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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Joey Crawford's Reinstatement is a Risky Move

Referee Joey Crawford, who was suspended indefinitely by the NBA in April after he wrongfully ejected Tim Duncan from a game, has been reinstated by the NBA. Crawford was initially unrepentant after he tossed Duncan and reportedly said that given the same circumstances--Duncan sitting on the bench quite a distance from Crawford and laughing--that he would do the same thing. Crawford had also been warned previously by NBA Commissioner David Stern to take a less hot-headed approach regarding such game management situations. Now, though, Commissioner Stern is satisfied that Crawford has cleaned up his act, saying, "Based on my meeting with Joey Crawford, his commitment to an ongoing counseling program, and a favorable professional evaluation that was performed at my direction, I am satisfied that Joey understands the standards of game management and professionalism the NBA expects from him and that he will be able to conduct himself in accordance with those standards."

No one questions that Crawford is a very good referee from a purely technical standpoint. He has over 30 years of experience and he consistently grades out well. However, a big part of being a referee is game management, which in Crawford's case means being able to control his emotions. I'm all for giving people second chances but Crawford actually was already given a second chance when Stern initially called him into his office and told him to tone down his act. The Duncan fiasco happened after that second chance. Duncan's ejection could have potentially altered the Western Conference playoff seeding. It is interesting that so many people are up in arms about the suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for one playoff game after they left the bench area during an altercation--which was simply an instance of the NBA enforcing a rule that it has enforced many other times in both regular season and playoff competition--and so many people have tried to look at videos to "prove" that disgraced referee Tim Donaghy cheated the Suns in that same series--and no such evidence has been found--but no one seems to think that it is a bad idea to bring back a referee whose ill temper could have potentially changed the entire Western Conference playoff picture; the Spurs led the Mavericks 74-68 before Duncan was ejected but ended up losing, 91-86. That game did not end up changing the playoff seedings but at the time it happened there was certainly a possibility that it could have. Admit it: when you first heard that a referee was being investigated for fixing games, didn't you immediately think of this incident?

Crawford's reinstatement may be unrelated to the Donaghy case but I wonder if the NBA feels that it is important to bring back a technically sound referee in the wake of Donaghy's resignation and the possibility that other referees may be disciplined as a result of things that Donaghy may reveal about them and/or investigation by government or NBA authorities into their conduct. If Crawford can keep his temper under control then his knowledge and experience will certainly make him an asset to the league--but all it will take is one more instance of him losing his cool and the NBA will again be facing questions not just about Crawford but about all of its referees and the very integrity of the game itself. At a time when NBA referees are undoubtedly going to be more scrutinized than ever--and possibly heckled more often than before--is it really a good idea for the NBA to let its credibility rise or fall based on the likelihood that Crawford will not lose his cool again? Furthermore, if Crawford can eject a player for laughing and still not lose his job despite repeated warnings about such conduct then under what circumstances will the league terminate a referee's employment? Won't this make it more difficult for the NBA to discipline referees who do not act appropriately? The NBA never did anything about the well known bias that referee Jake O'Donnell had against Clyde Drexler until O'Donnell ejected Drexler--for no good reason--from a playoff game. The NBA was able to "disappear" O'Donnell after that and, in an era when the media coverage was less intense than it is now, the story simply died. If Crawford snaps during the 2008 playoffs and ejects Duncan from a playoff game for laughing I don't think that it is an exaggeration to say that he could kill the NBA; the league is still not out of the woods yet from the Donaghy case and one more controversy could be disastrous.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:04 AM



At Tuesday, September 18, 2007 9:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this does not look too close to sending Crawford the message "we need you please rescue us" after the Donaghy thing. Not really the kind of message you want to send to a potentially loose cannon.

At Tuesday, September 18, 2007 5:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

That is exactly what I am concerned about: the possibility that the NBA is thinking that way and the very real possibility that such thinking could backfire horribly the next time Crawford loses his cool.


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