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Accountability In The NBA: Should Referees Face Punishment For Mistakes?

Teo Choi

Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks guard) complains to the referee during a win against the Los Angeles Lakers.

If you're an avid NBA fan, or even just a sports fan in general, nothing pains you more than a missed call by a referee in the crucial final minutes of a game. And when that missed call eventually leads to your team’s loss, you would be livid.  

In the game of basketball, NBA referees wield a lot of power. They call fouls, declare technical fouls, eject players, and often, these calls are personal. The famous “beef” in the NBA is not between a player and another player or between a coach and a player, for that matter. It is between Warriors guard Chris Paul and referee Scott Foster. Paul has a playoff record of 3-17 when Foster officiates, with one instance taking place last year. During a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, LeBron James went up for a layup at the end of regulation. He missed the layup, except he got fouled. James knew it, the player who fouled knew it, the fans, the broadcasters, everyone except for the referees. The Lakers went on to lose the game in overtime. Later, however, it was discovered that the chief referee of the game, Eric Lewis, exercised bias throughout the game. His wife’s twitter account was flooded with photos of Celtics jerseys and players. Coincidence? I think not. Apart from these, there are so many instances of referees “ruining” the game with a terrible call, too many to even list them all. 

The NBA previously said in a press conference that the league punishes its players privately. But some fans, including me, believe this is not enough. If the referees have as much accountability for the result of the game as the players do, should they not also be punished? The NBA loves fining its players, coaches, and teams, including one hundred thousand dollars for violating league injury rules, 35,000 dollars for complaining about the ref's post-game, and another 40,000 dollars for complaints about the officiating. Why can’t the league do this to the refs, too?  

So, what are the solutions? The NBA can start fining their referees for missing crucial calls in the last minutes of the game. Although the fines won’t be as expensive as those of the players, the threat of the fine alone would tremendously benefit the quality of play in the league. Another solution is to make post-game reports on every game. This would allow transparency in the league and easier ways of punishing these referees. Through transparency, referees would be refrained from exercising bias in their calls. A final solution would be to send these coaches to the G-league, the minor league of the NBA. This would allow them, like players, to be able to officiate and take part in games based on performance, similar to how players do. 

Ultimately, as NBA fans, we should acknowledge that NBA referees are all human and make mistakes. However, that is not to say that they should go unpunished. But when the referees are biased and are missing egregious plays because of personal reasons, causing the game to change in drastic ways, that is a problem that must be dealt with. For the integrity and the beauty of the league, the NBA must find better ways to increase the level of proficiency of their referees.


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