Q&A with Ronnie Nunn, NBA Director of Officials
Posted Jan 21 2004 12:42PM
The NBA's top ref answers questions about today's referees
NEW YORK -- Ronnie Nunn, in his first year as the NBA’s Director of Officials, is a veteran of 19 NBA seasons. During his officiating career, Nunn officiated 1,134 regular season, 73 playoff and four NBA Finals games, as well as the 1996 NBA All-Star Game, the 1993 McDonald’s Championship in Munich, Germany, the NBA Japan Summer Charity Games in 1996 and the 2000 Mexico Challenge. He has also been involved in the WNBA’s mentor program and is an NBA instructor in the summer. Nunn recently spoke with NBA News about his new job and officiating in the NBA.
Q: Can you briefly discuss the oversight system in place for officiating.
"The good news to that whole program is that when it is done, the standard observer goes back and reviews game video of that game. He gets a double taste of a drilled down affect of evaluating how the game was from how he observed it. Upon doing that, he sends the report in and that report is funneled to (Director of Basketball Operations/Officiating Performance Analysis) Paul Brazeau and Paul creates a data bank for the officials, each one specifically.
"Every place the official goes, the standard observer does similarly, and after six weeks or so we begin to get a profile on the official from a data standpoint. Does he have most calls in the post area? Does he have most calls as a trail official? Does he have most as a slot? Is he more effective in the lead? Does he need help in these areas? Then we sort of filter out a wide-brush profile of how an official is doing, so we can develop him. That's one of the key things being done.
"I have four people called group supervisors that take on 15 officials of the 59 that we have. They have a more hands-on, in-touch relationship with the officials based on training and development of them. They pick out from the standard observer data material what things seem to pop up. Not only do they follow the officials, they also oversee the standard observer's assessment of games. Everyone has someone watching him. Then I come into the picture and I have an overview from the standard observers and I have an overview from my group supervisors. I also get information from (Senior Vice President, Basketball Operations) Stu Jackson or (Vice President, Scheduling and Game Operations) Matt Winick or Paul Brazeau concerning all the things involved in officiating on a day-to-day basis. They are also guys who are vigilant in games."
Q: How has it evolved since you were a rookie official?
"Today, it's immediate. I have a Blackberry. The officials have a disk that's connected with their laptop. I can, before halftime, shoot an e-mail and have the thing buzzing in the locker room, asking them to take a look at a specific play. Today, the immediate information avenue is profound for us."
Q: How would you respond to fans who argue about make-up calls or preferential treatment for superstars?
"I think the idea of preferential treatment has always been around because once a player is profound in basketball, as soon as you have a profound player, that player can impact the team and the league. Once that happens, everybody else who doesn't have a player like that is very focused on all the things they think that player gets away with. I think that's always been around. The reason that it looks preferential is that great players create situations that force you to have to blow the whistle for them because they maneuver very well; they fool their defenders very well; they do whatever they do very well.
"I can tell you today that there is no such thing as a make-up call. Here's an expample: On one end you have a block-charge collision that nobody gets. All of sudden on the other end, you have a legitimate hand-check and it's called. So the fans say that you've got chaos on one end and then you call a little hand-check. Well, the fact is we used to have chaos and then the next moment we had chaos, we'd let that go also to show balance. But you can't referee that way. You get every play you can. If you mess up a play, there is no make-up. You go along with the standard, which is if the next play is a valid foul, that's what you blow. You take each play, the value of it, and you whistle it or you don't."
Q: Sometimes, a game seems to be called tighter at certain points than at other times.
Q: Talk about everything that goes into refereeing a game.
"Those times, we'll try to have a lunch meeting to prep for that evening's game. You go over the nuances that make the two contesting teams who they are. You look at their style, their key players, you look at matchups, how they might get a long with each. We'll look at the information in the computer based on the prior game they faced each other. That's part of what we do.
"Then we may read the local newspaper to see what the buzz was, maybe what coaches are planning to do or what conflicts occur prior to the game. We want to understand the dynamics of people's personalities and what they bring to the court, and I think it's a good safety measure.
"Then we go to the pregame meeting, pull out certain things that we want to focus on, four or five key items. The rest is to ref the game; at halftime take a look at some key plays, postgame, get our pertinent plays in for the office. Then we find a time when two or three of us can get together and see that game on a day off. You watch my plays. I watch your plays. We watch the game. We try to do collective work, crew work, as often as possible.
"I'd like that work to be done during the day, the following day. Not at night. When you do a game at night, you relive the game and you just don't sleep well. I want people to shut the thing down and go to sleep.
"Most people, including coaches, would believe we throw the ball up, get done, grab our stuff and let the teams deal with what went on. Absolutely, unequivocally not true."