Since the Tim Donaghy fiasco, we’ve had the NBA offer up a former referee and a retired two-star U.S. Army general to oversee officiating. Now, former NBA player Mike Bantom, a long-time NBA executive, takes over.
Granted, Ronnie Nunn (the former referee) and Ronald Johnson (the retired general), mostly remained in the background as officiating supervisors, with Johnson taking over shortly after the Donaghy gambling revelations.
But the greatest advances in officiating are not “people” issues. And that means the Bantom hire ultimately will not alter the landscape.
Where the NBA has made its greatest strides since Donaghy are the technological advances, extending replay to include out-of-bounds and flagrant-foul situations, now moving into the goaltending realm.
While there can be no guarantees that another rogue official doesn’t make his way into the pipeline, or turn rogue while in the system, the greater the amount of secondary oversight, the greatly diminished chances of a referee unduly influencing the outcome of a game.
Or even trying, knowing his whistle might not be the ultimate whistle.
For those concerned about the “fix being in” (yes, that is David Stern’s blood you hearing percolating at the very mention), what the NBA has done is largely eliminate the chance of a game’s “ultimate” call being influenced by a referee’s personal influence. The camera, the NBA hopes, doesn’t lie.
If anything, establishing a “replay official” on site would go even further to diminish concern about bias, perceived or otherwise. Instead of having the officials who make the calls review the calls, there instead could be a qualified, perhaps older, official, one not necessarily up to the rigors of full-court sprints, making the ultimate decision. Retired referee Steve Javie showed us the value of an outside officiating view during the NBA playoffs on ESPN and that experience certainly could be brought back into play, even with the knees no longer willing.
Mike Bantom likely will do just fine as an officiating administrator, just as Ronnie Nunn and Ronald Johnson did.
But officiating questions don’t start in the executive suite, they start on the court, with the whistle.
The best way to clean up that whistle, or, in fairness to the current officials, keep that whistle pure, is to layer enough at-the-moment oversight so such issues don’t fester.