NBA referees have it rough. In fact, all referees do. It’s their job to call transgressions of the rules, but when they do, more often than not, someone’s bound to complain. Yes, of course, referees get the calls wrong at times; they’re human, after all. But even when they do get the calls right — and that’s the case most of the time — hardly anyone applauds them for it.
Nevertheless, perhaps there’s a benefit to NBA players, coaches, and fans being so rough on referees. Maybe being constantly reminded that each call they make is monitored by several watchful and judgmental eyes helps keep referees more alert and more honest. And besides, some of the calls that NBA referees make (or don’t make) are just flat out ridiculous.
With the purpose of calling for continued improvements in NBA officiating (and also for us to enjoy a good dose of laughs), we present ten of the worst calls and non-calls by NBA referees:
10. Rasheed Wallace Ejected for Staring
Rasheed Wallace is infamously known as the king of technical fouls, and deservedly so. Having collected over 300 Ts throughout his career, Sheed is currently the NBA’s all-time leader in technical fouls committed. In fact, he also holds the single-season record for most Ts called against a player, 41 during the 2000-01 season, which comes up to an average of around one technical foul for every two games.
Truth be told, the hot-headed Wallace deserves almost all of the Ts called against him. But there’s one technical foul incident in particular where Sheed’s reputation seems to have preceded him. It happened during the 2000 Western Conference Finals, when Wallace’s Portland Trail Blazers faced the Los Angeles Lakers. Referee Ron Garretson called two technical fouls on Rasheed that got him booted out of the game. The first one was committed while Wallace was on the sidelines but continued to protest a foul Garretson had called against him. The second one? It was for staring.
After Sheed was given the second technical, his teammate Steve Smith pleaded with the referee to reconsider, but Garretson explained, “I asked him three times to stop staring at me, trying to intimidate me!”
9. Cory Maggette Tavels Six Times in One Play
Travels are among the most under-called rule violations in the NBA. But it’s hard to blame the officials for that, really; it would take superhuman powers for a referee to be constantly aware of how many steps a player has taken in between dribbles. The consequence, though, is that traveling calls are often missed. But is it still forgivable if officials fail to cite all six traveling violations in a player’s single touch of the ball?
That’s what happened when Cory Maggette went up against the Atlanta Hawks in 2009 when he was still playing with the Golden State Warriors. Fortunately, the basketball gods intervened and caused a turnover in favor of the Hawks right after. Ironically though, Cory had the gall to protest the foul called against him for clotheslining Maurice Evans to the ground.
8. Jason Terry for the No-Contact Foul
Foul calls are almost impossible to protest successfully. When a referee says that there was unwarranted contact on a play, even if the contact was really negligible, the rest of the world would be wise to simply convince themselves that the contact was foul-call worthy. Besides, determining just how much contact constitutes a foul is largely subjective. But what if there was clearly no contact at all?
That’s a question that then Dallas Maverick Jason Terry probably asked himself in 2011 when he was called for a foul while guarding Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant during Game 1 of their West Finals series. Hounded by Terry, Durant jumped to take a long two, then fell to the ground as if bumped by his defender, hence the foul call. A forgettable episode, really. Except that a replay of the incident from another angle clearly showed that there wasn’t any contact at all between Jason and Kevin. In fairness to Durant, this happened before the NBA’s flopping guidelines were put in place.
7. Tim Duncan Ejected for Laughing
On April 15, 2007, veteran referee Joe Crawford made a call that he said changed his life. It happened in a game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks as Crawford called a technical foul on San Antonio Spurs mainstay Tim Duncan, who at that time was seated on the bench. According to Crawford, Duncan had insulted him with an expletive. An incredulous Duncan then proceeded to laugh and clap as the technical free throw awarded to the Mavs was missed. Then, on the next play, a blocking foul was called on a Spurs player, causing Duncan to again laugh in amusement. That caused Crawford to call another “T” on Duncan, effectively tossing him from the game.
