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Rosen: The Refs and I

Ray Chavez/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

To the refs, I was a head (case?) coach in the Continental Basketball Association for six years—at Savannah, GA; Rockford, IL; Oklahoma City; and Albany, NY. And in each of those seasons, I led the CBA in technicals.

Here are some reasons why.

I was coaching the Rockford Lightning in the Western Conference finals. We were down three games to two to the Wyoming Wildcatters (who were coached by Cazzie Russell) and playing at home. We were up 134-131 with twenty seconds left in the fourth overtime when my power forward, David Wood, overreacted to ball penetration by a guard and left Wyoming’s Steffond Johnson was unattended along the left baseline.

Woody made a valiant effort to attack the shot, but from my vantage point (which was about eighty feet away) it was clear that his flailing, outstretched hand missed touching either the ball or any part of Johnson’s body by at least twelve inches. The shot barely grazed the rim. Nevertheless, Steve Javie tooted his tooter, called the foul on Woody, and sent Johnson to the line. He stepped up, converted all three free throws, our energy vanished with the whistle, we never scored again, lost by 137-134, and our season was kaput.

Phil Jackson was then an assistant coach with the Bulls, and since Chicago was only seventy miles away from Rockford, he happened to be at the game—and was sitting courtside just a step away from the action. “I had a great angle on the play,” Phil told me later, “and there was about sixteen inches of daylight between Wood and Johnson.”

Even more convincing was Wood’s testimony. David was (and is) a devout Christian whose honesty was beyond questioning. “Coach,” he said after the game, “I never came close to making contact. That was the worst call I’ve ever been a part of.”

How could Javie, a referee who was eventually considered to be one of the best in the NBA, botch such an easy call?

Because he viewed the CBA with disdain. Because Johnson was already a veteran of one full season with the LA Clippers, while Woody’s NBA days were still ahead of him.

Javie’s ruinous call was based entirely on status and wishful thinking than on reality.

Oh, well.

29 March 2015:  Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman has words with referee Joe Crawford (17) at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. where the Houston Rockets defeated the Washington Wizards, 99-91.

29 March 2015: Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman has words with referee Joe Crawford (17) at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. where the Houston Rockets defeated the Washington Wizards, 99-91.

Most of my T’s result from my constant nagging and verbal abuse of the refs. My bad.

But then there was a game in Wichita Falls when a loudmouth local was on the refs after every call that went the Texans. The guy was seated about ten rows from court-level and another ten feet to the left of my bench. Plus, his loud complaints were voiced in a very thick and discernible Southern drawl.

Even so, Duke Callahan (who had large rabbit ears) somehow mistook the fan’s voice for mine.  Bang! Bang! Two T’s and I was ejected.

Say what?

 

I was coaching the OKC Cavalry, and our chartered bus ran out of gas about halfway through a three-hour trip to Wichita Falls. We had to stay put for another three hours before another bus arrived and our journey resumed.

We arrived in Wichita Falls about fifteen minutes before the scheduled tip-off, but the refs (Callahan being one of them) refused to delay the starting time. My guys got dressed and taped (by me) in a mad rush, then went on to the court where they warmed up for all of ninety seconds.

As might be expected, the Texans broke out to a quick ten-point lead, and the rout was on. Also, as might be expected, I rode the officials so furiously that I got ejected before halftime.

Apparently CBA refs didn’t get paid by the hour.

 

Then there was the time when Danny Crawford rang me up (and out) in Omaha after the Lightning yielded six offensive rebounds on one of the home team’s possessions. I could only laugh, saying this to Crawford in a jocular manner: “It’s like a hockey game. We can’t clear the puck across the blue line.”

But Crawford heard another four-letter word that rhymes with “puck” and I was a goner.

 

Similarly proving that some refs are deaf as well as blind, Bill Spooner once booted me from a game in Albany, when I questioned his concentration by saying, “You’re missing a good game.”

Later I was informed that Spooner thought that I had called him gay.

 

Fortunately, the contractual agreement I had with all the teams I coached called for the team to pay for my T’s. This rider saved me about $5,000 overall.

 

After the CBA and I were done with one another, however, I encountered several refs (but not Spooner) who had graduated into the NBA. They all said that my constant comments from the bench had helped them focus on every play.

I’m glad to have helped them out!

And for all of the above reasons (and many more) I have always considered virtually all referees at every level of the game to be necessary evils.

 

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