NBA Referees and The Transparency Initiative
The Last 2 Minutes
NBA referees and anyone else involved in sports knows that the last 2 minutes of any close game is an intense and chaotic moment. The NBA is even much more intense and chaotic than the games you and I might play in. It is a pressure packed situation for everyone involved. The players are focused on winning at all costs. The coaches are desperately looking for any advantages to exploit. The fans are on their feet, screaming and cheering for the home team to come out on top. There is chaos everywhere. Excitement echoes off the rafters. The air is alive with ripples of noise. The referees are in position and alert. They are watching everything. Through the roar, a whistle blows and suddenly the ball is in play.
Players start running in every direction in a feverish attempt to get into the best position. Blocks are made, screens are run, everybody is picking and poking. The excitement level in the building explodes through the roof. The MVP of the home team nails a 3 point buzzer beater from center court. The game is over. It is beautiful. The losing team is disappointed, but they know they were involved in something special, and they are proud.
This is what sports are all about. All of the fans are ecstatic and can’t wait to buy another ticket. The fans at home, watching the game on TV are just as excited. ‘What an awesome game!’ is the catchphrase everywhere. Well, almost everywhere.
The fans from the losing team are not quite so thrilled as the rest of us. In fact, they are pretty cranky about the whole thing. With their high definition televisions, they saw that little push and even that tug on the shirt. They think these are penalties that should have been called, even during an intense buzzer beating moment. I think that is up for debate. ‘If the referees had called a penalty, we would have won’ they all say. The TV sports news keep running the highlight reel over and over. Now, everybody can see the push and the tug. Everyone is talking about it instead of the game. Sportscasters bring in experts to talk about it. They all agree that something should have been called. Technically, they might be correct, the fans, the sportscasters and the experts are all correct. I am not impressed though. For me, the human element of sports is what makes them great and exciting. Unpredictable.
As a sports fan who just loves the game, don’t you wish those ‘technicality people’ could just love the game, too? Love the excitement of it all. Celebrate the home team superstar draining the 3 pointer. Celebrate the fans. The lifelong fans who just watched one of the most amazing games ever. The new fans are now hooked for life. The kids that will pass on the legend of their first game when they take their own grandchildren to watch their first game at some point long into the future. Generations of sports fans loved that game. Sigh. What a nice dream, eh? But, no. The unfortunate reality is that the media, especially in the town of the losing team, are not going to let it go.
Some fans would rather gripe about a non-call in the last 2 minutes of the game. Break it down, follow every possible ‘other reality’ scenario that might have happened if the non-call had actually been a call. They might be right, they might be wrong. At the end of the day, who really cares? It means nothing. Being right or wrong about something that can’t be changed, changes nothing. The game is over and everybody went home. Get a life and get over it buddy. Better luck next time. Time to put on your big boy panties and get ready for the next game. But, wait. Hang on a minute. The media is loving this. ‘Look at all these whiners’ they say in the boardrooms. Let’s give them a platform, help them whine some more and maybe we can sell some extra advertising.
Now, one would think that the league would want us all to focus on the full awesome package of such a big game. What a spectacular game! Look at all the superstars! Did you see that buzzer beater?! Cater to all those new fans. Sell some tickets. Create more excitement. Make more money. That would all seem like a logical course of action. But, no. Wait a minute. That is not what is going to happen. The NBA has other plans.
There is something called The Transparency Initiative. It is a catchphrase that surrounded the coming of Adam Silver. He is the big boss at the NBA. The Transparency Initiative sounds impressive and it is intended to give better access to the fans and media regarding the referees and the decisions they make during the games. At this time, I haven’t been able to track down an actual written copy of this initiative but it is referred to often by the NBA and it actually sounds like a great idea. For the most part.
Under the umbrella of this initiative is the new NBA Replay Center. I am very impressed with the replay center. It is a thing of beauty. Technology and sports is an exciting field to watch and the NBA is one of the leaders in the world when it comes to innovation and progressive thinking. This replay center is pretty incredible. This part of the Transparency Initiative is most definitely working.
So what is wrong? It is something called an L2M Report. L2M is short for the ‘Last 2 Minutes’. What is the Last 2 Minutes Report, you ask? Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a detailed report of everything that happens in the last 2 minutes of close NBA games. These are only for the games where the point spread is within 5 points at exactly 2 minutes remaining. Not 2:06 or 2:02, but 2:00 left in the game. If the games go to overtime they will use the L2M for the final overtime period.
At the end of these games, there will be a couple of people in Secaucus, New Jersey, who are going to use all of those fancy resources available at that beautiful replay center, including the 94 monitors they have. They are going to rewind and slow-mo every second of that last 2 minutes window of the game. They will zero in on every single player, every movement, every pattern. Nothing will get missed with cameras from every angle covering every high resolution bead of sweat that hits the floor. The push and the tug are pretty obvious with the benefit of all of this technology. The L2M Report is written and distributed around the league so it can be discussed amongst teams and officials and they can work together to improve things for the future. Great idea, eh? Yep. But wait, what?
