NBA referee Ken Mauer called five technical fouls in a 10-second span in last night’s Spurs-Timberwolves game and video of the onslaught has been making the rounds on basketball blogs all day.
See for yourself:
Lost in the jokes about the astonishing frequency of these technical fouls, was that – for the most part – the technicals were undeserved. Then again, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Quick whistles have been a recurring storyline this season.
Before the season started David Stern instructed referees to distribute technicals more liberally. After just a few preseason games the new policy drew the players ire and they threatened to sue. Though there’s been no actual suit to our knowledge, a source close to the players has told us all season long that the technical fouls are a major issue for the players.
So far this year there have been 411 technical fouls called in 558 games. At that pace, NBA referees will dole out 906 technical fouls this year. Here’s how that compares to years past:
Clearly, technical fouls are way up from last year, but they’re not at unprecedented levels. As recently as the 2005-2006 season, officials pegged players for 1090 technicals. It’s just that this year’s totals buck an overall downward trend.
But there’s another trend it’s perfectly consistent with. Technical fouls are cyclical. An upward spike in technical fouls has consistently been followed by a regression, only for officials to increase the calls once again.
Our explanation: As David Stern continues to carefully maintain the league’s image he has gotten stricter and stricter with technical fouls. He raises the standards, and eventually the players adjust – only for Stern to re-up the technical threshold, forcing players to conform once again.
While it’s gotten a little bit out of hand this year, and reputation is too often a factor in the referees’ in-the-moment decision – we’ve seen Dwight Howard get called for the smallest infraction, while Kobe would have to burn down a stadium before getting whistled – the players have no choice but to adjust. Because unless they’re willing to make significant monetary concessions in labour talks, the players won’t be able to negotiate a change. David Stern is simply too pleased with the current policy to alter it under any other circumstance. In fact, he recently told FOX Sports that he wishes he’d instituted it earlier.
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