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BILL DWYRE

Harsher penalties haven't curbed complaining in NBA

Even with more rules and doubled fines for technical fouls, players and coaches still mouth off to officials. The NBA is a league of fine whine, Bill Dwyre writes.

March 25, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant argues with referee Bennett Salvatore after receiving a technical foul during a game in 2010.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant argues with referee Bennett Salvatore after receiving… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Tuesday night's triple-overtime thriller between the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns was a great preview of what's ahead.

No, not the playoffs. The whining.

As we watched Kobe Bryant make a great move, hit an uncontested jump shot from the left top of the key and then carry on a heated discussion with one of the referees all the way to the timeout huddle, we were reminded of what the NBA is.

Same thing when Pau Gasol, a really decent guy who takes enough of a nightly beating to make him an honorary member of the UFC, walked almost the length of the court while jawing with another man with a whistle.

The NBA is a league of fine whine.

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Frankly, this is only an issue because the NBA makes it one. Twice now in the last four years, the league suits have gathered their referees for a preseason meeting and figuratively pounded on the table. They are mad and aren't going to take it anymore. They are going to make sure these pampered multimillionaire players don't ruin the product with ugly, prolonged arguments with officials.

Of course, these pampered multimillionaires are the product.

This past preseason, a meeting was held in Jersey City, N.J. Fists were clenched, jaws were set and the gauntlet was tossed down. More technicals would be called, the tone would be set early and shenanigans would stop.

They got specific:

No more "aggressive gestures, such as air punches."

No more "demonstrative disagreement, such as when a player incredulously raises his hands, or smacks his own arm to demonstrate he was fouled."

No more "running directly at an official to complain."

No more "excessive inquiries about a call, even in a civilized tone."

Boy, it is a good thing all that has stopped.

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They even doubled all the fines. Tough stuff here. Instead of paying $1,000 per technical, an NBA multimillionaire had to pay (are you ready?) $2,000 for each of his first five technical fouls.

There was no stipulation as to whether these fines were to be paid out of the players' parking meter fund or shoeshine-tip change.

Early in the season, when the going got tough, the referees did, too. At one Clippers game, DeAndre Jordan itched his nose after he was called for a foul and was T'd up from half court. Breathing loudly became an infraction.

But then, as had been the case in the first go-round with this issue in 2006-07, the league got into midseason form. Referees called what they saw, players disagreed loudly and openly, the fans booed the referees and a good time was had by all.

Every time this happens, Phil Jackson is the first and best at putting it in perspective. He always says, "This will work itself out as the season goes on." Translation: This will change nothing.

It is understandable that the NBA tries. It knows that a certain level of its ticket-buying clientele squirms a bit over frequent and often ugly confrontations between tall men with lots of tattoos and short men with whistles and round bellies. But it also knows that its game is basically football without the pads and that its referees are so incredibly good that it is unimaginable how many calls they get right. And it knows the game is explosively emotional and not only can't be officiated, but is going to end up in a brawl in the stands every once in awhile.

That's not a boys-will-be-boys rationalization. It's an accurate characterization of a highly competitive game, played by the biggest, best athletes in the world, some of them with higher tempers than IQs.

Basically, the NBA's attempt at this "Respect the Game" program is public relations, not reality. When the subject comes up, Commissioner David Stern can say, with a clear conscience, that they tried.

A quick look at the numbers indicates fewer technicals are being called.

Last season, according to Harvey Pollack's Statistical Yearbook, a bible of information, there were 866 technicals whistled on players and coaches. This season, through Monday, there were 782, but 47 of those were rescinded by the league after further review.

Every season since 2005-06 through 2008-09, more than $1 million in fines for technicals had been assessed. Last season, that number was $968,000. This season will be higher only because all fines were doubled.

The worst season for technicals was 1994-95, when 2,964 were called. That number included ejections, and while the exact number was not available, ejections are usually about 15% of the total.

Generally, the public relations noise does not curtail the on-court noise. Referees blow their whistles, players whine, life goes on. The NBA is a great game, a tough game. It is not a ballet.

The playoffs are right around the corner. There is more at stake. Things will get rougher. More calls will be missed, more whining will follow. In the middle of all this, somebody in the NBA office will pound a fist on the table and say they've seen enough, that this will not happen next season, that it will be fixed.

And at their next preseason meeting, somebody with a sense of humor will bring a box of Band-Aids.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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