The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sour Grapes?

Are there any other reasons to distrust the NBA, or am I just a disgruntled Bucks fan? I've already explained the perverse incentives in the NBA, but there are other problems as well:

1. The NBA lacks a strong rule of law.

This is bad for nations, and it is bad for sports. When you enact laws, it is important that those laws be reliable, clear, objective, and enforceable. If a law is vague, it gives the enforcement agency leeway to abuse their power. The US Supreme Court loves to enact "balancing tests" as solutions to complex problems. Balancing tests are terrible because those people most affected by the law in question cannot rely upon any authority when they act with respect to that law. Sometimes their actions might be a crime, and other times not. Balancing tests have a chilling affect on the activities that they govern.

Fouls in the NBA are not objectively enforced (or defined, really). There is probably no solution to this problem. They cannot simply let players hit each other, but they also can't eliminate all contact. The happy medium is left up to the refs, and as a result, the definition of a foul changes on a game to game (and even minute to minute) basis.

Rules of this nature allow the refs to have a great deal of power, for better or for worse. This is not uncommon, of course. The strike zone in baseball is subject to similar manipulation, as is the pass interference penalty in football, however, the foul in basketball carries a high price which lead us to point two.

2. The Impact of foul calls increases as the game goes on because:

A. There is more information available to the official with regards to the closeness of the game, and his ability to affect the outcome, and more importantly,

B. As players accumulate personal fouls, the ref gains the power to remove a player from participation.

In the Bucks-Pistons game on Sunday, Michael Redd picked up his 4th foul with over 19 minutes remaining, sending him to the bench for extended periods of time, and rendering him powerless on defense. Until that point, both Redd and Hamilton were having problems at the offensive end, but after Redd's fourth, Hamilton picked up his offensive game, capitalizing on Redd's timidness/absence.

In hockey the ref can take out a player for 2 minutes (5 in egregious situations) but only in basketball does the ref have the power to neutralize a player for such an extended period of time.

There is really nothing that can be done about this. "Player contact rules" are judgmental by their nature. Perhaps at some point technology will allow for a perfect strike zone, but as long as guys are crashing into each other, officiating is going to be more of an art form than a science.

Earlier I compared the NBA to the WWF, but it's really more like figure skating. In Olympic figure skating, only 5 people have a realistic shot at winning. These skaters have established reputations as stars and they will enter the competition with a built-in advantage. Often, a fall will only knock a skating star from first to second place. Even if a less accomplished skater performs perfectly, they have little chance of catching the Slutskya's of the world.

That is the context that we should keep in mind when evaluating the NBA. And remember, a few years ago some judge's conspired in figure skating to screw some Canadians out of a medal. When judging is involved, no sport can possibly be entirely credible. It is simply impossible.


  • I agree completely. Go Pistons.

    By Anonymous Mike, at 2:33 PM  

  • I think you've got it right. I don't think the NBA is intentionally corrupt (it would have been really easy to give Tim Duncan to the Celtics instead of the Spurs, for instance) but I do think referees favor the stars without even really thinking about it, much as even well-meaning teachers begin to favor certain students when they've begun to expect good work from them.

    By Blogger MDS, at 7:35 AM  

  • how do you feel about the haslem/artest suspensions? i think they are awful. getting tossed out of the game is punishment enough for throwing a mouth piece and "throwing" an elbow, no? if artest's elbow had been harder/more malicious, i could see a suspension. but that wasn't much of a hit - more of a "well here's a chance to take a little jab in traffic and hope no one sees".

    By Blogger ethan, at 10:06 AM  

  • Those suspensions are utter garbage. This is what keeps me feeling a bit conspiratorial.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:23 AM  

  • To reiterate your point...did you see Kobe Bryant's dunk over Steve Nash last night? Someone explain to me how no foul is called when Nash is clearly planted outside the "it's ok to block someone's path to the basket arc". I may need that rule explained to me. Is there some clause that states when a spectacular jam is going to be made, there will be no whistle blown?

    By Anonymous Mike, at 12:26 PM  

  • That was definitely a charge, no question about it, but if it looks cool, then it's ok. I think that's the rule now.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:24 PM  

  • I have exams so I didn't get to see, but as long as you jump before you clobber them and still dunk it, there is never a foul called. In the NBA, the rules of the game don't matter, marketing does. That's why even though outlawing almost every possible end zone dance does seems a bit much, you at least have to credit the NFL with trying to take the integrity of their sport seriously.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 4:02 PM  

  • The kobe dunk over nash was ridiculous. Obvious charge. What about the cavs vs. the wiz horrible reffing alltogether. I cant believe the 150 year old dick bavetta is still respected around the league. He was good in his day but now he would have a hard time seeing his hand in front of his face. But I guess hes still better than javey. The NBA needs a fourth ref and better continuity. Nobody even knows what is and what isnt a foul any more.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:22 AM  

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