold grudges. He just makes the call in front of him.
“Honestly, tonight I wanted him to T me up for old time’s sake. I didn’t want him to have any kind of special night. I wanted it to be just like it’s always been. I wanted to drop a couple F-bombs to him.
“I wanted it to be like how it’s always been. That’s the best way. “
All NBA game officials will wear wristbands or patches with Willard’s jersey number 57 for the balance of the season to honor his memory.
LAS VEGAS – The Board of Governors on Thursday voted to expand the use of instant replay beginning this season and indicated that advertisements on jerseys, a revolutionary idea for the league, will be coming as soon as 2013-14.
The board – an owner from all 30 teams or someone on their behalf – approved replays on three fronts, without vote totals being released:
Referees will call “Flagrant” on the court and immediately use the courtside television screen to determine whether the foul was Flagrant 1, Flagrant 2 or actually a common foul. Previously, any changes were made following a review by the league office at least a day later.
Referees will use replays in the final two minutes of overtime and all overtime to verify block/charge fouls that involve whether a player is in the restricted area.
Referees will use replays in the final two minutes of regulation and all overtime to review goaltending calls. Non-calls will not be reviewed because that would require stopping play.
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.
CHICAGO – Danny Crawford, Michael Smith and Ken Mauer. Or if you prefer, Mauer, Smith and Crawford.
Here at the Hang Time hideout, we figure the names of referees who worked Game 1 of the Miami Heat-Chicago Bulls series at United Center are worth repeating once, twice or even thrice. They’ve got a few mentions coming because of how seldom their names came up during the game and broadcasts Sunday night.
Too often, hotly contested playoff games – especially at the level of conference championships and beyond – thrust the officials front and center in ways that the league and NBA fans generally abhor. But it happens, again and again, year after year:
Who’s working the game? Which team does he favor? How did three guys miss that call? Does he and that superstar have some sort of history? And on and on.
Considering the partisanship of most interested observers, the split-second decisions required several hundred times each game and the pseudo-celebrity status of NBA game officials thrust front-and-center into the spotlight right next to the players, the focus on refs – to the point of obsession – is understandable.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A day after commissioner David Stern threatened to begin suspending coaches and players for criticizing referees, Lakers coach Phil Jackson, one of the main targets of the hard-line message, jabbed back at Stern but said he would probably tone down future comments.
“I think when you start throwing one- and two-game suspensions in the threats, I think that means a lot to both ball clubs and to coaches,” Jackson said Friday before Lakers practice at the Ford Center. “It seems awful heavy-handed to me, but David is one that isn’t shy about being heavy-handed.
“There’s a certain gamesmanship that goes on that he obviously he feels cheapens the game. It never was explained to us until it suddenly came down here this last week that arbitrarily they’re going to do this. I missed the coach’s meeting this last September, so maybe they explained it at the coach’s meetings last year because they said there were a couple instances last year where, I think, it was [Stan] Van Gundy and [Rick]Adelman were fined during the playoffs for statements that led to manipulating the press, I guess is the best way I can say it. I don’t know how you guys could be so naïve, being members of the Fifth Estate, Third Estate, Second Estate or whatever estate you’re members of.”
But when asked whether Stern should be fed up with what has become a steady stream of comments on the officiating, Jackson said: “I don’t think so. I think there’s a situation here that – favoritism on the NBA court, I don’t think anybody’s going to be deluded into thinking that people don’t gets calls on the court regardless of how you say it. It’s just a natural evolution of the game and a natural evolution of who gets the ball the most, and they’re going to end up a lot of times at the foul line. Unfortunately it didn’t work that way for Kobe [Bryant] last night but it did for Kevin [Durant]. But that’s the way things go in this game. You have to accept it, swallow it, and move on.”
Durant attempted 13 free throws Thursday and Bryant none, just after Stern said in a press conference before tipoff that “coaches should be quiet, because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families. And if they don’t like it, they should go get a job someplace else.” The commissioner later added, “And if someone wants to try me the rest of this playoffs, make my day.”
Bryant was asked about the discrepancy after the defeat that cut the Lakers lead to 2-1.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Commissioner David Stern, fed up with issuing fines for continued “corrosive” comments about referees, drew a bold line in the sand Thursday and said he will begin suspending coaches and players for postseason games if the criticisms continue.
Speaking in even tones but clearly out of patience after a stream of financial disciplines, Stern was direct and sending a strong signal in response to a question about two fines levied against Lakers coach Phil Jackson in the playoffs for trying to work referees with statements to the media.
“I wish I had it to do all over again and, starting 20 years ago, I’d be suspending Phil and Pat Riley for all the games they play in the media,” Stern said in a press conference at the Ford Center moments before Game 3 of the Lakers-Thunder series. “You guys know that our referees go out there and knock themselves out to do the best job they can, but we’ve got coaches who will do whatever takes to work them publicly. And what that does is erode fan confidence and then you get some of the situations that we have.
“So our coaches should be quiet, because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families. And if they don’t like it, they should go get a job someplace else. I don’t mean to be too subtle. [Laughter] And I think that Phil’s a great coach. He’s a friend of many years. I just came by and said, ‘Hi.’ And he said, ‘I don’t like you today.’ I said, ‘I like you.’ But it’s corrosive. It’s corrosive.
“Because of the pressure cooker that is the NBA playoffs, over the years I’ve let it go. But when you hear the Chicago coach [Jackson] say, ‘Oh, this game was lost because NBC wants an extra game,’ you hear a New York coach [Riley] say, ‘Well, you know, what are you gonna do? Jordan gets all the calls,’ it sounds like a lot of fun, etcetera. Or you hear a Stan Van Gundy do what he wants to say and then the players join.
“We know, inside the community, what it’s meant to do. So, OK, it’s playoff time, everyone’s crazy. Back off. But if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t. I would stop it and the price wouldn’t be a modest $35,000 fine. It would be whatever a day’s pay is, and then two days pay, and then a week’s pay. And if someone wants to try me the rest of this playoffs, make my day. The game is too important and I don’t think that the people who trash it are respecting it, and we’ll do what we have to do.
“Players and coaches alike. They give the impression to our fans that referees somehow have an agenda. Yeah, they have an agenda – to knock themselves out to give the best calls that they can give, and then to send their checks home to their mothers and give the rest to charity.”