Home » NBA » The No Bitching About Refs Diet.

The No Bitching About Refs Diet.

Simultaneous catches not review-able? No biggie.

It’s been ten days since I made this pledge:

I’m going to try to go a month without bitching about umps/refs. And no passive-aggressive ‘I’m not saying anything’ tweets where you know exactly what I’m not saying. Gonna go all in on this.

me, 5/19

This experiment is going so well, I must recommend it to all.  It’s been a breeze and a joy.

Liberation and peace.

I’m approaching the games I watch now with the full expectation that there will be bad and missed calls.  It’s a fundamental truth but yet so roundly unaccepted.  Once this mindset is adopted, every aspect of the game-watching is improved.  I can only describe it as liberating.

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 10.00.47 AM

Replay. Not as easy as you think it is. (Hey Comic Sans.)

Take a baseball game for an example.  MLB is creeping toward an average of 300 pitches per game.  I found a datum saying that ~130 of those pitches are swung at.  So.. of course the home plate umpire will not get 170 calls right.  There’s no good in expecting different.

When you make your peace with this,,, all is light.


Miami Heat games provide excellent opportunities to put the theory lifestyle to the test.

First, it spares you from needing to learn the myriad rules for where replay can be used in the NBA.  Click the link at right, you’ll be surprised.

Second, only calls made can be reviewed, not non-calls.  Thus the obviously missed 24 second call against the Pacers leading to directly to a 12-2 Heat run was not reviewable in spite of the imperative to get it right.  But when you know going in that the rules are imperfect, you’re better prepared for such problems.

All of those background problems evaporate when on No Bitching Diet.


But beneficial aspects of the No Bitching Diet become even more apparent when the refs get it right.  Take LeBron’s sixth foul.

LeBron obviously is not stationary in setting his pick and obviously steps out to bump Stephenson.  But the ,, conditioning, I guess,, is so strong that even when the call is right, fandom doesn’t accept it.  Gauging announcer and twitter reactions it started with “not a foul,” to “they usually let that call go,” to “that’s a tough call for a sixth.”

Here’s a frame-by-frame click through.  I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s a foul and not only that, leads to a scoring opportunity.  In other words, it’s a foul that gives the Heat an open look with a minute left in a close game.  It’s EXACTLY why the game has rules, fouls, and refs to adjudicate them.

Same thing happened on a traveling call on Wade.  He travelled.  He did.  My twitter timeline was appalled.


First, I don’t see why a wrong policy (swallowing the whistle at end of games) should be so enshrined.  Second, isn’t the whole ‘two sets of rules’ one of the chief problems in officiating for all sports?  Whether it’s the benefit of doubt granted to the star or ‘letting em play’ late in games, it’s not good policy to open up such vast areas of gray.  Do you see how black has become white here?

Even Brian Windhorst called out the refs in his own squishy way.

There were some mysterious missed calls and moments when officials seemed to get caught up in the crowd, got intimidated by coaches or even inexplicably showed one another up by overruling calls. All in all, their being in the spotlight so much is not the desire of the NBA, its fans or the officials themselves.  ….  Heat fans might rage on for days about LeBron James fouling out in the final minute on a screen that referees usually let go in that spot. They’ll gripe about a 50/50 travel call on Dwyane Wade a few moments later that pretty much ended the game when a Shane Battier 3-pointer was disallowed.

Focusing on the reffing takes the focus off some stellar play by the Pacers in general and Roy Hibbert in particular.  (Sure would be great to have a solid “5” in the Cavs’ lineup no?)

Focusing on the wrongness of refs making the right calls at wrong times or against the wrong players is beyond the beyond.

Not to worry, still plenty to complain about.

As for me, I’ll be swimming upstream on the way-over-the-top Gus Johnson parade of love.  His call of the UEFA Champions League final, Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Bayern Munich, was a nightmare.

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 10.46.23 AMScreen Shot 2013-05-29 at 10.46.36 AM

Hey.  Gus.  Learn how to pronounce the name of the pre-eminent French soccer player in the world before you do a broadcast in front of millions of people.  Franck REE-ber-REE.

And get the Chancellor of Germany right too, while you’re at it.


And right on cue:

UPDATE:  Grantland predictably weighs in with…   The Officiating Debacle.

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 12.21.40 PM

Yet Joey Crawford *can* steal Hibbert’s headline at Grantland.

