If the calls of NBA officials are curious, than those of FIBA referees are completely baffling; calls aren’t even consistent on a play-to-play basis, much less from game to game.
Though the members of Team USA have a few intrasquad scrimmages, a handful of exhibitions, and two preliminary games under their belts, all with FIBA officiating, the Americans are still struggling to adapt to the ever-changing interpretations of common basketball rules. The most notable rule in contention thus far? The traveling violation.
Traveling is very debatable at just about every level of basketball, and the liberal read and implementation of the ruling in the NBA has groomed players to move with the ball in a certain way. That doesn’t mean that FIBA referees are somehow more correct in their enforcement of the rule. In some ways, the interpretation is actually irrelevant. The bigger problem is the lack of officiating consensus. Regardless of how a particular referee might make sense of the traveling rule, there’s no FIBA-wide agreement on what constitutes a travel and what does not.
That’s made it incredibly difficult for the members of all national teams to adjust to the tournament’s constantly shifting standard. However, the members of Team USA seem to think that they have been uniquely victimized by the traveling calls thus far. From John Schuhmann of NBA.com:
The low point was a stretch of 25 offensive possessions spanning the
first and second quarters when the U.S. had twice as many turnovers
(12) as they did scores (six). Four of the 12 turnovers were
travelling calls. The whistle was quick to blow when a U.S.
ball-handler took a step or two before putting down a dribble after
receiving a pass, a call that is not made in the NBA and that will come
into play often for this team that wants to push the ball every chance
“It’s tough when you’re going full speed to catch the
ball, stop on a dime and dribble,” Andre Iguodala said afterward. “It’s
almost like you can’t catch it.” That travelling rule seems to be
officiated differently every night and is one that the U.S. was rarely
whistled for in the 2008 Olympics. In fact, after Sunday’s game,
Slovenian forward Bostjan Nachbar said that not enough of those
travelling calls were made against the U.S.
“Too many times, the refs don’t call that when Team USA’s on the floor,” Nachbar said.
Either way, it’s a call that this team will certainly have to adjust to
as this tournament goes on, because their margin for error will not be
as great in the medal rounds as it was on Sunday.
Consider Bostjan Nachbar’s statement to be the necessary counterpoint in all of this, and a nice reminder of how quotes to the media act as an extension of one’s agenda, even for ballplayers and coaches. Nachbar, along with every other player and coach in the World Championships, has a reputation to uphold and a team to support. So naturally, the Americans traveled a lot. And just as naturally, Andre Iguodala will tell you that they didn’t.
This is the game that we all have the fortune of playing along with. Yet in this particular situation, neither player is entirely wrong. Both have a right to complain about the officiating, in this game and likely in all of their remaining games. It’s that inconsistent, and though more refereeing complaints hardly makes for interesting theater, that doesn’t make the players’ claims any less legitimate.