Basketball is a very fast-paced sport. Professionally, compared to other American sports like football and baseball, it may even be the fastest. An NBA game consists of four 12-minute quarters. In each quarter, the time does not stop unless a team scores, the time has run out, or when a referee blows a whistle. Otherwise, the game is constantly going and changing and moving, with 10 players running up and down the court trying to put a leather ball into a basket. It sounds sort of silly on paper, but when played correctly it’s one of the most entertaining, amazing and beautiful performances in sport. For fans like myself, watching a good game is like going to the MoMA for art enthusiasts or the Comedy Cellar for people who like to laugh.
Unfortunately, many games are ruined or sabotaged by awful officiating. This can happen in any sport or competition, but basketball is extremely vulnerable to questionable calls, which makes sense. The flow of the game isn’t broken up by a tackle like in football or a foul ball in baseball; the play usually stops upon a referee’s whistle, meaning the play has stopped due to one’s judgement as opposed to routine.
And that judgement occurs in a split second (ASAP) after the said referee has seen (or now more than ever, heard) something illegal. Meanwhile, the subjects that these refs are officiating are men in their 20s and 30s who range anywhere from 6-7 feet tall, are faster and quicker than most people on this planet, and are all highly competitive and confident. And if that isn’t challenging enough, this is all done in front of 13,000-20,000 people in a big stadium AND on TV, which a lot of times is covered nationally.
The following names are the referees chosen to officiate last year’s NBA Finals.
Monty McCutchen: 47 years old
Tony Brothers: 48 years old
Jason Phillips: 43 years old
Joey Crawford: 63 years old
Ed Malloy: 42 years old
Ken Mauer: 58 years old
Danny Crawford: 59 years old
James Capers Jr.: 51 years old
Marc Davis: 45 years old
Scott Foster: 46 years old
Mike Callahan: 54 years old
Bill Kennedy: 46 years old
The following are the starting lineups from each competing team of the same Finals and their corresponding age:
Miami Heat San Antonio Spurs
LeBron James: 28 Tony Parker: 31
Dwayne Wade: 31 Tim Duncan: 37
Mario Chalmers: 27 Tiago Splitter: 28
Udonis Haslem: 33 Kawhi Leonard: 22
Chris Bosh: 29 Danny Green: 26
Average age of both starting lineups: 29.2 years old
Average age of the refs from the 2013 Finals: 58 years old
Both groups are only a small sample of what the rest of the league represents, but the proof is there. Why does such a successful, smart, and ever-expanding league like the NBA leave officiating up to adults who are more than twice the age of the average competitor? We’ve already covered what it takes to officiate such a game; why are there not more referees who are the same age as the players?
Granted, most of the referees who are still working have been doing so for years, hence, they started at a young age. But it’s been a while since the NBA opened its doors to a larger amount of younger officials. I understand that referees must gain experience from the ground up, but isn’t it time for a program or school to be dedicated solely to officiating? Or maybe officiating could be treated like other majors, but instead of doing years of lab work to become a doctor, one does years of practice and exercise (both physical AND moral) to become a referee.
However, that’s not to say that the NBA should get rid of its oldest officials; they should and can continue to work. But something needs to be done. Whether or not the reasoning behind bad calls is due to age is up for debate, but the ages of the people making these calls is not. The NBA needs to make a call; I just hope us fans like it.