I see Sam Cassell in my dreams sometimes.
He haunts me -- and not just because of his "unique" look. I suffer through flashbacks of the 1994 NBA Finals, when he helped knock out my beloved New York Knicks with clutch shot after clutch shot. But lately I've seen another Sam Cassell more often ...
The one that's the biggest crybaby in basketball.
Sadly, the sport is full of them. I've been pretty down on the NBA the past few seasons. (Being a Knicks fan will do that to you.) But I've actually gotten excited about the NBA playoffs for the first time in a long time this year. The first round was fabulous, and the second round has been riveting, as well. Except for one thing ... what's up with all the whining?
Am I alone here? Am I the only one who feels that nowadays, more than ever before, practically every referee whistle is protested? It's ridiculous. So, instead of just kicking back and enjoying the Heat-Nets and Suns-Clippers games on Tuesday night, I decided to focus my attention on the whining on display. Here are a few of the "highlights" ...
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This game was the appetizer before the main course. There were a few fireworks, though.
• In the first quarter, Antoine Walker was livid after not getting a foul call on a driving shot in the lane. After the shot missed, he slapped his right arm violently and screamed "[blank] foul!" so loudly I almost thought it was my brother screaming at me from the next room. Would have been an automatic technical foul in my brave new NBA world (further details below).
• Richard Jefferson warranted two techs in my book. One for flipping out and mouthing off to referee Jack Nies after a late -- but correct -- offensive foul call that nullified a basket. (I have extra sympathy for Jack Nies because he's the father of former "Real World" star Eric Nies.) The other for lying on his back with his eyes closed for way too long after getting called for a block instead of getting a charge call. He wasn't hurt; he was just showing up the ref.
• Perennial ref-abuse all-star Gary Payton protested calls too much on a couple of occasions. And Alonzo Mourning did rack up a tech after a hard foul on Jefferson in the fourth quarter. That prompted a "Refs, you suck!" chant from the Miami crowd -- frankly, I would have T'ed them up and given the Nets another free throw.
• The best two guys when it came to referee reactions were the two big men, Shaq and Nenad Krstic. Shaq didn't seem to say a word any time he was whistled -- if anything, he'd just flash either a knowing smile or a mild look of disbelief. And no matter what the call, Krstic just put his hands on his hips, then moved on to the next play.
There wasn't nearly as much whining as I expected in this game. But still ...
• Vlad Radmanovic got on my nerves a couple of times by spreading his arms in protest after not receiving foul calls on a couple of his jump shots.
• Shaun Livingston had some words for the referees, particularly after one play when he lost the ball out of bounds. He ran right up to the ref after the play to plead his case that he was fouled. But what's the ref going to do, change the call?
• NBA MVP Steve Nash spent a fair amount of time talking to the refs, appearing to walk that fine line between just asking questions and complaining about calls. Couldn't help but wish he'd just stay away, though, and just play.
• And then there's Cassell, who acted like a spoiled brat, as usual, on several occasions. For instance, the Clippers weren't whistled for their first team foul till almost 10 minutes into the game -- but sure enough, Cassell made some hand gestures to the refs after that call, even though it wasn't on him. In the fourth quarter, the cameras showed him stomping his feet about another call while he was at the scorer's table waiting to check back in the game. And he flipped out after being called for a charge with a little more than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, pleading wildly with ref Steve Javie.
As my fellow hoops die-hards out there know, Tuesday night turned into an extra-long evening. Suns-Clippers didn't wrap up until 2:12 a.m. Eastern, more than six hours after the Heat and Nets tipped off. And it was a great night for basketball junkies -- a one-point game, followed by a double-OT thriller, featuring plenty of outstanding individual performances, including Cassell's 32 points. It's a tough night to file a complaint after.
But I'm going to file it anyway.
NBA players -- stop with the spoiled-brat routine. Enough with the scowls and the pleading and the screaming. You'd never get away with that garbage in baseball. Baseball umpires don't even have technical fouls at their disposal. Yet if a baseball player shows up an umpire or gets in an umpire's face the way NBA players do on a regular basis, he probably would get tossed.
NBA referees are paid professionals. They're not perfect, but most of them have been doing this job for a long time and know the game as well as the players. Let them do their jobs. Just once, I'd love to see Joey Crawford or Javie run over to Cassell and say, "What the heck were you thinking taking that shot" or get in Nash's face and say, "That was a horrible pass!"
Refs -- start handing out so many technical fouls the players finally shut up and just focus on playing the game. Then one day we might be able to say there's no crying in basketball.
And be a little extra tough on Cassell. I could use the extra sleep.
Kieran Darcy is an editor at ESPN.com and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.