An NBA Ref Helps This Writer Educate The Fans On What Refs Go Through

By Gregory Moore
Updated: May 15, 2006

Jackie White, now deceased, broke the color barrier among NBA referees during 1967-68 season. Hudson was the league's only black referee during the 1968-69 season. The NBA this season has 26 minority referees on its 60-person staff; 24 African-Americans and two Hispanics.

Jackie White, now deceased, broke the color barrier among NBA referees during 1967-68 season. Hudson was the league's only black referee during the 1968-69 season. The NBA this season has 26 minority referees on its 60-person staff; 24 African-Americans and two Hispanics.

SAN ANTONIO – “Dang refs done cost the Spurs the game.” That’s what I heard the other night at a local establishment while watching the Dallas Mavericks beat the San Antonio Spurs 104-103.

It had been going on like this for most of the game. When I got there, I had printed out a homemade game running score sheet, printed out some game notes and grabbed my NBA Officials Media Guide that had the rules in it.

Normally I don’t do such drastic measures but I wanted to prepare myself for some heavy analysis of why the Spurs won/loss the game. But it was during one heated exchange of this individual and a few others constantly saying the referees were against the Spurs that I had had enough of that talk. “Look,” I said, “the Spurs are playing like crap. Plain and simple. The referees aren’t controlling the outcome. You guys don’t know what the heck you’re looking at.”

“Greg you’re supposed to be this great sports writer,” the individual who had first said the refs were jobbing the Spurs said. “I could do a better job than what all three of them are doing out there.” Now we had a spirited debate on the matter for about thirty minutes but I knew that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with any of them.

We’re talking apples and oranges in this conversation but when the assertion that the referees should be fined for making bad calls and costing players their careers, I knew I needed to talk to someone who would help me educate these folk and others on the art of being an NBA referee. So who do I call for such a job?

None other than Ken Hudson himself. I’ve often referred to having some really good connections in the sports world but one of my most cherished amongst many is the budding friendship that I have with the NBA’s second African American referee and even though I have a couple of other acquaintances who did a stint as an NBA referee, Ken’s knowledge of the game even during this time is unparalleled in my eyes and he has definitely been able to shed some light on some calls when I had questions on them.

So I didn’t hesitate to get a hold of him on that eventful night. Fortunately for all involved, Ken called me back on Mother’s Day but we definitely had a good conversation on what today’s referee had to do on the job. So he was definitely the person I needed to talk to about trying to educate so many fans who think the could blow the whistle and make the right call.

“Today’s referees are highly scrutinized,” Hudson told me from his home in Georgia. “Today’s fans have no idea just how much pressure there is for these guys to get it right.”

Hudson, 5-6, whose book about his career as an NBA referee, A Tree Stump in the Valley Of Redwoods, will be available in May, says fans have no idea what today's referess must do before, during and after each game they referee in the NBA.

Hudson, 5-6, whose book about his career as an NBA referee, A Tree Stump in the Valley Of Redwoods, will be available in May, says fans have no idea what today's referess must do before, during and after each game they referee in the NBA.

What fans don’t realize is that it is tough becoming a NBA referee these days.

The 65 referees that are currently in rotation have an average of ten years in the league and they have a job that is as stressful as any high profile job could be.

Here is what a three-man crew goes through when assigned to work a basketball game:

• On game days, the officiating crew goes over game summaries, reports and specific cases from previous games involving the teams that are playing. They also break down video and analyze case studies as they prepare for the match up tonight.

• At halftime, the crew reviews calls made during the first half to ensure accuracy.

• After the game, the crew will submit a video breakdown to the league explaining the rulings used to make the calls they did during a game.

Doesn’t sound so easy now does it?

Hudson went on to explain to me in our short conversation the whole process during the season. “What fans don’t realize is that there is one guy at the game who is actually watching the referees,” Hudson said. “That guy’s only job is to make his own assessment of the calls made by the officiating crew and then he will talk with them after the game.”

“These refs are heavily scrutinized and they have to answer to a lot of people in order for this game to be as smooth as it is.” Now I can understand where he is coming from because my viewing of the game is so totally different now than other individuals. I’ve mentioned this before but it is the truth when it comes to watching a basketball game.

