NBA player-referee relations are at an all-time low, with National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul ridiculing an official and vice president Carmelo Anthony declaring, “I’m done with the refs,” among other incidents before an All-Star Weekend summit between the two unions.
After that meeting, the league announced a five-prong plan to address substandard sportsmanship between players and officials, starting with meetings between NBA vice president of referee training and development Monty McCutchen and members of all 30 teams to discuss the issues at hand.
The Oklahoma City Thunder had their meeting with McCutcheon on Monday, and All-Star forward Paul George left the meeting with little to no encouragement that player-referee relations will improve.
VP of Ref Training & Development Monty McCutchen talked to the Thunder about the NBA’s respect-the-game policies. Paul George on if it was positive having him talk: “Not really” pic.twitter.com/qdQnjyHS6K
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) March 12, 2018
“Do you feel like it was positive for him to come here and talk to you guys?” a reporter asked.
His response: “Um, not really.”
So, what’s the issue?
“I’ve heard from back in the day the relationship between the official and the player was a lot better, where guys were able to talk to one another, regardless if they agreed or disagreed with a call,” added George. “The player and the official could have a dialogue. It’s a little different in the NBA now, where some officials don’t — I get it, we’re on them quite a bit, but some of them don’t know how to have a conversation or have that confrontation that I’ve heard that’s how it was in the past.”
So, the players’ problem with referees is that they “heard” officials were better at handling their complaints in the past? At least George acknowledged that players get on the refs “quite a bit” now.
Asked what was accomplished at the day’s meeting, George said McCutcheon wanted to discuss how the officials can be better and inform the players that they were conducting internal conversations about making improvements on their end. And this player’s response was that no good came from it.
If this is how all 30 of McCutcheon’s meetings go, then there will be no progress on this dispute. The good news, for the NBA’s sake, is that most players, coaches and general managers who have met with McCutchen and discussed the efforts to ease tensions publicly disagree with George’s assessment. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr called their meeting “very constructive,” and that perspective was shared by Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone and Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, among others.
Even Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson said, “We got a lot of new refs and they’re getting to know us like we’re getting to know them. A lot of the older refs retired so it was definitely good to hear what they had to say. The most important thing is getting to know them, saying hello to them. Sometimes you don’t pay the refs no mind and I feel like the refs play a major part in the game.”
The only player to share George’s sentiment publicly is Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, who said “nothing” came from their meeting last week. “I still got a tech tonight so honestly, all of that just went in one ear and out the other,” he told The Washington Post. “Because sometimes emotions get involved and guys just jumping the gun, but you know hopefully next year it’ll change though.”
At the heart of the matter is the fact that the players view certain dismissive hand gestures by the officials as disrespectful. The public dismissiveness by George seems far more egregious. And now is probably a good time to point out that only two players — NBPA vice president Andre Iguodala and Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie — attended the summit with refs over All-Star Weekend.
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