Admitting refs' wrongs might be right thing to do
Having NBA officials admit mistakes like the NFL's refs might prevent Pat Riley-type rants.
Editor's note: As part of "The Stein Line" every Monday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein gives his take on things in "Slams and Dunks."
The league is still evaluating the weekend rant from Pat Riley, whether to fine or even suspend Riles for his loud suggestions that multiple referees -- but most notably Steve Javie -- penalize the Miami Heat because they don't like the Heat's slicked-back coach. Yet just imagine if Riley can ever prove his assertions. The NBA would have an eyesore considerably uglier than Saturday night's shameful fan uprising against the ref crew in Salt Lake City.
The NFL, meanwhile, endured its own Refgate episode last week, when confidential league documents acknowledging nine officiating mistakes in the Packers-Vikings game were obtained by two Minneapolis-St. Paul newspapers. That story brought renewed attention to the NFL's practice of admitting mistakes made by its referees when teams fill out day-after forms seeking clarifications on calls.
The instant reaction, of course, is to wonder whether such a system could help diffuse the growing dissatisfaction with officiating in the NBA, where rants against ref error are a nightly staple and sadly rising in volume. There would be obvious obstacles, with five times as many games in the NBA. It's also hard to imagine mea culpas that come a day or two later making the team that thinks it got jobbed feel any better.
Then again ...
Eventually admitting mistakes in formal communications with teams -- with fines for teams found leaking the info -- would be worlds better than the NBA never admitting mistakes, even privately. Which is how it works now. It's a system that hasn't improved the public perception of referees at all or mollified players and coaches any, in spite of the fact that it's the hardest sport to officiate and every ref undertakes a considerable internal-review process after every game.
Instead, players and coaches keep stewing until they detonate, leading to accusations like Riley's that invariably chip away at the league's image yet again, paranoid as they sound. There's no guarantee that the NFL's way would help, but could it hurt?
The real kids (Kwame Brown and Jared Jeffries) are suddenly mostly spectators, giving Doug Collins the difficult task of making sure he doesn't lose them while everyone else is in Win Now mode. Yet Michael Jordan can make this all up to Kwame by attracting some premium talent this summer in his return to full-time GM-ing. That would be MJ's most significant achievement on Capitol Hill.
Charlotte residents know Bird better than they know Johnson, which is why public sentiment is said to be with the Belkin group. But Johnson could undoubtedly rectify that. Johnson could, say, offer the GM job to Magic Johnson, who, like Bird, also wants to a run an NBA team. Then again, Robert Johnson is so well-regarded in the league office, he might not need a starry sidekick to beat Belkin out.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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