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If the NBA was a legendary restaurant, many customers would want improvement

Since launching RefCalls.com several weeks ago — and analyzing in detail ref calls over the past couple of years — it’s no secret that we and many others are still astonished by the high number of wrong and missed calls that refs make in NBA games.

We still like to give refs some credit when they correctly make some tough calls. You’ll also hear lots of basketball analysts on TV say things like, “There is no harder sport to officiate than an NBA game.” As we head into the marquee event of the season – the NBA Finals — we’ll agree with most of that, but we still believe there is lots of room for improvement.

If you just look at the video below that we put together a few days ago of many of the missed travels during games 3 & 4 of the Miami-Chicago series, you’ll get an understanding of just SOME of the missed calls and bad calls we have featured in a few dozen videos over the past few weeks.

When you think about it, the Navy SEALS (or Army Rangers, Green Berets, and other U.S. Special Ops Forces) have a tough job, too. To become one, you have to overcome some of the toughest mental and physical tests known to man. Their training program and selection process is legendary.

From what we’ve heard, the top annual pay of a SEAL is in the $50k range. On the other hand, we know some of the most senior NBA refs earn over $200k per year. So anyone who says the refs have a tough job is still correct, but when you put it in context, a lot more improvement can be expected based off how much they earn per year in comparison to people with much tougher jobs who make a lot less. For that matter, we all can improve in what we do for a living based on the excellence of the Navy SEALs.

We’ve written a couple of pieces (here and here) about how many calls and no-calls the refs get wrong, and how many gaps exist between what the rulebook states and what’s being called by the refs. We know it’s going to take more than a couple of blog posts or videos to raise awareness of these issues in mainstream sports circles, so we’ll continue to bring up the issue since we believe they are tainting the game, as many people have commented on this site.

One way to do that is to use an analogy to make it clear to people if they saw these issues in another business, they probably wouldn’t be so lenient as they have been towards the NBA. To do that, let’s compare the NBA to a legendary restaurant.

(Enclosed in parenthesis throughout is the analogous entity in the NBA ecosystem).

Imagine there’s a restaurant — let’s say located in New York City — that was started 100 years ago by a guy (Dr. Naismith) who completely revolutionized the restaurant business by serving up new dishes (a new game) in a different way, using well thought-out recipes and high-quality ingredients (rules). People who know and love food — called “foodies” — became loyal customers of the restaurant.

Over time, though, the owner of the restaurant dies, but other people get involved with the restaurant to continually improve the restaurant, adding new dishes only after careful thought and research on how best to prepare them. The management team and head chef in place (commissioners like Larry O’Brien, then later David Stern & other executives) does a wonderful job carrying out the owner’s vision, and also increases marketing and advertising efforts to make the restaurant well known worldwide.

The restaurant becomes a can’t-miss experience for anyone visiting the city because of the “brand” the management has built. As a result, though, they understand they can charge higher prices for items on the menu and increase their profits significantly.

In addition to everyone wanting to dine at this restaurant because of it’s well-known name, the people flocking to it trust that the head chef and management team are doing all they can to prevent lousy food or bad service from becoming an issue. Customers rightfully expect there is an incentive among the people running the restaurant to bust their butt to make sure everything is done to perfection.

Because the food is relatively expensive, the main clientele that dines at the restaurant becomes more affluent in nature. Being seen there makes you more hip and cool. Just going to the restaurant is a status symbol. But the majority of people who dine at the restaurant don’t know much about food preparation. It’s not as much about the food for them as it is about the glitz and glamor, like the music that’s played in the background (in-game entertainment), the restaurant décor (the arena interior), or the attractive wait staff (the players).

But there are some problems behind-the-scenes. The famous head chef really doesn’t show up as much as he used to do, and some sanitation issues have crept into the kitchen.

The problem gets worse when the people who work for the city in charge of inspecting the restaurant’s sanitary conditions (the refs) really aren’t that good for a couple of reasons. Many of them are overwhelmed because they haven’t been given the training needed to detect problems in the kitchen. And if you look further, the printed guidelines the inspectors are provided – even if they were given more tools (replay) and training to do the job – turn out to have many gaps and contradictions that make it very confusing to interpret correctly.

As a result of the these deficiencies in the rules and the inspectors’ bosses who have become lazy over the years, what ends up happening is that the “old timers” among the inspection teams pass down the guidelines THEY think make perfect sense to the new inspectors. These unwritten guidelines end up becoming the standard, even if they are contradictory to how the guidelines are written in the inspectors’ manual they have long ignored.

Meanwhile, the management team that has been in charge for close to 30 years has gotten a little lax over the years, reading their own press clippings about how they are so well respected for being the best restaurant management team in the business.

But there are a small, but growing, number of original restaurant patrons (long-time NBA fans) who have become disenchanted with how the restaurant’s quality has dropped through the years. These diners, who know a significant amount about food preparation themselves, have done their own research by taking home leftovers and breaking them down to find out exactly what ingredients were used in each dish to see if they were living up to the hype. To their dismay, they see that the ingredients are sub-standard, really aren’t healthy for you, and the markup on the dishes given the relatively mediocre ingredients is some of the highest in the industry.

