National Basketball Referees Association

And-Ones: Referees, Play-In Tourney, Iverson Classic

While the NBA and its players’ union have provided weekly updates on the number of positive COVID-19 tests among players, we haven’t heard much about how the league’s referees – who travel commercially – have been affected by the coronavirus this season. Baxter Holmes of ESPN fills in some blanks, reporting that 10 of the NBA’s referees are currently sidelined, primarily due to COVID-related issues, and adding that 24 refs have missed at least one game this season due to the league’s health and safety protocols.

A league spokesperson tells Holmes that most of the current absences are related to contact tracing and that the NBA expects all 10 affected referees to be available for the start of the postseason next month.

In the interim, however, the league has had to “call up” six referees from the G League. According to Holmes, a number of teams and executives around the NBA have complained about the performance of those refs, prompting NBA VP of referee development and training Monty McCutchen to defend their performances.

“These were our top six G League officials who would have been getting some NBA games anyway this year. They had to be pressed into some more service, but they are knocking on the door to being staff members,” McCutchen told ESPN. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, let’s just call any random G League (official) because they live in Portland and we’ll pull them up that night.’ They had already reached levels of excellence that meant they were ready for this.”

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • NBA executives believe that flattening the lottery odds and introducing the play-in tournament has helped reduce league-wide tanking among non-playoff teams, according to Howard Beck of SI.com, who says that league sources think the play-in tournament will be adopted on a permanent basis beyond this season.
  • The Iverson Classic All-American Game, which will take place on May 8 in Memphis, has received NBA approval as a certified event, meaning team scouts can attend and evaluate prospects, reports Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Twitter link). Top 2022 prospects such as Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren headline the list of participants.
  • A little over five months after the 2020 draft took place, Sam Vecenie, John Hollinger, of James L. Edwards III of The Athletic completed a re-draft of the ’20 class. Among the big risers in The Athletic’s re-draft are LaMelo Ball (No. 3 to No. 1), Tyrese Haliburton (No. 12 to No. 5), Isaiah Stewart (No. 16 to No. 7), Aleksej Pokusevski (No. 17 to No. 7), and Jaden McDaniels (No. 28 to No. 10).

Restart Notes: Raptors, Staffers, Referees, Schedule

The Raptors, who traveled to Florida a week ago and are staying and training in the Fort Myers area, are essentially experiencing a “test run” of the environment the NBA will look to create at Walt Disney World next month, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

As Bontemps details, the Raptors are staying in a hotel that is otherwise unoccupied, are eating meals in a large ballroom with spaced-out tables or in their own hotel rooms, and are being directly shuttled to and from Florida Gulf Coast University for workouts.

If the Raptors make a deep playoff run, their early start in Florida could mean that they end up being away from home longer than any other team. However, head coach Nick Nurse doesn’t think his players or staffers are thinking about that yet, as Bontemps relays.

“Right now, we’re not,” Nurse said on Saturday. “Maybe at some point on the back end of it, or midway through it, we might. But I just don’t know. We’re, what, five days in? They’ve been a snap of a finger. They’ve blown by. So it doesn’t feel like a burden or overwhelming. It just feels like we’re all starting and getting ready to go.”

Here’s more on the NBA’s restart:

  • NBA teams have been informed that they’ll have the ability to replace staff members who test positive for COVID-19 on the Orlando campus and are unable to work, league sources tell ESPN’s Tim Bontemps (Twitter link).
  • The National Basketball Referees Association announced today that it has ratified a letter of agreement with the NBA addressing issues related to the resumed season.
  • Nick Friedell and Tim MacMahon of ESPN make their picks for the 12 most important “seeding games” on the summer schedule, including Lakers vs. Clippers, Grizzlies vs. Pelicans, Bucks vs. Raptors, and more.
  • Jabari Young of CNBC explores some of the creative ways the NBA will look to make money and engage fans when play resumes in Orlando this summer.
  • Marc Berman of The New York Post spoke to Dr. Stephen Gonzalez, an executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, about the mental health challenges that NBA players will face on the Orlando campus this summer.