… The screen James set was probably illegal; you’re not supposed to spread your feet as wide apart as James did, and he moved a smidgen in Stephenson’s direction while setting the pick. Those things are against the rules.  But guess what? Players set illegal screens on almost every possession.

Courageous hot sports take there Zach Lowe.


Grantland.  The Edward R. Murrow investigative organization for sports interwebs.

Yes, as long as ESPN and its scoldy hipsters like Zach Lowe are around to sanctimoniously tell us how weird the Cavs are at the draft and inform us of how when and where fouls should be called, there will be plenty to complain about beyond refs.


UPDATE #2:  Deadspin:  Nobody Can Hijack A Playoff Game Quite Like An NBA Referee Can

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 1.26.54 PM

Hijacked. By making a correct call.
Signs and wonders.

Up next with a take indistinguishable from Lowe.

And then there’s LeBron’s moving screen. Yes, LeBron spread his feet out a little too wide, and he may have edged himself into Lance Stephenson just a bit, but there are scores of screens just like that one set in every NBA game, and almost all of them go uncalled.


Yes it’s a foul but don’t call it because it’s late in a close game and it’s LeBron.

UPDATE #3:  Add SBNation to list.  

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 3.06.35 PM



Sorry SBNation… you’re late to the table with your ref rage.  Better step your game up.


As Bill Simmons would say:   Yep, those are your internet sports news sources!



  1. […] “I’m approaching the games I watch now with the full expectation that there will be bad and missed calls. It’s a fundamental truth but yet so roundly unaccepted. Once this mindset is adopted, every aspect of the game-watching is improved. I can only describe it as liberating. Take a baseball game for an example. MLB is creeping toward an average of 300 pitches per game. I found a datum saying that ~130 of those pitches are swung at. So.. of course the home plate umpire will not get 170 calls right. There’s no good in expecting different.” [Kanick] […]

  2. NeedsFoodBadly says:

    Yo Kanick, what’s up with that shot at Lowe?

    He doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the Klosterman/”hipsters” at Grantland. He’s one of the few guys affiliated with ESPN who actually writes about basketball in a smart, analytical, interesting way that doesn’t dumb down the conversation and treats readers like they can actually understand things. Have you read his articles beyond the NBA Draft Lottery thing and those few paragraphs of today’s article? Your pull quote lacks a lot of the context that shows he isn’t just complaining about the refs – he’s just calling for consistency, while agreeing that the 6th foul was, accounting for subjectivity, still a foul.

    I mean, he’s an NBA writer who actually acknowledges that teams other than the Heat exist, and he’s been one of the few national media-types to cover the Pacers from earlier in the year. He brings to Grantland what Rod O’ brings to Frowns – really good, in-depth coverage that’s horribly lacking from most basketball writers. Seriously, he’s worth reading.

    • jimkanicki says:

      the answer is no. you’re quite correct, i have not read lowe’s stuff beyond the lottery piece and this.

      but the lottery piece (while not offensive to me) was a tad haughty. calling the cavs crew weird is unkind and doesn’t display inquisitive thinking.. eg, the bow ties are for nick’s charity and we havent won a championship in 50 years so screw you natl media types cleveland is well past trying to gain your respect. no, instead of applying some empathy, he takes the cheap shot and shares a chuckle with his bros over a Bud Black Crown.

      and his arguing in favor of not calling a foul on an illegal pick because.. because why? because it’s late in a close game and it’s lebron and it’s a sixth foul? that’s just not critical thinking. the time and place of the foul make it more important that it be called and the guy who deserves credit is joey crawford for having the balls to call a foul there. that you can hear lowe’s same argument today on 100 different sports talk radio shows speaks to the simpleness of it.

      actually i just re-read him and it’s even worse: he equivocates. ugh. how hard is it for a reporter at ESPN to say this: it was a foul, properly called. no. here’s what we get: The screen James set was probably illegal; you’re not supposed to spread your feet as wide apart as James did, and he moved a smidgen in Stephenson’s direction while setting the pick.

      what the christ, zach. PROBABLY A FOUL? no. WAS A FOUL. and the fact that it is not always called is what makes Crawford’s call worthy of acclaim.

      could be he’s found and embraced the grantland style book?

      you may be 100% right about lowe. but he got it wrong today.

