The fan research is in and apparently NBA fans don’t want to see their ballers bawling about referee calls and disagreeing with authority figures in stripes, demonstratively or otherwise. At least that is what the NBA front office is telling us is the reason for the latest tweak of guidelines for calling technical fouls. Now players will face technical foul calls “for aggressive gestures, demonstrative disagreements, running directly at an official to complain, or excessive inquiries about a call, even if the tone is civilized,” but “heat of the moment reactions” will typically not result in a penalty.
According to NBA senior vice president of referee operations Ron Johnson, this is a business decision to conform to the expectations of the fan base. Johnson said, “People expect hockey players to be fighting. They expect baseball managers to be kicking dirt on umpires, but that’s not our game. That’s not what our fans want. They tell us in many many ways and I think we have to adjust to meet the needs of our league and our fans. It’s a business.”
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It’s an interesting conclusion that fans want NBA refs to have more control over a game’s outcome because they don’t want players whining as much.1 I find it dubious that fans want referees to call more technicals and take the game out of the hands of the players, while making it more likely that a player (even a star player) can be quickly ejected, especially since fans come to see the players and the game not the refs. The possibility that games can be altered by the call of technical fouls which disrupt the flow of the game and can render players less aggressive because of the looming threat of a second technical which leads to an ejection should be more disconcerting to fans than players crying after a perceived bad call. Players who whine usually take themselves out of the game and impact their teammates with their individual histrionics. (Arguably, whining players also put refs on notice and make them less aggressive.) To give the ref more control over the pace of the game seems like overkill and is unnecessary — unless the real reason is to quicken the pace of the game for television not the fans — after all this is a business and they can’t shorten the game by cutting out the commercial time outs. Can they?
If the league cares about the fans who pay to see the game, (Yes, “You pay to see the game.”) how does it benefit the fan that a star player is more likely to be ejected (or neutralized) for complaining? Common sense dictates that the new guidelines must be applied subjectively in order to satisfy fans who want to see their stars play. Rasheed Wallace is gone but he (and Nate Robinson) would be the first to confirm subjective application of the old tech rules. Giving the refs this type of subjective control post-Tim Donaghy does not really make sense, although the NBA is all about controlling the speech of its players about the game on and off the court.
You’ve heard of the “Soup Nazi,”
is there a “Tech Nazi” too?
In other words, this is more about telling players to “shut the f*ck up” and to “stop complaining about the product in public.” Stu Jackson confirmed this when he said:
“The proper mindset, in every player’s mind, is abstinence. The focus here is to just play the game. We have a great game. We have great players. We have a great product. Let’s focus on executing offense and defense and being highly competitive. Complaining doesn’t have a part in our game, and complaining has never changed a non-call to a call, or a call to a non-call.”
Are you one of the fans who favored giving the refs more control over the game to shut up those players who question authority, even politely?