These patrons remember the restaurant in its glory years when the quality of the ingredients was much better before the management team started taking their eyes off the ball, mainly due to the fact that business has been booming and most customers are more enamored with the dazzling atmosphere and the beautiful wait staff than the food itself. These customers feel since the restaurant has almost become an institution that represents what made America so great, it’s not just any old business. It must be protected, similar to historical landmarks like The Statue of Liberty or Wrigley Stadium.

At the same time, you have some of the local restaurant critics (TV announcers) who used to work in restaurants themselves, but because this restaurant is so exclusive, and they are given the best table in the restaurant (half-court announcers’ table) every time they are seated such that they get the best view of all the celebrities who come to the restaurant.

These critics get enamored with having such great privileges bestowed upon them and really don’t want to jeopardize their standing with restaurant management because they love the trappings the job provides to them (the attention from people who read their reviews, seeing all the celebrities, etc.).

These critics understand that no restaurant is perfect, so even though this restaurant has issues, they don’t say nearly enough about the underwhelming quality of the food because their attitude is, “Hey, people (NBA fans) come to this restaurant for the experience, not as much for the food. So why burst their bubble when most people don’t care as much about the food quality anyway?”

All of the wait staff (the players) realize there are problems in the kitchen that they dare not let the public know because the restaurant management (Stern and his executives) will come down on them hard for speaking up and rocking the boat (large fines for complaining about the refs).

The only solace for the wait staff is that the tips they earn (players’ high-paying salaries) makes them some of the highest paid waiters and waitresses in the city, so it’s not worth making waves. After all, the customers keep coming, the money is flowing, very few people are complaining, and the restaurant management is revered as some of the best executives in the business.

But when it comes down to it, the “foodies” who have detected issues with the ingredients and the way the food is prepared would much rather dine where the food is impeccable and is prepared in a sanitary kitchen, with a lower priority placed on the décor and the music.

However, when they let other people know about how the quality of the food has restaurant has gone down, they are told they are “sweating the small stuff” like the low-quality ingredients that are in the food, or the overall quality of the food isn’t as important as the attractive waiters.

It’s these last couple of sentences that really bring to light where we are with today’s NBA. Can you imagine if the same things were said in the NBA that the quality of the ingredients (the play on the court) isn’t that important? Or the attractiveness of the wait staff (the players) is more important than the game being played the right way as it was originally intended? And the waiters know how to manipulate the hostess (the rules) to seat the biggest tippers in their area they serve so they can make the most money among the entire wait staff (win games because they know how to sneak-in extra steps to get to the basket and score better than their opponent)?

Many more people wouldn’t stand for this if they understood just how bad the underlying issues were in the restaurant. The problem is that the restaurant’s reputation from past glory, the marketing, and the beautiful wait staff has mesmerized its customers who don’t have the time or inclination to look into the restaurant’s issues themselves.

But it’s never too late. Over time, it’s hard to keep these issues hidden forever, especially with the Internet that allows the truth to spread much faster than without it. At RefCalls.com, we hope to be just one of several catalysts that help the truth get spread faster to help fans realize that they are not getting their money’s worth, and with some reforms, the game can become better officiated and fairer for teams, players, and fans.

  • http://alchemytoday.com alchemytoday

    Watched the 1st half; except for Bosh’s changing pivot feet and Rose’s four steps, they’re all examples of NBA refs not counting steps in which a player gathers the ball during a step in a quick move to the basket.  I can’t remember when I last saw this called a travel — I suppose the NBA could make it a point of emphasis this off-season, but it’s more a matter of league-wide officiating than bad officiating.  The fact is that Rose and James charging the basket for a high speed dunk is too awesome for the NBA to do anything about it.  It’s a lot more entertaining than the technique it replaced which was simply running into people a la Wade, Parker, etc.

    I’d rather the NBA focus on moving screens over travels… they impact games far more often and are less consistently officiated.  It’s also really boring to watch over half the teams run pick and rolls 20 feet from the basket almost every play.

  • Staff

    I never said “half step” is in the rulebook. That’s my terminology, not the NBA’s. I encourage you to read our commentary more closely.

  • m morales

    i stand corrected. after thorough review of your site i understand what your motives and goals are and i respect that. youre right, it doesnt say that a player is allowed a “gather step” in the rule book. however, it doesnt say that a dribble is ended when you guys seem to interpret it. i think the nba needs to clarify the verbatim for referees, players, coaches, and fans. i am not trying to put you guys down or demoralize what you are trying to do nor do i want to defend my stance to the death. i just think your site would be much more interesting if you had someone credible to back your premises. i understand where youre coming from and what youre trying to do i just would like to see some more substantiated evidence backing your arguments… specifically the travel calls.

  • Staff

    I know we have used the word “half-step” before. That’s our terminology, not the league’s. More specifically, we wrote in a blog post that, “There’s a second category of travels that’s frequently missed that we’ll call…Sneaking in an extra 1/2 step or full step while “completing a dribble””

    We go into great detail about the “completion of a dribble” issue that starts around the middle of the page at http://refcalls.com/2011/04/30/misconceptions-about-traveling-blocking-need-to-be-resolved/.