PHILADELPHIA — You see all kinds of things in an NBA player’s locker. Shoes, clothing, the occasional decorative item, and more shoes are the normal things on the list.
Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams, however, has chosen function over aesthetics in terms of what he has hanging inside that somewhat personal space.
The entire back wall of his locker is taken up by a large laminated poster with the names and faces of all of the NBA’s referees this season. It’s full color, with first names bolded in capital letters below each official’s head shot, all of which are big enough and clear enough to be referenced (and perhaps remembered) at a glance.
Carter-Williams laughed when I brought it up following his team’s first win in almost two months, a 123-98 victory over the Pistons which snapped a league-record 26-game losing streak.
“My coaches put that up so I’ll learn the names of the refs and build a relationship with them,” he said. “So that’s why that’s up there.”
In addition to the large collage of photos, there’s a piece of paper posted inside the locker with a promise of sorts written in thick black marker to report the names and numbers of each game’s officiating crew to the coaching staff prior to tip-off. And taped to the top shelf was a piece of scrap paper with the first names and numbers of Saturday night’s referees hand-written in blue ink.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown has stressed development above all else in his first season at the helm of this clearly-stated rebuilding process, and with 12 NBA seasons under his belt being a part of an organization as well-respected as the Spurs, he’s picked up on every nuance necessary for the game’s best players to be successful — and that extends to making sure they have a relationship with the officials.
Brown has made a point of having Carter-Williams study the game’s leading point guards as part of the teaching process, and that’s helped get his star rookie’s buy-in, to the point where he has the league’s entire officiating crew staring back at him every time he looks into his locker.
“I’m a rookie, they felt as a point guard I should have that bond with the refs,” Carter-Williams said. “You see guys like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook who have relationships with the refs, and you know, they’re veterans now. They probably know every ref by their first name.”