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Sunday, April 15th 2007

Tim Duncan Ejected From Mavs Game

Complaining about referees is typical business for any sports fan. But this is ridiculous.

Joey Crawford has just thrown Tim Duncan out of an important end season game in the third quarter. I’m sitting here trying to study with the Spurs-Mavericks game on, and one of the most blatant abuses of power I’ve ever seen wielded by an NBA ref just occurred. (addition: Tim Duncan’s ejection ended up costing the Spurs the game)

Some background information for the non-NBA fans.

  • Joey Crawford is the angriest referee in the NBA. He gives the most technicals in the NBA. (He’s also an admitted felon)
  • Tim Duncan is one of the most respected, most courteous, least “T’d up” starters in the NBA.

This Ejection Is Bad Karma Mark Cuban
I’d Be Scared Come Playoff Time

Two technicals in a game = ejection. No one watching from home can say if Tim Duncan deserved his first technical. But he clearly did not deserve his second. A few possessions after Tim’s first technical a Spurs player is called for a foul in front of the Spurs bench. Tim and Robert Horry start laughing . He clearly says nothing. The only thing I can postulate is that demented old Joey Crawford thinks Tim is showing him up by laughing and gives him a second technical. Tim is gone.

It was bad enough watching the ejection in real time, but Tim’s post game account of his interaction with Crawford is worse:

[Joey Crawford] looked at me and said, `Do you want to fight? Do you want to fight?’” Duncan said. “If he wants to fight, we can fight. I don’t have any problem with him, but we can do it if he wants to. I have no reason why in the middle of a game he would yell at me, `Do you want to fight?”’

“He came into the game with a personal vendetta against me,” said Duncan, who had 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two blocks in his limited action. “It had to be because I didn’t do anything the entire game. I said three words to him and the three words were, ‘I got fouled’ on a shot. … That’s all I said to him the entire game.”

Watch some of Tim’s tamer post game comments

I have two positions:

  • Joey Crawford needs to be suspended for several games…probably the entire playoffs
  • If Tim Duncan faces further consequences, for failing to leave the court in a timely manner or having “choice words” for Joey Crawford, it will be a serious blow to the integrity of the league

You can read on for why I think such.

The referees have a lot of leeway in giving out technicals. The situations and actions which can earn you one go beyond merely mouthing off.

But there is NO WAY that the NBA and Stu Jackson can justify this act. Post game Crawford described what happened as such,

“I hit him with one (technical) and he kept going over there, and I look over there and he’s still complaining. So I threw him out.”

Which is clear bullshit by the video. Such a description of the events, when video will show otherwise, certainly makes you think that Crawford was perhaps merely grossly negligent rather than maliciously targeting Tim. That should merely save Crawford his job, and temper his punishment down to a suspension for the playoffs.

Some local media is sounding the same tune as this post. And the Austin American Statesman even has a column already up about it (I suppose it’ll run tomorrow),

Who cares about Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr.? This is a boxing promoter’s pay per view dream. Youthful NBA all-star meets grizzled, veteran ref who resembles Judge Mills Lane.

Let’s get it on!

Duncan has nine technical fouls in 80 games. Three have come courtesy of Crawford. Duncan believes Crawford has a personal vendetta and said he only said three words to Crawford the whole game.

It wasn’t Rasheed Wallace complaining. It was Tim Duncan, a labrador retriever compared to Sheed’s pit-bull-like tirades. It may be time to tone down the rabbit ears, Joey. I’ve met seedless grapes with thicker skin.

The local San Antonio paper has the non-wire piece up they’ll be running tomorrow, but no op/ed yet.

What is stunning, and I think I can step away from Spurs’ fandom to make this statement objectively, is the lack of coverage in the national media. True Slam picked up on it *rolls eyes*. They want Don King to be part of the Western Conference Finals.

But Sports Center, ESPN.com, and CNNSI.com all have abysmal coverage of this so far. Even NBA TV spent more time covering the last minute of the Mavs – Spurs game (when the Mavs finally took the lead) than they did The Big Fundamental’s second NBA ejection ever.

Not a single outlet has picked up video of Duncan’s incredibly inflammatory post game comments. They’re not on NBA.com, NBA TV, Sports Center. They’re not on any national venue.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. But I also don’t think that I’m being biased in imagining this as a bigger story than the coverage it has been granted so far. Oh well, maybe there’ll be more on it by the end of tomorrow. The columnists will be back at work, PTI will give it 60 seconds, Around the Horn will have Cowlishal shouting how Tim deserved to be ejected. Something to look forward to.

Okay, the media is picking up the pace. If you want to pay for ESPN Insider Marc Stein has a column up.

On ESPN.com the “Daily Dime” (the roundup of the day’s NBA) mentions the ejection only in a photo caption.

Over at Yahoo! Sports there’s a column now up from Adrian Wojnarowski. I think we’ll get some good mileage out of this as the day grows older. I guess the sports recap shows just didn’t want to show Duncan’s diatribe.

Back to the issue at hand, there is at least some history to give us hope that Crawford will get slap down from the league.

In 1995 one of the NBA’s most experienced refs was suspended for the rest of the playoffs after speculation of a feud between him and Clyde Drexler, who he ejected from an early round game.

