LeBron James and his head coach Tyronn Lue discuss a few of Game One's finer points with ref Tony Brothers Thursday. ()
Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Might NBA be worst officiated game of them all?

Among the most futile exercises in sports, chief among them are these:

  1. Expecting adroit officiating in any NBA game.
  2. Howling when, inevitably, problems arise with No. 1.

And yet, there seemed to be much gnashing of teeth on both counts when Golden State and Cleveland began their NBA Finals series, which supposedly features professional basketball at the highest level. A lot of people fell short of that standard in Game One, the refs included.

Neither the fact that the scoreboard inside J.R. Smith’s head is powered by a potato battery nor that the officials displayed the judgment of teens at a mall should be surprising. These are but immutable NBA realities.

The best line from Thursday night: The Cavs had a chance to steal Game One. But the refs beat them to it.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was not happy about LeBron James’ 51-point effort in that one being thwarted, in part, by short men dressed to sell running shoes. “To do what he did tonight and come out robbed ... it’s just not right,” he said. Lue chose to elevate the level of NBA officiating to that of a fourth-degree felony. The fact that he was not fined for his comments might indicate the league at least partially agreed with him.

There was some ham-handed work on a pivotal charge drawn by James, changed to a blocking call (ultimately the proper call, but arrived at completely backward). Throw in other late-game mismanagement – especially a flagrant foul call on Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson in overtime, later lessened by league review. The NBA’s own report on the last minutes of the game pointed out multiple officiating mistakes that solely hurt the Cavs.

Tongues were wagging afterward about those on the court whose work is meant to stand mute. Pretty much the exact opposite of what any league desires.

And here in advance of the second game, officiating is certain to be a topic that, like the weather, everyone is discussing, but no one can change. 

Theirs is a challenging profession. Between the speed of the game – the intensity kicking up in the postseason – and the habit of players filing long, pained dissents after every call, the NBA refs don’t get to make a lot of uncontested calls. Some would claim it is a game impossible to officiate, but if that’s so, then why don’t the players just divide up into shirts and skins and call their own fouls?

Given the recent noise, would anyone dare claim that the NBA is the most difficult game to call? Or perhaps that it is the most poorly officiated game in major professional sports?

Let the debate commence.

There might be some push-back from the local soccer set, given that the last handful of Atlanta United games have been dominated by a discussion of the officiating. Only becoming recently acquainted with soccer, I’d have to say that the officiating has only added to my confusion about the game. The haste in which Atlanta United players have been shown a red card and the gate has been particularly baffling. MLS is high up my own power rating for poor officiating.

At least in the NFL, the more it cedes to replay, the less its own officiating can negatively affect a game. Just hope you don’t mind games going longer than a royal wedding, because these refs leave a lot to be decided under the hood.   

I’d argue that Major League Baseball, its umpires taken as a group, may be the most competently called game of them all. It’s not fashionable to compliment any ump, but somebody has to stand out as the best of the lot.   

I’ll ask a Canadian about hockey officiating and get back to you. 

All we know now is that the NBA is deciding a champion now, and its officials left greasy fingerprints all over the Finals first game. They give life to all the basement dwellers who want to confuse bad calls for a conspiracy. They leave saner souls wondering how the game police are going to get in the way during the next game, rather than how James will bounce back. 

That is just a horrible look.

About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.