OAKLAND — We begin today with a simple question. Has everyone lost their minds?
It is not your imagination. NBA players and referees are engaged in an epic bickerfest. Even the league office is concerned. It announced a formal, clear-the-air meeting between the Players Association and referees over All-Star break.
Good luck. At this point the two sides are bunkered in. And you have to admit, some of the optics have been mind-boggling.
LeBron James was ejected from a game for the first time in his 15-year career. (Which is amazing, as much as he whines.) Famously mellow Warriors guard Shaun Livingston — tossed.
But the poster person for the new abnormal is Kevin Durant. With last Tuesday’s toss-a-roo, Durant has been escorted off the court four times this year. That’s more than the entire roster of any other NBA team — and after only one ejection in the previous 10 years.
For the serene Durant to turn into Yosemite Sam is strange. But what’s even weirder is he doesn’t seem that mad.
After the Tuesday game reporters were told that KD would be coming to the interview room. I am sure I am not the only one who rolled his/her eyes. I figured he was still throwing laundry baskets and screaming unprintable insults.
But he not only came in, he was chill and pleasant. He laid out his case against the ref, eight-year veteran James Williams, and was his typical, cooperative self.
Then, the next day he not only apologized, but admitted he was acting like jerk. Again, no rancor, even a few laughs. Besides, as someone pointed out, Durant doesn’t get tossed until the game has been decided.
Wait, there’s a plan? That sounds suspiciously like someone is trying to make a point. Or, that officials are trying to make a point and this is a reaction.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the Tuesday ejection.
With about five minutes left in the first half, referee Williams called Durant for “carrying.”
Honestly, it was the tickiest of ticky-tack calls. Carrying, which used to be called “palming,” happens approximately every 47 seconds in the NBA. Michael Jordan carried the ball 15 times a game and no one said a peep.
Not only a bad call, but pointless. Why?
But Durant wouldn’t let it go. He went after Williams, showing him up in front of the crowd. Head coach Steve Kerr watched.
“Kevin has the right to say, ‘That was a bad call,’” Kerr said at practice the next day. “But not ‘You mothertrucker.’” (or similar word.)
We then go to halftime, during which I am going to guess, Williams is seething. Durant said in the second half he “was searching for me.” I wouldn’t disagree.
Late in the third quarter, Williams whistled Durant for a moving screen. Seconds later, Durant went up for a block and Williams blew his whistle. It turned out he was calling a foul on Kevon Looney.
But Durant, thinking the call was on him, took the ball, gave it one, two-handed slam on the floor and glared at Williams. The ref started to make the “T” sign before the ball got back to Durant’s hands.
Frankly, that looked petty of Williams. Establish respect, but do it when the player deserves it.
“Here’s what would have happened in the old days,” Kerr said. “There is no T, but during the next timeout, he walks over to KD and says, ‘Hey, settle down. I’m starting to get mad and I know you are starting to get mad, and I don’t want to give you a technical.’”
But by that time, the get-outta-here death spiral was unstoppable. Late in the fourth quarter — yes, with a comfortable lead — Durant reacted to a no-call by official Brett Nansel. Yelling at Nansel gave the hair-trigger Williams a chance to butt in, give Durant a T and throw him out.
Lovely. Very difficult to decide who to root for in that little melodrama.
What is going on? There are theories. Former NBA coach and ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy says there has been a changing of the guard. The older, seasoned officials are moving out and younger, feistier refs are coming in.
Kerr admits “we’ve lost a lot of veterans,” but he points to the “unintended consequences” of video technology. He says some 10 years ago the league began to rely more and more on analytics.
“The league says (officials) get 94 percent of the calls right, which is B.S.,” he said. “They want it to be exact and it can’t be exact.”
The result, he says, is the obsession with those let’s-go-to-the-videotape moments.
“Just make a call and move on,” Kerr says. “I’d only use replay for buzzer beaters and (cause for) ejection.”
Instead, rather than talk to players — and let them talk to them — the officials are scurrying over to the screen to make absolutely sure they are right. That’s the opposite of what works.
“The art of refereeing,” Kerr says, “is to command respect without escalating personal issues.”
Great idea. So why don’t we emphasize personal communication skills and cut back on the video-conferencing?
Otherwise … you know who has taken video replay decision-making to the next level? Professional football.
The NFL says it works great.
OK then, tell me what a catch is.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius.