After Lee Seham, the general counsel for the National Basketball Referees Association, had grown increasingly dissatisfied working with the NBA on contentious issues between game officials and players, he called the players association's executive director, Michele Roberts: Let's get together and talk, Seham proposed. There had been a run of ejections and technical fouls involving star players. Cleveland's LeBron James, New Orleans' Anthony Davis, and Golden State's Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were thrown out of games. Durant has been ejected three times this season. A game official, Courtney Kirkland, was suspended for a week for his part in a head-butting incident with Golden State's Shaun Livingston. Tensions have been building, with common ground increasingly difficult to find among refs, players and the commissioner's office. In a recent two-hour-plus conversation at the National Basketball Players Association's Manhattan offices, Seham and Roberts discussed several referee-player issues, including the NBRA's belief that the league office has become too lenient in allowing players' aggressive verbiage toward refs. Roberts countered that players are overwhelmingly disconcerted by what they believe is the disrespectful manner with which refs address players on the court. Across months of team-by-team union meetings, Roberts said players have consistently raised concerns with her and union staff about the dismissive tone of game officials. "[In team meetings], the greatest issue of consternation is the officiating," Roberts told ESPN. "I could almost write the script. You'd bring it up, and there would be groans, groans and groans." For example, players expressed frustration with referees holding up a hand -- like a stop sign -- when approached on the floor. "Our players also complained about being ignored, told to 'shut up,' told to 'move' or, in extreme circumstances, hit with a technical," Roberts said. "There have been four or five occasions when a player has gone to say, 'Hey, what's up with that?' and the official holds his hand up like a stop sign, like, 'I don't have time to talk to you.' ... Lee [Seham] told me, 'That's what they're trained to do.' "I think it's a horrible idea. I hope someone over in [NBA] basketball operations will maybe reconsider that because it doesn't serve to be a de-escalation of things; it really pisses guys off. I don't know whose idea it was, but I hope they revisit the wisdom of it. I mentioned to players who specifically complained, and they weren't happy to hear that it was a part of the training. "This is more about where they came up to an official and asked, 'What's up with that?' and they've been given a technical for something other than an F-bomb." The NBA says officials aren't taught to use "the stop sign" to de-escalate situations, but an NBRA source told ESPN that it had indeed been a device previously taught as part of the league's training program. "That's not in their toolkit now," NBA president of basketball operations Byron Spruell told ESPN. "We teach them that gestures and words matter. What is in their toolkits is that we want to be humble, and we don't want to escalate situations.
Meeting held to discuss tensions between refs, players
ESPN | Dec 21