NBA Officiating Primer – Understand How and Why Calls Are Made

by Kent Sterling

How does Joey Crawford call a game?  (Insert joke here) A bit of understanding I gleaned this week is below.

How does Joey Crawford call a game? (Insert joke here) A bit of understanding I gleaned this week is below.

The NBA is hard to watch for people who like consistent officiating.  My issue has always been that the same act can be a foul at one moment, but not in the next.

I sat and listened to an outstanding explanation of officiating this week, and would like to share the wisdom I received.

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The first bit explained the source of my frustration, and provided me with enough wisdom to move beyond it.

Calls are not made because of the act, but because of the result.  It isn’t a foul or violation if the result of the foul does not provide an advantage.  Whether or not you agree with that philosophy or not isn’t important – it’s what causes the whistle to blow, and if you want it different, the NBA is going to drive you batty.

For example, if a player is in the open court and dribbles by putting his hand under the ball but does not hesitate to change direction, that is not a violation.  If the player hesitates to change direction with his hand under the ball – violation.

Here’s another clarification that will bring understanding – a hand of the defender on the offensive attacker is not a violation.  If the hand impedes the progress of the attacker, that is a violation.

There is gray area everywhere, and intent is weighed by the referees in every situation.  That makes officiating as much about psychology as physics, so people who want all motorists traveling faster than 55 mph on I-465 to get a ticket will go crazy watching an NBA game.

Here are some other pieces of information that will help clear the fog of misunderstanding about NBA officiating:

  • Illegal screens involve one of three elements – sliding the hip to create contact and thus additional space, setting the feet wider than the shoulders resulting in the defensive player tripping (if the defensive player does not trip, the screen is legal), and extending arms in a way that creates contact and slows the progress of the defender.
  • Flagrant fouls are all about intent.  If a player engages in what is believe to be a non-basketball violent act, it’s a flagrant foul.
  • Underneath the foul line extended, defending with the forearm is okay.  Causing a player to slow or change direction because of defending with a forearm above the foul line is a foul.
  • Charge/block clarification  This is a tough call for everyone to make, and worse for kooks like us to understand.  For a charge to be called, the defender must be directly in the path of the offensive attacker at the time upward motion begins – not when contact is made, and not when the attacker leaves the floor.
  • The rule of verticality is relatively logical.  The defensive player has the right to go straight up with his arms raised straight up to defend his space.  Any deviation from straight up is inferred as creating contact.

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Here are two new rules and one new request:

  • Offensive players without the ball cannot camp out of bounds.  In the past, clever players would stand for or five feet behind the baseline to create additional space for the ball handler.  This season, anyone leaving the court for any reason must immediately return.
  • Delay of game will be called when a player on the scoring team takes the ball out of the basket and gives it to a referee.  It corrupts the flow of play – which is the point of the player doing it in the first place.
  • This is not a rule with a penalty, but officials are asking players not to touch a free throw that is missed or made when another will be forthcoming.  The grabbing of the ball slows the game.

Here’s one area where despite the explanation, I have no idea what the rule is – use of replay to confirm, overturn, and make calls.  I am against replay in all its forms, so I tuned out as a childish response to the answers to those questions.

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