[Drexler's ejection] occurred after O’Donnell refused to shake hands at the tipoff with Drexler. Rumors swirled that O’Donnell had a feud with Drexler, and league officials certainly thought something was amiss because they suspended O’Donnell for the rest of the 1995 playoffs and wouldn’t allow him to work the 1995 NBA Finals, ending a string of 23 consecutive appearances.

Call me pessimitic. Despite the example of Jake O’Donnel, I think Spurs fans are likely to get decidedly less than Crawford’s suspension for the playoffs.

One of the problems with the NBA, and all of professional sports, is a lack of transparency. The NBA rarely admits to the fans that a bad call was made. As well, Joey Crawford, although this speaks nothing to his “skills” or his performance, is one of the most experienced NBA officials. It should surprise no one if his length of service grants him great leeway of action.

The fans get a lot of hollow reassurances about how the NBA has the best refs in the world, has a nifty review and critiquing process, does discipline refs, does take bad calls seriously, and is always trying to improve the way games are refereed. Until they open up the process though, at least a little bit, that talk and those reassurances are all basically for not. That won’t happen obviously, because the lack of transparency achieves one of its primary goals admirably – by not keeping the event in the spotlight, fans’ outrage with obvious mistakes quickly wanes. Without fan outrage there is no financial consequence. And without a financial consequence, the way the NBA referee fraternity is managed will never be public knowledge. Which is sad.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Stu Jackson went so far as to defend Crawford’s actions.

In the worst case (ed: which is looking more and more likely) Duncan may get further punishment from Stu Jackson and the NBA for not leaving the floor in a timely manner and having some “choice words” for Joey Crawford. There’s a lot of speculation around the internet right now over just what Tim said on the court, see here and here. By Crawford’s account, in the AP piece, Tim called him a “piece of shit” while leaving the court.

In a typical scenario all of Tim’s comments, and the time he took leaving the court, would certainly draw a fine and likely a suspension.

That would not only be a mistake, but a disgusting decision on the part of the NBA front office. Post hoc analysis of player actions which occur as a consequence of willful (and that is the key word, this wasn’t a missed foul or something) and negligent officiating, MUST put less weight on those actions. Basically: Duncan’s slowness in leaving the court MUST count less because of the flagrant absurdness of the choice to make him leave.

That logic in no way calls for an uneven administration of the league’s rules. That logic in no way opens the league to anarchy. That logic in no way sublimates the authority of the referees so much as to make the game dangerous.

As said, if we’re lucky and Joey Crawford does face some consequences, it will be behind closed doors (as has happened in the past), and we’ll never know if it was appropriate.

This is a referee whose use of technical fouls almost certainly falls well to the right on normal distribution. So much so that his outlier status may actually be said to challenge the integrity of the game itself.

This is a referee who challenged a player to a fight on the court.

Tim Duncan has spent nine seasons developing his reputation as the most courteous, respectful, truthful, even keeled star in the NBA. He certainly deserves to be able to cash in some of that now so that his accusations against Joey Crawford (as bizarre as they are) are taken completely and utterly seriously. What I mean is Duncan’s allegation that Crawford challenged him to a fight deserves more weight than any denial Crawford comes forth with.

And short of a denial, no reason Crawford comes up with, no tale of misunderstanding he weaves, can excuse him in challenging Duncan to a fight.

This is a referee who is also a convicted felon.

Joe Crawford, a former National Basketball Association referee, was sentenced to six months of house arrest and three years’ probation yesterday for Federal income tax fraud.

Crawford, 47, apologized at his sentencing in United States District Court. Crawford, an N.B.A. official for 21 years, pleaded guilty July 1 to one count of tax fraud. He resigned the same day.

He was almost immediately reinstated by Commissioner David Stern. What a shame.

Now, in speculating on how the NBA should respond it is proper not only to consider the nature of Crawford’s act, but the consequences of the act as well. A bad call in the first game of the season has less impact than Crawford’s call in this game and there’s no reason we should get all metaphysical and deny simple cause and effect relationships here. We can assign consequences to Crawford throwing Tim Duncan out, it really is as simple as that, and going further we should take those consequences into consideration when judging what sort of remedy the NBA needs to pursue.

And the consequences might be grave. Despite the AP’s summary of the loss

[The Spurs] have only themselves to blame, going without a field goal the last 6:32, missing nine straight shots, and not scoring any points over the last 4:17.

… it is obvious that it is very, very likely that the Spurs wouldn’t have gone without a point the last 4 minutes if Duncan was available. No, I can’t announce any absolutes when playing “what if.” However, that is by no means a fatal flaw in this line of thinking. Spurs’ fans need only to be able to speak in general probabilities.

Clearly Duncan’s wrongful dismissal contributes some reasonably quantifiable percentage to this loss and all that might come to pass as a result of this loss.

This loss guarantees that the Spurs will be the #3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and likely face the Denver Nuggets, the team with the current longest winning streak, in the first round.

There should be a serious financial consequence for Joey Crawford. At a minimum Crawford should be suspended for the entire playoffs.

I will be disgusted if Stu Jackson or David Stern try to defend this ejection.