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Vice-Pres claims players’ sour relationship with refs not as bad as eyes let on


The relationship between NBA players and game officials was as poor as it has been in the last few decades, going from constant banter and disagreements over calls to a downright hostile interaction — a them against us type of relationship.

The league has recently seen plenty of veteran officials hang them up for good, leaving a new batch of new referees coming into the league, unknown to new and veteran players — which has resulted in added tension between the two sides.

NBA vice president and head of referee operations Michelle Johnson, a former Air Force basketball player, noted the tug-and-pull between players and officials wasn’t as bad as the eyes of the media let on.

“Really, the tension wasn’t quite as much as the lens of media made it out to be, but what’s happening more and more is the league and the players and the coaches are just trying to share a common understanding of the rules and understand each other better,” said Johnson, according to Michael Scotto of The Athletic. “There’s a dimension of accuracy that’s really important that’s the foundation of the way we work, but the refs are excellent, not perfect is what we say. The other dimension of it is intangible, communication, eye contact, teamwork. How do you explain the call in terms of rules. We’re working on being analytical about qualitative things like leadership and communication even while we’re also analytical about peer accuracy.”

The relationship between refs and players has always been a sticky one, as athletes hardly ever want to be policed when exhibiting their talents in a game that they loved. Players like DeMarcus Cousins and Draymond Green have had a storied reputation among referees, but the 2017-18 season saw others like Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin come close to the limit of 16 for the season, which warrants a one-game suspension.

Longtime veteran Shaun Livingston had yet to have been ejected in his 13-year NBA career, but was for a first time on Dec. 3 of last year, after coming head-to-head with official Courtney Kirkland after a no-call happened right in front of the baseline, where Kirkland stood.

Livingston was suspended for one game by the league office, while Kirkland was removed from the referee rotation for a week after the altercation with the veteran Warriors guard.

Hopefully, now a season removed from this tech-epidemic, the league can finally go back to a point in which both sides are respected, resulting in more basketball and less demonstrative interactions between players and officials.