When I first heard the NBA was changing the instant replay system and was going to use a central location (Secaucus, NJ, aka The Meadowlands) to make the final determination on “reviewable” calls, my initial thought was it was a positive move. Someone, with access to all camera angles would be able to view a play without the distractions that referees are subjected to (Jumbotrons which elicit groans from 10,000+ fans, general crowd noise, individuals seated at the scorer’s table, etc.). Whoever was in charge at Secaucus would then make the proper call (to the best of his or her ability since some of them are so close) and the game would continue.
While I’m not certain what type of system is used, the one described above isn’t it. There still continues to be interminable delays and, although not the norm, rulings that fly in the face of the video. As I’ve stated a number of times previously in this blogspace, the flow of the game is interrupted, in too many cases, never to return. All because referees, who have always been cast as villains – and still are – can’t officiate a game that’s nearly impossible to officiate perfectly. With the new system, we have replaced human error with . . . different human error.
But now, the NBA has made their position untenable. Two nights ago when the Cavs’ Matthew Dellavedova either collapsed, was pulled down or intentionally dove on the Hawks’ Al Horford’s lower leg, frustrating Horford to the point he “loaded up” an elbow and brought it down somewhere between Dellavedov’s head and shoulder, connecting or grazing his pesky opponent, the call went to Secaucus. With Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, two men with enough NBA experience that their opinion ought to carry enough weight that the viewer is comfortable with whatever their explanation is, saying that the call could be a foul on Horford (“That’s playoff basketball”) or a “flagrant one” (because he did load up the elbow), the officiating crew – including those in Secaucus – decided it merited a “flagrant two” which has an additional penalty of ejection of the offending player. Steve Javie, longtime NBA referee, justified the call, reading word for word the definition from the rule book of a “flagrant two.”
The concern was, in a playoff game, if a player is going to deserve an ejection, shouldn’t it be for something more vicious and deliberate than what Horford did to Dellavedova? To my eyes, it looked as though Horford “pulled the elbow,” i.e. he held back what could have been a frightening scene had he “lost his mind” and decided to actually deliver a crushing blow. Whatever, Javie went verbatim instead of applying a little common sense. This is often done in order to “do the right thing” by his officiating brethren – as can be expected. It’s still not right.
Unfortunately, a perfect storm occurred to ruin the NBA’s party just 24 hours later. Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut got tangled on the baseline and, in chronological order, 1) Howard pushed Bogut with one arm (the rule book definition of a foul), 2) Bogut shoved Howard with both arms (maybe no more of a penalty than Howard’s move but certainly “illegal” to a greater degree) and 3) Howard extended his left arm, throwing an elbow at Bogut’s face (done in frustration but, by written rule, a classic “flagrant two”). What to do? Go to Secaucus. Somehow, the Great and Powerful Oz (of Secaucus) saw it as merely a flagrant one. An impartial observer might see it the same way. Unless the Horford foul was used as a comparison. In every way, from every angle, what Howard administered to Bogut was much worse an offense than what Horford did to Dellavedova. Following Van Gundy’s remark to that point, Javie said it was still a judgment call. Sorry, Steve, we know where your bread is buttered and, while your current job puts you in a difficult spot, you can’t make that statement with a straight face.
From the NBA rulebook (with my comments in parentheses): “. . . the criteria used by the officials and league office for reviewing elbow specific contact and actions (italics mine). . . Severity of Contact (Howard’s definitely greater than Horford’s), Legitimate Basketball Play (absolutely not), Legal Positioning (no), Intent or Reckless Swing (yes), Thrown Elbow (yes), Result of Contact (greater than what Dellavedova received). The NBA is an entity that makes many decisions based on precedent. In this case, the precedent was set in the Cavs-Hawks contest and, although the league has stated that Horford is to receive no additional punishment, they can’t rescind his ejection.
What’s so much worse is the consequences of the call are much more widespread than in the previous game. If it was decided to be a “flagrant two” foul, it would mean the Rockets’ big man would be ejected. However, because of a compilation of previous transgressions, he would be forced to miss the next game, too. Therefore, an upgrade to a flagrant two would mean Howard would not be allowed to play in Game 5, taking away a major piece of Houston’s attack at both ends of the floor. With the game being played at the Warriors’ Oracle Arena, the Rockets, down 1-3, would be facing monumental odds. Of greater effect in another area, viewership (and radio listenership) could take a huge hit if Howard isn’t allowed to play. It’s bad enough for those folks that the Clippers (and their LA market) didn’t advance.
If the call is upgraded to a “flagrant two,” Howard is out. If it’s not, the league’s new replay system would take a serious credibility hit. The NBA is in a no-win situation, caused mainly by itself. Implement a replay system, have a group of three or four people (in case of untimely illness or injury) and give them autonomy regarding supporting or overturning calls. The league doesn’t even have to disclose the names of those people. All players, coaches and fans are looking for is the mantra officials are supposed to live by anyway: