by Dan Ward
I understand that what follows could be misunderstood as the rantings of a rabid Orlando Magic fan, a title I readily accept. But whether or not you agree the officiating in the NBA playoffs has left a lot to be desired, few would dispute that it has caused an image and reputation problem for the NBA.
Just two years after the Tim Donaghy scandal, NBA referees and their playoff calls are being questioned like never before. As Charles Barkley said during a national TNT broadcast, it’s been “turrible.”
It’s not enough for the NBA to (rightfully) claim that its referees have an incredibly difficult job and that they get the calls right nearly every time. Those statements fall flat when the league then overturns its referees’ calls after nearly every game.
As NBC Sports’ Ira Winderman writes, overturning these calls is a great step, because it shows the NBA ultimately wants to set things right. But it’s also too late to change the impact these calls have on the games. Denver won a game in its last playoff series after intentional fouls went uncalled. If Mo Williams’ thrown ball at Dwight Howard in Game 2 had resulted in a made technical free throw, LeBron’s miracle shot would have merely sent the game into overtime.
So here’s some advice for the NBA, the same advice we give all our clients … strategic public relations goes beyond words, and it certainly goes beyond defensive statements. No amount of public relations strategy will overcome public perception. When you have a problem, anything you say won’t be enough, because you ultimately will be judged by the actions you take.
In this case, the NBA should definitely defend its referees, who presumably are honorable people trying to do the right thing. But it should also take action, acknowledge that too many errors have occurred and institute real changes that improve officiating in the future.
To take no action would be foul, indeed.