Report: Meeting held as tension mounts between NBA players and refs

Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston (34) argues a call with referee Courtney Kirkland before he was called for a technical foul and was ejected, during an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (Joe Skipper/AP)

When LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are all ejected within the first two months of the season, rest assured, something will come of it.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Lee Sahem, general counsel for the National Basketball Referees Association, met with Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, to discuss the tension that has been growing between the two sides.

Both sides believe there is an unacceptable level of disrespect. Referees pointed out that players use language that is far too aggressive when being addressed, while the players have made the case that officials are often dismissive and unwilling to entertain any level of conversation.

“There have been four or five occasions when a player has gone to say, ‘Hey, what’s up with that?’,” Roberts said. “And the official holds his hand up like a stop sign, like, ‘I don’t have time to talk to you.’ … Lee [Seham] told me, ‘That’s what they’re trained to do.'”

When James received the first ejection of his NBA career from Ken Fitzgerald, there was no doubt that he was aggressive in approaching Fitzgerald, but the decision to toss the face of the league on a nationally televised game seemed to be made extremely quickly.

Durant has already been ejected three times this season, after receiving just two ejections over 810 games entering this season. Curry was thrown out on Oct. 21 for throwing his mouthpiece in the direction of an official after not getting a call on a drive inside.

Shaun Livingston’s ejection by referee Courtney Kirkland sparked an arguably bigger conversation than James’ first ejection, as the two actually locked heads. Kirkland moved towards Livingston as the two argued over a call/non-call, but Livingston also engaged by lowering his head to make contact.

The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry is another who has been the victim of a quick whistle, tossed from a home game against the Washington Wizards after the Raptors fell into a big hole early.

Byron Spruell, NBA president of basketball operations countered that those methods Seham said were how referees are trained, although used once upon a time, are no longer part of protocol.

“That’s not in their toolkit now,” Spruell told ESPN. “We teach them that gestures and words matter. What is in their toolkits is that we want to be humble, and we don’t want to escalate situations.”

That both sides have already reached a breaking point before the halfway mark of the season speaks to the urgency of the matter. The two sides will next look to improve matters at all-star weekend in Los Angeles, where the players will get together with the referees and hear each other out.

“We need to sit down over a cup of coffee or even a can of beer and get some things off everyone’s chests and hear the other side’s perspective,” Roberts said. “We talked about this a couple of years ago. I thought it would be interesting. Now I think it’s something that’s necessary.”

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