A Difficult Conversation: Joey Crawford and the Spurs
The most perilous topic an observer of the NBA can touch upon is that of refereeing. It is nearly impossible to discuss the topic soberly, and the playoffs only worsen the problem. Any shred of objectivity gets drowned out by the intensity of the partisan jeering. But when I heard Joey Crawford was the assigned referee for tonight’s Spurs-Mavs game, I felt compelled to comment. I am issuing my opinion now in the hope that people will not read it as a reaction to the game’s outcome. I have believed what I am about to say for some time and I don’t want my thoughts to be colored by tonight’s events.
All in all, Joey Crawford seems to be a fine referee. The majority of the times I have seen him ref a game, I have had no major objections. I disagree with some of his calls but that is true of every referee in the league. Reffing a game in a manner that will be universally accepted is impossible. But I still believe Joey Crawford should no longer be allowed to referee games in which Tim Duncan plays.
I am not saying it would be to the league’s benefit if they had an informal policy of not scheduling Crawford to referee Spurs games (although that is also true). I am saying that it should be a hard and fast rule that Crawford is not allowed to referee games that involve Tim Duncan. If Tim Duncan were to move to another franchise before the end of his career (however unlikely that may be), this rule would apply to that team as well. The focus of the rule is Tim Duncan, not the Spurs.
I believe this because Crawford has a documented infraction against Duncan which earned him a suspension. During the 06-07 season, when he threatened to fight Tim Duncan during a game (against the Mavericks), he established a permanent conflict of interest. In a court of law, If an attorney can establish a conflict of interest with a judge, that is grounds to have a different judge try the case. Documented evidence that the judge had threatened to fight either the defendant or the plaintiff would easily suffice.
But for some reason the NBA has a more difficult time acknowledging the reality of human relations. Saying Joey Crawford’s ability to call a game involving Tim Duncan evenly has been compromised does not mean Joey Crawford’s ability to referee any game has been compromised. All it acknowledges is that referee’s are humans too.
By taking their fallibility into account and not putting them in a situation where they are forced to choose between their biases and their sense of fairness, the NBA would not be undermining the authority of referees. Instead, it would be recognizing that complete objectivity is unachievable and admitting the best they can do is encourage situations where the fair call is more likely to be made. There is no reason the NBA should feign standards even the American legal justice does not uphold.
Unless a particularly controversial incident occurs, I won’t be discussing the referees in my recap because I won’t be focused on them. And I encourage you to not focus on them as well. It is an aspect of the game the Spurs cannot control. But there are concrete changes the league office could make that would help restore confidence in the players and the fans. Ensuring that referees are not presiding over games that involve players they have a documented conflict of interest with is one of them.