If the only refereeing malfunction you saw this season was
Sunday night’s ejections of Rick Carlisle and Luka Doncic at the
end of the Dallas Mavericks’ loss to the Sacramento Kings, you
would think the NBA has a problem with hotheaded refs.
But the data shows differently, and technical fouls are actually
down this season compared to the previous two.
Through May 4, and the first 971 games played this season, there
have been 629 techs called against players, 105 called against head
coaches and two called against assistant coaches. That compares to
672 against players, 158 against coaches and 25 against assistant
coaches through 971 games last season. The previous season,
2018-19, there were 705 against players, 131 against head coaches
and eight techs called on assistant coaches through 971 games, per
“Everybody knows there has been a lot going on, and the COVID
thing has been trying on everyone. They’re trying their hardest,
but they are not perfect. We’ll all work through it,” one NBA head
coach said on condition of anonymity.
Disputes with referees are as old as wooden backboards and even
peach baskets, and on any given night there could be a flare-up
between a ref who has been on virtual lockdown in his hotel room
and a player and/or coach who has been experiencing the same thing.
League coronavirus protocols are very strict, and they have kept
teams confined to hotels on the road for a majority of the
The same goes for the refs, whose only exposure to other humans
often comes at arenas when the cameras are on.
And hence, we have viral moments of players and/or coaches
getting thrown out.
Doncic and Dwight Howard of Philadelphia lead the NBA with 15
techs each, one away from an automatic ejection. Russell Westbrook
of Washington has 13.
Among coaches, J.B. Bickerstaff of Cleveland, Scott Brooks of
Washington and Tom Thibodeau of the Knicks are tied for the league
lead with eight, and four other coaches have six techs behind
Techs are not inexpensive, either, even on NBA salaries. The
first five technicals each carry a $2,000 fine, the Nos. 6-10 cost
$3,000 apiece and Nos. 11-15 cost $4,000 apiece. A 16th tech
carries a $5,000 fine, and the one-game suspension that goes along
with it is unpaid, which makes it even costlier.
Doncic was livid following his ejection against the Kings in the
Doncic questioned why he got the second technical for throwing
the ball at the basket going into a timeout, and the team could
petition for another to get rescinded. Doncic had a tech rescinded
on April 2, and Howard had one he received on April 12
"If you get a tech for that, I don't know," Doncic said.
Doncic's first technical was for using inappropriate language
toward an official after being called for an offensive foul. Lead
official Rodney Mott said the second was for unsportsmanlike
conduct for throwing the ball the length of the court in
frustration instead of giving to an official.
Pool reporters are assigned each night by the league office in
case there is a need to question an official about a specific call.
In normal times, that reporter would go into the officials’ locker
room, ask him or her questions and file a report that all reporters
covering the game could use.
But now, with coronavirus rules, those pool reports are
conducted via Zoom calls.
There's been a slight rise in pool reporter requests but that
can most likely be attributed to the ease of the process, said a
league source. The person requesting the pool reporter may not even
need to be part of the process.
They can have the pool reporter contact (PRC) do the lifting for
them. The process is also easier on the PRC; rather than waiting
outside the officials’ locker room, the PRC is invited to a Zoom
meeting with the official. The on-duty communications staffer then
transcribes the pool report and the PRC signs off to make sure it
All refs have bad nights, just like most coaches and players.
And with everyone in the NBA desocialized to a certain degree
following 14 months of a pandemic, folks are just not as used to
talking something out as they were in the past.
Dillon Brooks of Memphis leads the NBA in personal fouls with
215, followed by Jae’Sean Tate of Houston with 206. Brooks led the
NBA last season with 278. Howard, Alex Len of Toronto, CJ McCollum
of Portland and Kyle Lowry of Toronto are tied for the league lead
in flagrant foul points with four apiece.
But the techs are what gets everyone worked up, and a lack of
consistency is a yearly complaint.
Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the issue at his All-Star
news conference media availability two months ago.
“First of all, in terms of the data, which we obviously look
very closely at, there’s nothing aberrational happening, whether in
terms of accuracy of calls or number of technicals on the floor,”
Silver said. “But I will say everyone is under enormous pressure
this year. The officials aren’t exempt from that. They are also
operating under our sort of work quarantine protocols. One of the
things we’ve learned over the last year is that the mental stress
is incredibly tough on everyone involved. I think in some cases you
have some younger officials, too, who maybe are still trying to
calibrate their relationships with players.
“So I’m not particularly concerned necessarily with the calls on
the floor. I’m always concerned about the members of our larger
community and how they’re interacting with each other...I think
it’s also the case, it’s not a secret, maybe where a little bit of
the shorter fuses come in, is that when you have arenas that are
packed with 19,000 people and you can hardly hear the person next
to you, a player may be used to saying something directed at an
official that the official wouldn’t typically hear. Then the issue
becomes, in largely empty arenas, when they do hear what the player
says, how is it they should react.
“I think it’s something we’re talking about in the league
office. I think sometimes when I hear the commentators after the
fact talking about a technical that’s called on the floor, what
they’re saying is very different than what I see in the report that
is on my desk," Silver continued. "I’m not anxious to necessarily
repeat those words, but everybody has to find the right balance in
a pandemic and be mindful of the stress."