UPDATE: Kevin Durant felt differently on Tuesday.
There’s always going to be some tension between players and referees — one side is trying to enforce the rules, the other is trying to bend them as far as they can to their advantage. It’s the nature of the game.
However, tensions between referees and players are impacting the game every night. Those tensions are at an all-time high (at least in the last few decades) and the fallout from all of it changes the game.
Kevin Durant was ejected in the fourth quarter of the Warriors win Tuesday night for arguing a call, his fourth ejection this season — he had just one his entire career before this season. KD said that referee James Williams was gunning for him, and told his side of the story to Chris Hayes of ESPN.
“Well, the first half, I was dribbling up the right side and I made a left-to-right cross, and he said I carried,” Durant said. “I kind of let that go. I asked him where he got the carry from. He said I froze the defender, and I said that’s what the crossover is for and that’s why I do it, to freeze my defender.
“And he tried to make a bunch of excuses, and I told him he was wrong, and he went into halftime probably with an attitude. So the second half, his whole thing is like he’s trying to get me…
“Look at my first tech,” Durant said. “I got the rebound and I dribbled the ball hard, and he teched me up. He was searching for me. He was looking to try to tech me up to get me back because he’s still in his feelings from the first half. That’s what’s been going on around the league the whole year. A bunch of that. I got to keep my head a little bit, but I was upset. I’m a human being too. I get upset.”
The referees are not allowed to speak to the media and tell their side of the story. However, Durant was ejected after he starred down referee Brett Nansel after a no-call on a drive to the basket, then (according to Haynes) yelled: “Why the f— that’s not a foul?”
That gets to the heart of what referees say privately — players have become more aggressive and less civil toward them, at least one player complains about every single call in the game, the league used to have their back with fines and suspensions for language and other abuses but they don’t anymore, so the referees have to take control and police the game themselves. Durant was emotional and demonstrative all game, should he be allowed to do that and curse at officials, showing them up, without repercussions?
There’s been a crop of young referees coming into the game, and where there used to be a dialogue between players and officials that has changed. That’s why the league brought in Monty McCutcheon to help oversee and train officials, to help improve this dialogue, but it’s going to take more than that. The players are right, the referees have been too quick with the trigger this season, the officials have to let the players vent some and have a dialogue. But the players have to know that the way they have protested calls — and seemingly every call — wears on both officials and fans. It was not much fun to watch the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin Clippers most nights in part because that team didn’t think it committed a foul for two seasons and complained about all of them. Both sides have valid points. We’ll see if the All-Star weekend meeting between representatives of the players and referees union can help alleviate some of the pressure.