What I’ve also come to understand are many of the rules of the NBA and many of the ‘case studies’ that are a part of the games. Does this mean I’m sympathetic to the refs when the make a bad call? Yeah I am because I can see how the call could be made.

May not make it right but at least I know that the call should have been “A” but they chose “B” because of a case study judgment made in mere nanoseconds. UNDERSTANDING THE RULES IS IMPORTANT TO ENJOYMENT I have always implored fans of the NBA to study the rulebook and become familiar with what is going on during the game.

There are several rules that fans misconstrue and that in itself makes for pretty contentious debates and disagreements amongst fans. There are several rules that fans don’t understand. For instance, the biggest misconception is the block/charge call. According to the NBA rulebook, blocking is called when a defensive player does not get into a legal defensive posture and contact is made with the offensive player headed in that direction, blocking will be called.

However if the defensive player establishes position before the offensive player reaches that position, a charging foul will be called. What’s a legal position? Usually the defensive player has to be at the designated point about 25 to 30 seconds before the offensive man gets there. Okay here’s another misconception call that gets fans upset when the whistle blows.

What’s traveling in basketball? Most of us say it’s when a player takes a step before he bounces the ball or when he shuffles his feet, right? Well here is the exact definition of what traveling is in the NBA: to start a dribble, the ball must be released from a player’s hand before his pivot foot leaves the floor or he has committed a traveling violation.

A player receives the ball while in motion, or upon completing his dribble, is allowed a one-two count after gathering the ball and preparing to stop, pass or shot. A player who falls to the floor while holding the ball or while coming to a stop may not gain an advantage by sliding on the floor. A player who attempts a shot may not be the first to touch the ball if it fails to touch the backboard, rim or another player.

A player who receives the ball while moving or ending his dribble may use a two county rhythm in coming to a stop, passing or shooting. If a player comes to a stop on the count of one when both feet are on the floor or touch the floor simultaneously, he may pivot using either foot as his pivot. If he alights with both feet he must release the ball before either foot touches the floor.

If a player has one foot on the floor or lands with one foot first to the floor, he may only pivot with that foot. Once that foot is lifted from the floor it may not return until the ball is released. If a player jumps off one foot on the count of one he may land with both feet simultaneously for count two. In this situation, the player may not pivot with either foot and if one or both feet leave the floor the ball must be released before either return to the floor.

Okay now that was lengthy but that is probably the biggest call misinterpretation by fans if not the second most behind the blocking/charging call. As Hudson told me over the phone, educating the fans is something that needs to be done because this game is more complicated than ever.

Things were much simpler when Hudson donned on the stripe shirt and gave a technical to Oscar Robertson. Hudson was the league’s first African American referee and did three seasons in the NBA before moving on to pursue other interests. Many may say that while Hudson is definitely someone who understands the history of the league, for me to tap his resources on the current referees is a big stretch.

Well that’s simply not the case. Even in his limited capacity, Ken is very much on top of what the referees must go through because he is still a part of that elite fraternity in some consulting capacities. But more importantly what Ken’s knowledge does for this article is to actually dispel so many of the misnomers that fans like to come out with when their favorite team. “Fans have to realize that these guys are human and the make mistakes,” Hudson said.

“They have their games evaluated by so many eyes in the league that it would be very hard for a crew to decide the outcome of a game.” Maybe one of the reasons why fans think that can happen is because two seasons ago it did happen in San Antonio. There was an officiating crew during one game that was whistle happy and a lot of the calls did go against the Spurs. Yet the calls were so out of character that the league had the lead referee explain what was going on at halftime during the game.

Coincidentally that game was being broadcasted by TNT. The calls were indeed atrocious and the following game, Ronnie Nunn showed up to observe for himself and make sure the crews were doing their job. But folks that was an anomaly and rarely does that happen in this league. As I explained to so many at this eatery that night, you’d have to be almost smoking crack to believe that referees would have it in for one team or the other.

For the record, the one point loss by the Spurs proves that it didn’t come down to the refs but more on bad defense and poor execution. The bottom line on this referee story is that it’s really a non-story if you simply educate yourself on what are the rules in the NBA. The calls look different because the game is different than the lower levels of play.

And thanks to a former referee, maybe there can be some education on this game so that the playoffs can be enjoyed just a little bit more than usual. And that’s thanks to the league’s second African American who became an NBA ref sharing some knowledge with a sports writer covering the game.