PR in Sports

Looking at the World of Sports from a PR Perspecitve

NBA Needs to Address Officiating Issue

with 11 comments

LeBron James is averaging just 1.72 fouls per game this season

LeBron James is averaging just 1.72 fouls per game this season

I came across a very interesting article on the Chicago Bulls website by well known basketball columnist Sam Smith. Smith uses some very telling stats to investigate the star treatment that LeBron James receives from officials. It’s a must read and Smith brings to light some statistics that will make the NBA’s league office cringe. Smith writes:

“James is averaging 1.72 fouls per game in an average of 37.9 minutes per game. James hasn’t even been in foul trouble one game this season. He never has had more than four fouls called on him in a game, and since March 1 is being called for fewer than 1.3 fouls per game.

In 12 of the 20 games since then, James has been called for one or zero fouls in a game. James had a stretch of five straight games to conclude March averaging 36.8 minutes per game without being called for one foul. Not one in five games! In the last nine games, James has been called for three personal fouls. It’s really amazing given the involvement James has in the action of the game.”

Smith’s statistics are staggering, 5 games without a single foul called? That’s incredible for a player as aggressive as James. Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists that thinks David Stern is sitting in a room ordering referees to make sure the Cavs and Lakers end up in the finals. That does not happen. But, the NBA has been accused of referees providing star treatment for years, and coming off the heals of the Tim Donaghy scandal, they need to address the issue.

Stern has often denied conspiracy theories involving referees, and most likely he’s being honest, but this is now a perception/PR issue. Whether there is a conspiracy theory or not, whether players like James, Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant get star treatment or not, the fact is that fans believe something isn’t right. Many in the media believe this as well.

Instead of consistent denials, Stern and the NBA need to address the issue head on, especially with the playoffs quickly approaching where scrutiny of officials will only increase. The league is very protective of the access they grant media to their officials, but it’s time to pull the curtain back. It’s time for transparency. Many thought this would happen following the Donaghy fiasco, but it hasn’t.

To my knowledge the NBA doesn’t employ a PR person specifically dedicated to the referees, but it’s definitely time for that. This position could work exclusively with referees and allow a certain level of monitored access following controversial, or all games or that matter. It isn’t a myth that NBA refs watch each and every game to critique themselves. Stern is not blowing smoke when he says the NBA critiques their refs diligently. So, why hide the critique?

I understand there has to be some protection, but it’s time to let media and fans see what goes on behind the scenes. Let media and fans see how assignments are handed out for playoff games. Bring TV cameras into the referees room following games to see them reviewing questionable calls. Let media and fans see how the league office grades the officials. Although, I’d recommend using a network that doesn’t pay the league billions of dollars for broadcasting rights.

The bottom line is that those LeBron James foul stats are incredible and undeniable, and the league has a severe credibility issue on this topic that they need to address. I love pretty much all sports, but I’m definitely an NBA guy and have been a huge fan nearly my entire life, so I really want to see the league address this issue and put it to bed for good. For the sake of the league, the officials and the fans.

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Written by Brian Gleason

April 8, 2009 at 10:08 pm

11 Responses

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  1. While I agree that there needs to be a more in depth review, I disagree with making officials more public and accessible. I feel that would lead to referees trying to become more a part of the game and become more theatrical….sort of like WWE officials. Also, you could look at it the reverse way where now everything will be called because refs will be afraid to have to explain everything afterwards. A good ref is one where you don’t even notice he’s on the floor…the NBA definitely needs to protect them from the media

    Boston Yankees

    April 9, 2009 at 9:01 am

    • You bring up some excellent points. I think fans don’t like the refs that make those dramatic calls, especially on charge and “and one” calls. You’re also right that the best refs are ones that go unnoticed, but I think the NBA needs to find a way to get the public to see that there are no conspiracies and refs aren’t directed to make sure a player like James doesn’t foul out and advances in the playoffs. Especially given the stats that Sam Smith brings to light here.

      Maybe increased media access as far as post-game interviews isn’t the answer, but I do like the idea of allowing cameras/a show to do some sort of feature on the refs going over controversial calls postgame and why they made them. Fan/media better understanding the process refs go through might go a long way. NBATV does a segment with Ronnie Nunn, but we need to see it from a neutral media outlet. Not after every game, but periodically during the year.

      Brian Gleason

      April 9, 2009 at 9:10 am

      • Let me ask this though: Have you looked at the tapes of the 5 games that he wasn’t called for a foul and found questionable calls or are you just relying on someone elses reporting?

        Please be specific as to what you think was wrong in those 5 games…

        Boston Yankees

        April 9, 2009 at 9:15 am

        • You know, I’ll be honest, I probably didn’t watch a single play of any of those 5 games. But, I’ve seen LeBron James play a lot, and I know his style of play. It’s virtually impossible that a player like James could go 5 games, playing 37-40 minutes a night and not commit a foul. I’d love to get a stat on the last time that happened with the same amount of minutes per game.

          Either way, that’s not the issue at hand. Whether James did or didn’t commit a foul doesn’t matter, the issue is that the NBA has a perception problem here and they need to address it.

          Brian Gleason

          April 9, 2009 at 9:22 am

          • So because they have a perception problem you want them to call a foul whether one was committed or not just so that it seems like they aren’t a scam?? That’s some pretty circular logic….

            Boston Yankees

            April 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

            • That’s in no way what I said. I want them to address the issue from the PR standpoint. In the post I clearly state that there are not conspiracies going on in the NBA, but the perception from fans is that there are.

              So, the NBA needs to be creative and develop PR strategies to diminish this perception.

              Brian Gleason

              April 9, 2009 at 9:30 am

  2. I think the article makes a great point in requiring the NBA to deliver the officiating transparancy they have been promising. Also, a certain degree of autonomy from the league office will serve the officials well. As anyone who has played hoops can attest, a foul is a foul and is not dependent upon who is committing the infraction.

    Poppa Burgundy

    April 9, 2009 at 9:06 am

    • Hi Poppa Burgandy,

      First off, love the name. Anchorman is one of my favorites.

      Something definitely needs to be done. I really wrote this more as a fan that is sick of the theories and just wants to enjoy the games and not have to think about the refs. It’s time the league addresses this issue with more than denials, but real action.

      Brian Gleason

      April 9, 2009 at 9:14 am

  3. Hi Brian!

    As a student in a sports PR class at Clemson and an avid sports fan myself, I love your blog, particularly this post. I agree that the NBA needs to address their fans perceptions of the refs. I also love the solutions you suggest. Maybe the NBA should look into hiring a PR guy…perhaps you. Thanks for shedding some light on this issue. Awesome post!

    Lauren Gaulin

    April 14, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    • Hi Lauren,

      Thanks for checking out the blog, and for the kind words! Hopefully you find some of the information useful. This post was particularly fun and interesting to write.

      Let me know if I can ever answer any questions as you move along in your career.


      Brian Gleason

      April 15, 2009 at 4:22 pm

  4. Answers are good to some extent.Questions shared are good!!!

    Rockets tickets

    May 8, 2009 at 8:27 am

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