Posted Mar 29 2011 9:25AM
If the idea was simply to pile up enough technical fouls to build a mountain taller than a couple of 7-footers standing on each other's shoulders, then it didn't work. Technicals are actually down this season.
But if the intent of the "respect for the game" mandate instituted at the start of the 2010-11 schedule was to cut down on the face-to-face jawing that threatened to turn the NBA into the Jerry Springer Show in baggy shorts and high-tops, then the mission was mostly accomplished.
Just as long as you don't ask Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard in Orlando.
"It's evolved the way it should," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "It's gone back to how it should be, a case by case basis. I think the officials have done a much better job. First of all, they don't have to do what they did earlier. They understand emotional outburst. That's why I said from the beginning that I didn't think we gave the officials enough credit.
"There was a great example we had recently late in a game with Delonte (West). An official thought he had missed a call. He wasn't sure. But it was a hard foul on Delonte and Delonte had an outburst. The official actually said to me, 'You know, I could easily have given him a tech. But I knew the guy's been injured and I think I missed the call. But I just couldn't make the call, because I wasn't sure. So I had to let him go.' To me, that's great officiating instead of just reacting."
The instructions handed down by the league office to the referees were not written with considerable leeway. Not to be tolerated were:
• Demonstrative disagreement, such as when a player incredulously raises his hands or smacks his own arm to demonstrate that he was fouled.
• Aggressive gestures such as air punches.
• Running directly at an official to complain.
• Excessive inquiries about a call, even in a civilized tone.
On any given night in arenas from coast-to-coast, you can still see players unhappy with calls by referees. But the general consensus is that the tidal wave of complaints has, for now, been slowed.
"Nobody's really talked about it for a long time, but I think it helped," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "I think there's less moaning and groaning. There's a little bit more professionalism out there due to that change.
"I think it's been a positive thing. They're not calling them as much as in the beginning when they were trying to establish the rule. But I think they've shown pretty good judgment in making the call when it was necessary. You don't see players walking up to officials too much anymore, running at them or whatever they were doing, being demonstrative. I think that's a good thing. I think it was needed."
"I think they calmed everything down after the first two weeks of tacking Ts on guys right away for their persistent complaining," said the Lakers' Phil Jackson. "Now it's back to the usual normal. We're losing some players in the stretch obviously. Kobe's got a number (of technical fouls). He's got to watch himself a little bit. You just don't want to lose players at this point."
A year ago there were 866 technical fouls called, compared to 782 heading into the final four weeks of this season, with nearly 50 of those rescinded after league review.
"I think the officials are pretty consistent with it," said Suns forward Grant Hill. "If you cross that line you get penalized. For me, in theory, it's probably a good rule. But I've been doing this for 16 years and all of a sudden you've got to change in terms of how you interact with officials or how you respond to calls. For an older guy like me, it's tough. I've gotten 4-5 techs this year. I usually get a couple of techs every year. This has maybe made for a little bit more than I normally would get.
"People ask if it's a good thing. I think they wanted to stop the chirping and all that. But sometimes you have to have room for emotion. If you're yelling at officials or swearing at officials, you deserve to be teched. But I think you play with passion, you play with emotion and in the heat of the battle a call is made and sometimes to get a tech for not yelling at an official, for not saying anything, for just putting your hands on your head in disbelief in the heat of the moment, that might be a little bit much."
On Saturday night, Utah's Al Jefferson received a pair of technicals and was ejected for clapping at an official.
"I agree with the idea of bringing more respect to the fans, bringing more respect to the game," said Nuggets coach George Karl. "But we have an emotional game and I don't know if you want to remove that from the game.
"We have removed the physicality from the game, the fights and stuff like that. I still think the game has highs and lows and ebbs and flows on the court that I think sometimes it's best to have some emotion in the game. I think we've done a pretty good job with it, to be honest with you. I would rather have an overflow of emotion and then try to calm it down rather than try to control it from the outset. That would be my philosophy."
The campaign, according to most, is a cosmetic one, designed to make the game more appealing for TV audiences, to put the focus back on athletic ability instead of hot tempers and inflated egos.
Recently the league office has instructed officials to get teams out of timeouts faster, again with technical fouls as a potential penalty.
"We've been notified once to get out, but not had a tech yet," Jackson said. "I'm usually a guy that's pretty long. I don't like to scream over those loudspeakers and things that they've got going on in this league. The Lakers are pretty calm and collected in their home court. But a lot of these towns like to ramp it up. I don't want to lose my voice at this level."
Rockets coach Rick Adelman is a believer in the intent of the "respect" campaign, if not the execution.
"I think it is good in that you don't get the reactions that we were getting from some players. Still I think it could have been done a lot easier by just telling everybody.
"There are a lot of things that need to be protected. To me, the start of the game is the most obnoxious things I've seen in a long time. It takes teams 5-10 minutes to get out there to jump the ball up after the introductions. To me that's more of a problem. They want us to hustle out after timeouts. They want to make sure your shirt is tucked in. But some of these teams celebrate. They tie their shoes. It takes forever. So I've been tempted to keep our team over there for about 10 minutes and see if are they gonna come and get us.
"The short answer is yes, I'm in favor of what they're trying to. Guys can go off. But usually if an official says, 'That's it. I'm not taking anymore,' then guys usually straighten out."
The big question that remains is how the policy could affect the playoffs.
"I'm an emotional player," said the Spurs' Manu Ginobili. "I have always reacted to what's happened on the court. But I am not sure it is the kind of thing that should be enforced with a hard rule. I think it has gotten better than at the start of the season. I just hope we don't have any problems in the playoffs. Could something like this decide a game or a series? That would be the worst."
Hill nods his agreement.
"Typically in the playoffs, even with regular calls, they let you play a little bit more," he said. "So I assume they'll let guys show a little bit more emotion in the playoffs. I would be a shame to see a guy get a tech and give up a free throw that might affect that game and might affect the next game. I get the spirit of it. I just don't agree with the interpretation of those rules. But who am I? I'm just an old guy who needs to get some acupuncture."
Rivers just grinned.
"We're not the calmest team in the word, so that whole thing would never go our way," he said. "I just thank God that they didn't have this last year when we had Rasheed."
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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