Later, Duncan alleged that Crawford had asked him if he wanted to fight. The NBA appears to have believed Duncan as the league suspended Crawford for the remainder of the season, thus ending his run of 21 consecutive finals appearances. Duncan, meanwhile, was fined $25,000 for verbally abusing an official. Years later, Crawford admitted that the incident prompted him to see a sports psychologist who helped him deal with his anger management issues.
6. Mo Peterson Slapped With a T for Slapping
Slapping a player from the opposing team is an act that deserves to be punished. But shouldn’t the difference between a malicious slap and a friendly one be recognized? Apparently, the NBA makes no such distinction.
In a game between the Toronto Raptors and the New Jersey Nets in 2006, Morris Peterson was called for a technical foul after slapping the face of former teammate Vince Carter. Because Peterson had earned an earlier technical for arguing a no-call, he was ejected from the game. The ridiculous aspect of the second technical foul was that the slap Peterson had given was in response to a slap Vince had planted on Morris’s face just seconds before. Nevertheless, because the official didn’t see the Carter slap, it was left unpunished. Moreover, it was painfully obvious that both slaps were really love taps rather than being intended to cause any harm. And to make matters even worse, the NBA decided to impose a $3,000 fine on Peterson for the incident.
5. Ref Commits Foul, Then Calls One
What’s a referee to do if he somehow finds himself in the act of influencing play by causing the ball to go out of bounds? Simple. Blame it on a player. This principle is in full display during the dying seconds of the seventh game of the 2005 Easter Conference Finals between Miami and Detroit. As the Pistons are riding the momentum of mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter, referee Joe Crawford (yes, him again) body checks Miami’s Damon Jones as he’s being hounded near the sidelines by Detroit’s Chauncey Billups. The bump by Crawford causes Jones to go out of bounds, so what does the ref do? He calls a foul on Billups, thus entitling Jones two free throws. Crawford is lucky that the Pistons ended up winning the game and the series; otherwise, he would’ve never have heard the end of discussions regarding his silly call.
4. Bibby Fouls Kobe with His Nose
This video is one of a few that clearly demonstrates the polarizing nature of one of the best men to play the game. It also serves its purpose of showing just how ridiculous this call during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the LA Lakers and the Sacramento Kings really was.
With the Kings just a point behind in the dying seconds of the game, the Lakers attempt to inbound the ball. Kobe Bryant, trying to clear the path for himself to receive the ball, throws his forearm onto defender Mike Bibby‘s face, sending the man crashing to the floor. The call? Foul on Bibby.
3. The Foul From Out of Nowhere
It’s logical to assume that a contact foul should actually involve some contact. Obviously, contact is impossible if the players involved are nowhere near each other. Our beloved referee Joe Crawford, however, can apparently sense when psychic fouls are committed as he seems to have called one against Marcus Camby during Game 5 of the first round of the 2010 Western Conference playoffs between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Phoenix Suns.
After the foul is called, Steve Nash appears surprised when Crawford instructs him to take two free throws. Camby, who was a good distance from Nash when the foul was called, is left with nothing to do but stand with his mouth agape in astonishment.
2. Delay of Game for Touching the Ball
In an October 2013 game between the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mike Dunleavy is called for perhaps the most unreasonable delay of game violation imaginable. After he makes a layup, Dunleavy understandably jogs back to the other end of the court, but in so doing, runs into the ball and gently tosses it to the side. Well, an official believed that the act constituted a delay of game violation and awarded a free throw to OKC.
The commentator was certainly justified in sarcastically asking, “Is he supposed to play dodge ball and dive under it?”
1. Fouled by Own Teammate
During the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinal between the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic, Keyon Dooling was successfully able to fish a foul… from his own teammate, Marcin Gortat. Predictably, the Pistons bench was very upset by the call. Dooling, meanwhile, was hilariously pumped up by what he had accomplished.