The NBA is releasing these L2M reports to the media. Within 24 hours. No interviews with the referees. No way for them to explain their logic or their reasons for allowing the play to continue. Basically these reports are useless to me personally as a sports fan, and also for the purposes of running the Officials101 website. Apparently, this is some kind of homage to The Transparency Initiative. Somebody has determined that taking a small 2 minute window of the most chaotic part of the most intense basketball games is a great place to publicly critique exactly 3 of their employees in the name of The Transparency Initiative. Huh? Not just any employees either. Not the star players. The ones that make more money in one game than most of us make in a year. No, there won’t be any breakdown of their missed assignments or bad passes. There will be no criticism of the foolish players that committed the push and tug fouls. The managers, coaches and executives are all safe. Even the beer slingers and the floor sweepers are safe. None of them are going to get thrown under the bus tomorrow morning. The only people that will get publicly chastised in this report, are, wait for it… the referees.
I am not sure who decided there is some kind of value in publicly ripping any employees after a pressure situation, but I think they may be a little off base on this one. In any other high stress job in the world, this negative handling of employees would immediately be recognized as just a preposterous plan. It wouldn’t have even gotten started because nobody would ever dream of such a ridiculous notion. It seems that just because these are professional referees, that this is all somehow okay. I don’t think so.
Can you imagine if your boss was to hire somebody to go over the most chaotic part of your day. Analyze it, break it down and find every tiny detail of what you should have done differently and then post it on the bulletin board in the lunchroom. Or, even worse, post it on the internet. Nobody else at work gets analyzed or chastised. Just you and the other 2 in your department. That is it. The report doesn’t take into account how awesome you were all day, it just focusses in on that little period of chaos. Some people may find this kind of feedback to be helpful, and maybe it is, but any real value was certainly lost as soon as it was posted on the lunchroom wall. Co-workers and customers can now see it. They can comment on it, write jokes about your mistakes and even keep copies of everything in case there are future opportunities to rub your nose in it again. Suddenly, your helpful little critique isn’t so helpful is it? It became negative and it is now an obstacle to your growth and progress. Imagine having it posted on the internet.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with workplace critiques that are meant to help people make progress and improve. I just don’t think they should be hung on the bulletin board in the lunchroom or posted on internet. A work critique should just be a work critique. That is it. This L2M thing has, or at least had, some good intentions in the beginning. It was meant to be used as a tool to connect with fans and to explain what happened in all those final moments of chaos in the most exciting NBA games. I don’t really believe that it was intended to publicly throw the NBA referees under the bus, but that is what is happening. The NBRA (NBA Referees Association) is not happy about the L2M and I don’t blame them for a minute. (Read the NBRA Official Statement here). If my boss ever posted such a redundant report as the L2M about me on the bulletin board for no real good reason, other than he thought it was a good idea, I would have a few harsh words to say to him, too. I might write him a Jackass Critique and post it on the end of his nose. That is just me though. The NBA Referees don’t have those kinds of options, and hopefully not that attitude either.
What kind of options do the NBA Executive have for resolving this issue? How can they deal with this and not lose face in the boardroom? You have to remember that the NBA boardrooms are filled with very rich, very powerful, alpha personalities. They don’t change their minds easily. This will probably have to be ‘handled’. I am not as smart as all those billionaires so this is just pure speculation on my part, but I think they probably just need to stop publishing the L2M Reports to the media. Don’t stop making them completely because it is possible the reports themselves are actually beneficial to the teams and the referees. Overall, I don’t think taking the time to make the reports is a horrible idea, but they completely lose all positive value as soon as the media gets a hold of them and crushes the referees just so they can sell some advertising. Referees who also happen to be employees of the NBA and, unbeknownst to many, human beings as well. If it is so important to the NBA to release these L2M results to the public, they should at least release their accumulated data for a set time period rather than releasing them each day for each individual game.
If the NBA really wants to help it’s referees, then maybe they should consider giving referees free access to that fancy new room in New Jersey for the last 2 minutes of the really close games. Maybe just for games that are within a 5 point spread, for example. Or how about in overtime? That way the referees can see the same obvious push and tugs that the fans can see at home. Maybe, they can do something useful about it before the game is over. Maybe, everybody in New Jersey can work together and actually make things better. To me, that is a Transparency Initiative that will help get the calls correct in The Last 2 Minutes.
While researching for this article, I had to do a lot of digging around about the coming of Adam Silver because he is the catalyst for The Transparency Initiative. From all reports that I read, and I did read a lot of them, Mr. Silver is a master negotiator who just wants everyone to get along and make money. His handling of the $24 billion TV package and the Donald Sterling debacle were pretty incredible displays of his skill sets. I believe he meant well with this whole Transparency Initiative thing and I believe that he will fix it. Time will tell.
Thanks for reading.
Have an awesome day!
The NBA Referees
NBRA Public Statement
NBA Memo #10 Feb 24 2016
NBA Respect for The Game Memo Oct 29, 2014
1st L2M’s on March 2, 2015
Joe Borgia explains L2M on Making The Call
NBA Officials Media Guide 2015 – 2016
NBA Press Release announcing L2M Feb 27 2015
Josh Robbins article Orlando Sentinel May 1 2015
Jeff Zillgitt article USA Today June 7 2016
Luke Duffy article at Hoops Habit June 9 2016
Jolene Nacapuy of Campus Times mentions a Portland trial on Jan 19 2015
ESPN discusses Adam Silver Jan 29 2015
Ben Golliver at Sports Illustrated talks transparency and Adam Silver Apr 1 2014
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