Union Leaders For Players, Refs Meet Over Tensions

Escalating tensions between players and officials led to a recent meeting between the leaders of their unions, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Lee Seham, general counsel for the National Basketball Referees Association, called players association executive director Michele Roberts to discuss several recent incidents, including ejections involving high-profile players such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, who has been tossed from three games this season. Also, official Courtney Kirkland received a week’s suspension after a head-butting altercation with Shaun Livingston.

Seham and Roberts talked for more than two hours about a wide range of issues, including the referees’ stance that the league has allowed too much leniency to players to verbally attack them. Roberts said players believe the refs have become disrespectful on the court and get particularly upset when officials hold up their hands in an effort to silence them.

“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.'”

Roberts and Seham will conduct an informal meeting with a small group of players and referees during All-Star weekend to further discuss the topic. Roberts hopes getting everyone in the same room will improve communication.

“What is going to make a difference is to have our players sit down and discuss their grievances with officials,” she said. “They clearly can’t do that on the court. We need to do it at a time when there’s no game on the line, or you’re not thinking, ‘What’s he or she going to do to me in the next quarter if I complain?’ We need to sit down over a cup of coffee or even a can of beer and get some things off everyone’s chests and hear the other side’s perspective. We talked about this a couple of years ago. I thought it would be interesting. Now I think it’s something that’s necessary.”

The NBA has altered its referee management program since Adam Silver took over as commissioner, Wojnarowski adds, but its working relationship with officials has worsened. Emails reveal that the officials union has challenged the league office on several issues, including what it considers to be “intimidating behavior” from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

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