More Thoughts on the NBA vs. the Referee Union


I wanted to approach the NBA referee union’s negotiations and the strike / replacement issue from another angle.

First of all I think the NBRA seem to have a point, and my main concern would be to the established and retired officials who might be losing benefits that were in place when they dedicated their lives to this business. As Shaquille O’Neal states towards the end of this excellent NY Times article, the referees are a vital component of the game. At their best they are an invisible force in the game that mediates disputes and imposes justice according the rules of the game.

The issue I have is that these people really have to sacrifice the traditional American lifestyle. They travel and train incessantly. They are away from their families for months on end. They get none of the notoriety of the players and can be dangerously unpopular with the more irrational fans. If there was a particular compensation that helped these officials to decide upon this career path, it would be a shame to suddenly pull that out from under those who have paid their dues.

That said I am extremely curious to see how the substitutes perform on the court. In 1996 when the league used replacement refs, there were a lot of complaints until the regulars returned. I wonder if the drop off will be as severe this time.

What do you mean I need to wear a blazer on the bench?  I'm an Islander!

What do you mean I need to wear a blazer on the bench? I'm an Islander!

The WNBA and NBDL were not established back then, so college referees were the only option. Given that the other pro leagues that have ties to the NBA have more similar rules, one would hope that the adjustment to the NBA game would be easier.

Everyone expects the replacement refs to hurt the game, but what if they don’t? What if they exceed our expectations, and match the performance of the veteran NBA officials? Is that a win for David Stern and the NBA because it gives them extra negotiation leverage, or is it a loss because it demonstrates that the best referees in the country aren’t so much better than the rest after all? It would be fun to find out! Well, it would be fun as long as nobody gets hurt and nobody loses a pension that he’s been counting on.


One Response to “More Thoughts on the NBA vs. the Referee Union”

  1. UNK Paw Says:

    Nice follow up article. Unfortunately these negotiations seem to be more about cash and less about pensions. I should correct that. The pensions that are being negotiated seem to be about future pensions and leaving some of the old time refs out in the cold. I find myself being on the side of the older retired refs since well I have met some of them. You are 100% correct when you say that those refs “when they dedicated their lives to this business”. The old school refs didn’t make much and had to squirm for everything they could get since it was not a glamorous or well paying job. They did it, because they loved it. The other thing that the retired refs continually told me is that the nepotism in today’s ref-ing society is just out of control. If you are a relative of an existing ref then you are in for sure. Maybe some of the sub refs can change that. I love that you put in your article that with the NBA overseeing some of the other leagues, the drop off might not be as bad. If it isn’t the NBA doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

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