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.
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.