The relationship between NBA players and referees appears to be slipping, and frustration between the two sides has been visible on the court throughout the season. With the situation looking dire, teams like the Los Angeles Lakers are determined to do something about it.
After all, being a referee is something of a thankless job. It’s one where the correct call is expected every time, which isn’t humanly possible, and mistakes are magnified under the scrutiny instant replay. Players are frustrated with poor calls and quick technicals, just as referees are tired of being constantly questioned and upstaged.
Monty McCutchen, a former referee who now acts as the head of referee development for the NBA, has set out to meet with every team in the NBA and recently sat down with the Lakers to discuss ways to improve the situation. He explained to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN his hopes for these meetings:
“I think their view is communication can be better,” said McCutchen, NBA vice president and head of referee development and training. “We are open to that. In the last decade as our social media platforms have overwhelmingly exploded, I think that people [players and coaches] are living under a scrutinized world that has made us all maybe that much more defensive.
“The real goal is how do we get to the point where we are disagreeing respectfully with one another. I think that is maybe where things have gotten to where we can have growth on all sides. How do we get to the point where we are disagreeing about the call itself instead of all the extra white noise. How we do that respectfully with one another is really what is driving our desire to reach out and meet.”
As McCutchen notes, the social media age has only increased the amount of scrutiny faced by professional athletes. A player’s career and personal brand can hinge on their ability to produce on the floor, and if they feel like a referee’s decision is preventing them from doing that, it’s going to create tension.
The hope is, of course, that the two sides can find a middle ground. Both referees and players want to be respected, but will also naturally have differences of opinion. Finding a way to communicate effectively in a pressure-filled situation isn’t easy, but it’s one step towards mending the fences between players and referees.
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