Meeting Between Players, Referees Called ‘Productive’

Four points of agreement emerged from today’s meeting between representatives of players and referees, according to a joint statement released by both groups.

Gathering at All-Star Weekend in the wake of increased on-court tensions, the representatives of the NBPA and the referees’ union agreed to a course of action that calls for:

  • Enhanced education and clarification around the Respect for the Game rules.
  • The opening of an additional channel of communication for future conflicts.
  • Plans for future meetings and discussions.
  • A broad review of existing rules and regulations and developing joint recommendations to enhance them.

The statement calls today’s meeting “incredibly productive in terms of opening up the lines of communication between both groups and beginning the process of improving relations.” It also refers to the get-together as “a successful first step,” with more meetings planned for the spring and summer.

“In this meeting, we took some important steps in identifying existing frustrations for both sides,” said NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts. “Now with that information, we plan to move forward and continue to work together to find solutions that will enhance the on-court experience for both parties.”

“Our two unions met out of the necessity to examine issues that have previously been left unaddressed,” said NBRA spokesperson Mark Denesuk. “We look forward to continued collaboration between our two organizations to explore common interests.”

And-Ones: Players/Officials, Diaw, Modern Approach

Several current NBA players and referees will meet privately Saturday during All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles to discuss player-referee relations, according to a release posted on the Players’ Association’s website. Tensions between players and officials have been a hot topic this year and the aim of the meeting is to improve communication and transparency. Among the topics that will be discussed is on-court communication and demeanor; perception in media, optics, and reality of issues between players and officials; respect for game rules and their consistent enforcement; tactics for de-escalation of tension from each side; and equality of treatment for all players and officials.

In other news around the league and overseas:

  • Veteran big man Boris Diaw is expected to remain with his French team until the end of its season, Sportando relays via Le Parisien. Diaw has drawn interest from NBA teams and has an opt-out clause he could exercise by March 1 but he’ll stay with Paris-Levallois. He played 73 games for the Jazz last season.
  • Changes to the All-Star format and the league embracing pro sports betting are ways that the NBA is trying to remain relevant, Howard Bryant of ESPN argues. Oversaturation will eventually override nostalgia, tradition and enormous television rights fees, which has propped up major sports over the years, Bryant continues. That’s why the leagues are desperately trying to reinvent themselves, Bryant adds.

And-Ones: Referees, Baron Davis, Ball Brothers

Having become dissatisfied working with the NBA to moderate issues between referees and players, Lee Seham, the general counsel for the National Basketball Referees Association recently met with NBPA executive director Michele Roberts to discuss those issues, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. After meeting at the players’ union’s Manhattan offices, Seham and Roberts plan to hold another informal sitdown at All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, which will include a few top referees and players.

As Wojnarowski details, both the referees’ union and players’ union have expressed concerns about how treatment from the other side — the NBRA believes that the league office has become too lenient in allowing players to verbally go after referees, while players are put off by what they view as dismissive or disrespectful reactions from refs when they ask about a call.

The NBA would ultimately need to sign off on any official changes to the way its referees are trained, or the way that disputes between players and refs are handled. However, if the referees’ and players’ unions can reach common ground on some of those issues, they’d have added leverage to take those suggestions to the league.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Ice Cube’s BIG3 basketball league has added another former NBA All-Star to its ranks, announcing this week in a press release that Baron Davis has signed with the BIG3 and will play for 3’s Company next season.Hearing about the fun they had this past summer really made me excited to suit up,” Davis said. “I have a lot of basketball left, and this is a great opportunity to fill that void I’ve been missing.”
  • In a fascinating piece for The Washington Post, Candance Buckner shines a light on some of the NBA’s behind-the-scenes power brokers, including a video game marketing director, a fashion designer, and a skills trainer.
  • How did LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball end up landing with a little-known team in Lithuania? Andrew Keh of The New York Times takes a deep dive into the city of Prienai and its basketball club (Prienu Vytautas), which has already added five more people to its modest staff to help handle the increased marketing workload.