Relations between NBA players and officials have devolved this season and the league wants to fix that. But it might be time to accept it as a part of the game. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Relations between NBA players and officials have devolved this season and the league wants to fix that. But it might be time to accept it as a part of the game. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

NBA attempts to solve its most intractable problem

The NBA has an officiating problem. That isn’t news. It has for a long time.

This season, it’s manifested in heightened conflicts between referees and players, playing out on national TV on a near-nightly basis. That has been especially noticeable in the Bay Area, home of the Golden State Warriors and second-most fined franchise in the league.

The NBA is intent on fixing this problem. That’s been its MO in recent years. When the league’s most visible team has a problem, the league gets to work fixing the issue. That’s why the decision-makers overhauled the schedule before the season to reduce the number of prolonged road trips and “scheduled losses.”

On Friday, the NBA announced “a five-pronged initiative designed to address the on-court working relationship between” players and referees.

“As a league, we take great pride in standing for the best things about sports: competition, teamwork, respect, sportsmanship, diversity and inclusion,” said Byron Spruell, president of league operations. “Recently we have seen instances in which we have not lived up to our own collective standards with regard to sportsmanship.”

The program will be overseen by Head of Referee Operations Michelle Johnson and former official Monty McCutchen. The five facets of the plan: 1. Johnson and McCutchen meet with teams to go over rule interpretations and what refs expect; 2. “Respect for the Game” rules will be reinstated “to ensure consistent enforcement of those violations”; 3. The NBA will expand educational resources for coaches and players so everyone sufficiently knows the rules and how they’re interpreted; 4. Johnson and McCutchen will teach the refs conflict resolution and track their decorum on the floor; 5. The league will seek common ground for all stakeholders.

Additionally, the NBA will consider increasing fines for technical fouls after the season.

It sounds that the league has decided that while everyone needs further education, this is a player-driven issue. They’re not entirely wrong, but solving the problem by coming down harder on players isn’t going to work. Whistling every demonstrative action as a technical foul will only hurt the flow of the game and breed resentment.

This issue isn’t going to go away through legislation. It’s going to take a culture shift within the league. And educational sessions for players who would rather be doing just about anything else isn’t going to spur that.

The NBA is intent on making this an issue of the past. But with how long it’s been a reality in the league, it might just be an intractable mess that should be accepted as a part of the game.

Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.

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