Thursday, June 21, 2012

And Then They Totally Ruined It By Talking, Or Why NBA Fans Pule So Much About The Refs

Pule Pule Pule Pule
I don't know whether NBA officiating is worse than any other officiating, but I do know that NBA fans complain about officiating more than anyone else. - Tracer Bullet

As always, the Bullet makes me think, which is why I hate him so very, very much... but he's absolutely on the mark. I have no real horse in the NBA Finals, though I'm rooting for the Thunder to redeem my pick and keep Miami Fan down; if and when the Heat complete the trick, it won't cause me more than a half minute of meh. So why have I been so mortified by the officiating?

It goes beyond the unfairness shown for Miami, or the sense that the refs are going to cost us 1 or 2 more games of what really could have been one of the most entertaining series in recent history. The Heat have been more poised in the late going, they've gotten to more loose balls, and they've handled things when it mattered. The Thunder may be falling into that have to lose before you can win trap. Miami is up 3-1, deserves to be up 3-1, and puling about the refs is hack. I certainly couldn't do the job any better than the refs, and I doubt I could do it well enough to ref a YMCA game. So why am I giving in to the temptation to cry foul about the fouls?

It goes to the nature of the game itself. Basketball fans, the true ones that watch even when their laundry isn't involved (note that the highest local ratings for this series outside of OK and FL are Cleveland, Memphis, New Orleans and San Antonio), don't want to see free throws. We also don't really want to see block/charges, defensive three second violations, intentionally fouling a weak free throw shooter, the rote "one to give" foul at the end of a quarter... or, well, anything that stops the action. Because basketball at its best is up and down, back and forth, not stopping, not slowing, not taking quasi rest breaks or dribbling out time in an isolation package.

The best basketball games that I saw this spring did not involve my Sixers, even when they were putting the Celtics to the brink, or even when they broke through against Chicago. As fun as those games were, and as enjoyable and unexpected as 13 playoff games from an 8 seed can be, they just don't compare to the grace and speed of the Spurs, Nuggets, Clippers and Thunder, don't hold a candle on the aesthetic joy in movement shown by teams with deadly point guards at the top of their game, athletic finishing big men, and up-tempo offenses that win by doing more than taking more shots than the opponent.

This is how different hoop is. The best Eagles wins of my lifetime include the breakthrough stomp job they gave the Cowboys in 1980 to go to the Super Bowl. Or maybe the Michael Vick Explosion Game against Washington on MNF a few years ago, when the road team more or less made Daniel Snyder set fire to Donovan McNabb's extension before the ink was dry. Maybe it was the Cowboy elimination game when Brian Dawkins ended Marion Barber's period of usefulness, or even the Rodney Peete out of the blue scoreathon playoff game against Detroit. I'll also take the MNF House of Pain game against the run and shoot Oilers, when Buddy Ryan's defense ended the careers of so many slot WRs, or even last year's Giants game, when a reeling squad made the eventual Super Bowl winners look downright pitiful. That's because in football, watching your favorite team utterly annihilate a hated opponent is better than anything; having the ability to gloat during the game is the lock low shove and love moment for football fans. The squeak it out contest where a single snap decides everything may be memorable, but the memory will be more of relief than triumph.

Not the case with hoop. What you want to see there is your team come back from a big hole to win at the buzzer, or overcome referee hijinks to have your non-star bury the last shot, or your shot-blocker end the threat with an emphatic hammer job, or the nerves of steel foul shots going in to clinch and close. When your team just opens up a lead and runs away with it, it's too easy, goes against the everyone makes a run ethos, and ends your evening with pointless bench guys running around as you wonder when it's OK to leave. That's no fun, not art, and not memorable... and hoop fans are like fight fans. We want memories, maybe even more than wins.

This is why people think the Spurs are boring, even though they are not. This is why no one watched the Pistons' recent championships, or why Celtics-Lakers isn't the ratings extravaganza that it should be with two Top 5 front-running markets in position. And this is why these ratings are the highest that they've been in a decade.

So, refs? Stop getting in the way of things. Start making a mess of no-calls on Shane Battier's flow-destroying defense game. Continue to ignore James Harden and Chris Bosh as they theatrically fall for bailouts. Make emphatic calls for out of bounds possessions that avoid the need for emasculating video reviews, even if they are wrong. And push, push, push the pace so that the world's best athletes can give us something to remember, even if it's not nearly enough of it.

The only way to keep people from bitching about the officiating is to make them talk, first, about how amazing the game was. No matter who won.

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