The NBA recently announced a five-pronged initiative to improve player/referee relations during a season when a notable list of superstars — including LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the first time in their careers — have been ejected from games and reigning champion Golden State leads the league in both victories and ejections.
If it indeed has grown into a contentious issue, Timberwolves veteran forward Taj Gibson has his own one-point plan:
Know your referee.
“Over the years, I just learned to know the names,” he said. “It’s a relationship. Just try to know their names, create a rapport because I know we’re going to see each other. You may have an argument one game and you’re going to see them four games later. But understand they have a job to do, just like we have a job to do. I know they’re going to be in this league for a while, so you’ve got to have that relationship so you can talk to them.”
That’s why the Wolves write referees’ names on athletic tape and adhere it in front of their bench so players might engage referees by their first names.
Representatives from the NBA players union and its referees union — including both players and referees themselves — will meet in Los Angeles over All-Star weekend. When releasing the five-point plan, president of league operations Byron Spruell said recent player/referee encounters haven’t lived up to the standards of a league that stands “for the best things about sports: competition, teamwork, respect, sportsmanship, diversity and inclusion.”
The league appointed Michelle Johnson, senior VP/head of referee operations, and former referee Monty McCutchen to oversee a program that will meet with all 30 teams to discuss rules interpretations, on-court conduct and expectations of NBA referees. The league will re-emphasize with referees, coaches and players its “Respect for the Game” rules and expand its rules education.
It also will provide referees with more conflict-resolution training.
Golden State’s Draymond Green was ejected from a lopsided loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday after he tossed the ball toward a referee after a called foul. Teammate Stephen Curry was tossed in October when he threw his mouth guard in the direction of a referee.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has called himself and his players “too emotional and too demonstrative” and said after Tuesday’s loss, “They missed calls, but we were way worse than the officials were.”
Oklahoma City star Carmelo Anthony declared himself “done with the refs” after a January game in which teammate Russell Westbrook was ejected. He said referees have been too quick to call technical fouls and said there’s less dialogue between referees and players than earlier in his career. Maybe that’s why Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau received a technical Friday in Chicago for screaming at his own player, Karl-Anthony Towns.
Thibodeau praises both McCutchen’s appointment and the efforts and intentions of the league, its players and referees.
“The game is good and I think we have to adjust, too, to how the game is being played,” Thibodeau said. “We have to understand, the game is moving a lot faster now. We’re asking three officials to get it all right. It’s not an easy job. You’re looking at it the next day and we’re playing back things three, four, five times and we’re still not sure.”
Gibson said the NBA is what it always has been: “It’s a heated game. We have crazy attitudes at times because of the heat of the moment.”
He’s not sure if players or referees have changed or if the world around them has.
“It’s a significant issue now because we have a lot of media, a lot of social media,” Gibson said. “Nothing is unseen. Even the smallest gestures can turn into the biggest thing. I think that’s the main thing. Communication is the key.”
So know your referee.
• New Pistons forward Blake Griffin walked off the court Friday after losing to his former Clippers teammates and coaches in the first game between the teams since he was traded from L.A. to Detroit. Afterward, he noted only DeAndre Jordan remains from the time he joined the Clippers in 2009. “It was a little weird,” he told reporters. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like that. So it’s out of the way. Move on.”
• Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler has acknowledged he had “some riffraff” with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg during their two-year relationship in Chicago together, but Hoiberg called their sometimes contentious time together “an absolute pleasure.” “Just because of his competitive edge,” Hoiberg said. “The way he brought it every day. I’ve always said the three most competitive players I’ve been around in my career are Reggie Miller, Kevin Garnett and Jimmy Butler. Those guys never back down from any challenge, never shy away from a big shot. Jimmy is as good as I’ve been around from that standpoint.”
• Wolves veteran Taj Gibson said he wouldn’t, but he did watch much of a United Center videoboard tribute dedicated to him and Jimmy Butler during their first visit back to Chicago on Friday. Played during an early timeout, it included footage of them mugging together in their youth and they received a standing ovation when it ended. “It’s what you dream of on the playgrounds back in Brooklyn,” Gibson said. “You want to make it to the NBA. You have doubts whether the dream will ever come true. … It’s hard to stick in the NBA and 8 ½ years later, to have the city of Chicago stand up for me, it was amazing.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 6 p.m. vs. Sacramento
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Houston
Thursday: 8 p.m. vs. L.A. Lakers
Sun. and Tue. FSN; Thu. TNT
Player to watch: James Harden, Rockets
He was just coming back from a hamstring injury, when he scored 10 points in 26 minutes in his first game back when these teams played last month in Houston. Since then, he became the first player in NBA history to score 60 points while recording a triple-double with a 60-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound game against Orlando.
“He has completely changed us. It’s hard to go from where we were to where we are now.”
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau praising Jimmy Butler once again, this time when Butler returned to Chicago to play his former Bulls team on Friday