Tension seem higher than they have been in decades between NBA players and referees — LeBron James got ejected for the first time ever this season. Shaun Livingston was suspended a game and referee Courtney Kirkland a week after their encounter.
Referees feel players are being too verbally aggressive toward them.
Players feel disrespected by referees.
The NBA hopes Monty McCutchen can help smooth things over. The league just hired vice president of referee training and development (reporting directly to senior vice president of referee operations Michelle D. Johnson, a retired Air Force general the league hired at the start of the season). McCutchen spoke to Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today about his role and new gig.
“I grew up in a teacher’s household, and my first job out of college was as a teacher,” McCutchen told USA TODAY Sports. “I found a pathway to refereeing and I love the craft of refereeing, but there’s a core value of teaching that I enjoy. … Being able to interact with people on that level was deeply appealing and led me to the decision to take this opportunity.”
It is unusual to ask one of the NBA’s best refs to come off the floor for a VP role. But with one-time execs Bob Delaney, a former referee, and Mike Bantom, a former player, moved out of executive roles within the officiating office, the league needed a person respected among officials to have a prominent role.
With relations between the league office and refs and players and refs tense, McCutchen’s hire was due in part to help smooth those issues, a person familiar with the move told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
What the NBA liked, and wants McCutchen to pass along, is his communication skills.
McCutchen and Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry recalled a situation in a game last season when McCutchen called Lowry for a blocking foul instead of whistling the offensive player for a charge. Lowry asked why and McCutchen said Lowry didn’t get there quick enough. Lowry was furious that a ref implied he wasn’t quick enough. McCutchen immediately recognized he didn’t choose the right words, and at the next stop in play, McCutchen apologized and acknowledged he should’ve told Lowry he didn’t get there in time. Lowry appreciated McCutchen’s follow-up.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to pursue this guy,” (NBA President League Operations Byron) Spruell said. “He loves to teach and mentor. He was doing that on crew-by-crew basis. Now, he gets to that across the community of officials – not just NBA but the NBA, WNBA and G-League.”
Improvement is not going to happen overnight, but the sides are talking. That’s how things should get done — talking and compromising. A little diplomacy. It’s how adults solve problems.