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Samaki Walker: Missed foul call on LeBron affects NBA's integrity

Samaki Walker: Missed foul call on LeBron affects NBA's integrity

It was the missed call heard around the world.

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers were tied at 105-105 with four seconds left. LeBron James had the ball, drove to the basket and got all the way to the rim for a game-winning layup attempt and... Jayson Taytum committed what was a clear foul to seemingly everyone in America except the ones that matter — the referees. 

No call was made, and LeBron had a wave of reactions — disbelief, despair, pain, anguish. And while some have criticized it as being an Oscar-worthy performance, many others believed that, in the words of Public Enemy, he had a right to be hostile.

This marked the fourth time in the past few weeks that Lakers players and fans believe a late-game call or non-call by the referees has gone against them and ultimately cost them the game.

Afterward, Eric Lewis, the lead official in the Lakers’ controversial loss to the Celtics, and the NBA admitted that Tatum fouled LeBron.

In addition, the National Basketball Referees Association posted on Twitter early Sunday evening.

"Like everyone else, referees make mistakes. We made one at the end of last night's game and that is gut-wrenching for us," the NBRA said. "This play will weigh heavily and cause sleepless nights as we strive to be the best referees we can be."

But does this admission really help anything? Should something be put in place so this doesn’t continue to happen? Does this negatively affect the integrity of the NBA as a whole? 

I caught up with former Los Angeles Laker and NBA champion Samaki Walker to dissect this issue.

Etan Thomas: What were your first thoughts on watching the missed call on LeBron there at the end of regulation against the Celtics?

Samaki Walker: "Initially when I saw it in live play, to be honest, I didn’t really know if it was a foul or not. But once I watched the replay, it completely confirmed that it was definitely a foul and the non-call was pretty much egregious. You've got three refs on the court, and that one ref on the baseline was literally looking directly at the play. He had the perfect angle to see exactly what happened, and he swallowed his whistle. Listen, we played. We know refs miss calls. It happens. But the way technology has evolved, the refs could call up to headquarters and make sure they get the call right quickly so it doesn’t even slow down the game. This problem could be easily fixed. 

"That last play was an opportunity for LeBron to add another piece to his already incredible career. We should be talking about that last play in terms of LeBron being aggressive in driving to the basket, how he didn’t settle for the jumper, to lead his team to victory. Instead, we’re talking about the refs, and that’s just not what the conversation should be about."

Etan: Yeah, and there’s a lot to discuss with this. The NBA came out with the report afterward saying that the refs did in fact miss the call and LeBron should’ve been awarded two free throws. And I don’t know what good that really does after the fact. They’re just admitting what everyone already knew. To your point, they need to change something so they can have the call quickly reviewed and get the call right there.

Walker: "I agree 100 percent, and the fact that we do have this technology, if the refs feel as if they didn’t see it — they’re humans; they could’ve simply missed it or are not sure, and that’s fine, we understand human error —  but don’t come together and guess. There is an easy solution to this because it impacts the integrity of the league. They could have another set of eyes watching in real time, and they tell them no problem we slowed it down, this is the correct call. This could all happen and the game not even be slowed paused or slowed down."

Etan: You said it impacts the integrity of the league. Could you go into more detail about what you meant by that?

Walker: "This is what I meant by that: So now that gambling has legally entered the NBA, it’s even more difficult for certain narratives to not start floating around. It just is, and this is an issue that the league has to deal with at face value. 

"Everyone has seen the Tim Donaghy documentary, and that’s immediately what runs through people’s minds when a bad call of this magnitude happens. It’s bad PR. The NBA doesn’t want those notions even going through anyone’s mind. That’s why they need to fix this immediately. The NBA has to either hold these refs more accountable publicly — not in private, but publicly — or they have to utilize technology to not allow this to happen because public perception is everything. The public needs to be reassured and confident that the NBA is doing everything in its power to rectify this issue."

Etan: So either you’re a part of the solution, or you’re a part of the problem.

Walker: "Exactly, and this is a problem we can rectify. Let’s have a checks-and-balances system. And to your earlier point, what good does it do to say we missed the call after the fact? That doesn’t help anything."

Etan: Another part that was kind of interesting is we saw LeBron’s reaction. And I think the refs knew they blew the call, so they didn’t give him a technical foul. Because, especially now, if you show that much of a reaction, they are immediately blowing their whistle.

Walker: "Just earlier in this very game Dennis Schroder laid on the floor after they called a foul on him on the fast break, and they tech'd him immediately. And then I felt they called a bogus offensive foul call on Jaylen Brown. I thought that was made to patch up their previous mistake."

Etan: Like a make up call?

Walker: "Yes a make-up call. And as a professional league, we shouldn’t have to resort to those tactics instead of just getting the call right the first time. Any questionable call, they could have someone in their ear — sitting at headquarters or wherever — telling them they slowed it down and looked at it from different angles, and inform them what the correct call is. But the NBA has to implement something. Because, again, the integrity of the league is in jeopardy."

Etan: I definitely agree. You know, another aspect of this that’s interesting... Immediately after the game, I saw Anthony Davis talking to reporters, and he said that they were cheated. And I expect him to be fined; I’m sure it will be announced soon. And my question has always been, why are the refs handled with such delicate gloves to where players and coaches are fined if they criticize them? Because you can vent and criticize anything else, but the refs are just untouchable. And it’s been like that for a while. What are your thoughts on that? 

Walker: "Which is interesting and goes back to our previous point. They don’t want anyone criticizing the refs because they feel that is bad PR for all of the reasons we just listed, so implement a system to get the calls right. Then, you wouldn’t have players and coaches criticizing the refs. If your real focus is to protect the integrity of the league, implement a system where this isn’t an issue, and the integrity won’t be questioned. Because if you don’t, this is going to keep happening, and that’s just not good for the league as a whole."

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