      • NeedsFoodBadly says:

        I feel like we read two different articles, because that’s not how I read what Lowe wrote at all. (FWIW, I think his tone in the Cleveland draft piece was much more bemused, but an over-sensitive fan base bit down on it HARD. He’s had very nice things to say about the Cavaliers this season apart from that. To me, it seemed like he was more interested in the celebration of a random chance earned through losing. If you were an outsider, wouldn’t it seem weird to you too?)

        He’s saying it WAS illegal, by the book, but that referees aren’t calling it consistently in the regular and post-season. I think you can draw a parallel between an NFL writer saying that it’s possible to call holding on every single down and what Lowe is saying here. Lowe isn’t saying that the referee shouldn’t call it. This is how he ends that section: “The officiating became the story tonight, and that’s a shame, because these are two great basketball teams competing so, so hard against each other.” Lowe would rather not talk about the refs. He wants to, and does, talk about the actual basketball. T

        It’s also a very small section of a much large, cohesive, thoughtful article. So even if he’s wrong or simplistic on the point, it doesn’t take away from the rest of what he wrote today, or has written in the past. He is really, totally, a cut above the ESPN noise machine. Just read this one from a few weeks ago: http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/63231/page/nba-130524/conference-finals-weekend-preview-examining-the-grizzlies-d-and-the-pacers-o

        If the Grantland style book has guidelines for in-depth, intelligent analysis, then he’s definitely found it. He doesn’t pepper his writing with stupid pop-culture bullshit unless it’s to mention that Roy Hibbert’s been on Parks and Rec a few times.

        Also, you should hate Joey Crawford. Not for last night (where he did, indeed, blow many calls) but because he’s the sort of attention-grabbing jackass who goes against a lot of what you champion here. I was at the Fieldhouse last night, and him and his crew were blowing it all over the court. He’s less of a “guy with balls” and more of a weird, high-stepping martinet.

        • jimkanicki says:

          lowe actually says it was ‘probably’ a foul. no zach. it was a foul. say it. own it. lebron’s not inviting you to his wedding anyway, go for the gold.

          i typically hate crawford because he lets it become ‘about him.’ but he got it right last night and frankly, i think his egotism might have been what enabled him to make the right call at that time of the game.

          that there is inconsistency at the end of games says more about the star culture and the need for stronger refs who will make the call. it DOES NOT mean that such inconsistency should be expected or serves as an acceptable template. again, lowe just breezes past this point and says the same old crap that every NBA writer is saying today.

          he even closes with ‘Stay out of it refs.’

          now how stupid is that? i ask you.

          these guys have a platform and an opportunity to explore different angles. i look at grantland, sbnation, and deadspin all saying the same thing — and all getting it wrong — and, sorry if i’m missing it with lowe but, he fits right in.

          plus. if you call a feature WE WENT THERE you’re screaming to be called out. that’s just science.

          • NeedsFoodBadly says:

            Joey Crawford was getting it wrong all night, for both sides. Guy is a fool. His crew straight up stole two points from the Pacers on that BS 24 second violation call, and were just all over the place. Really sucked the life out of the arena at several points.

            If basketball was called exactly how it is written down, the game would be unwatchable. The amount of contact down below is pretty nuts sometimes ( for example, David West is constantly getting grabbed off the ball, watch for it), and everyone sets moving screens. It’s just not called consistently, so when it does get called in a high-profile game against a superstar, it’s not surprising that people are gonna talk about it. And what’s unfortunate is that it overshadows the actual high quality gameplay, like Lowe states.

            From my perspective, it looked like LeBron was trying to trip Lance during the play (no love lost there – they’d been jawing all night so hard you could see it from the cheap seats, and LeBron got a T earlier for shoving Lance after some spirited trash talk). But I would’ve liked the Pacers to beat the Heat with their best player on the floor, just so the Heat fans wouldn’t have so much to whine about (although if it wasn’t that, it would be something else).

            in ANY event, all the talk of the call/no-call thing is ancillary to my actual point about Lowe – even if he gets it wrong with this discussion, you need to look at the rest of the article and his career. Unlike Deadspin/a lot of sbnation posts, Lowe spends the vast majority of his article talking about the actual gameplay, dissecting the tactics and strategies and match-ups, using videos, being intelligent. That’s his bread and butter and what he does in most articles – not cover fluff stuff like the draft lottery. His talent is in breaking down the game. It’s a polar opposite to most of the superficial Skip Bayless “debate” OpEd stuff pushed by ESPN, and that’s why I feel like defending him. His articles don’t treat me like I’m a stone-cold dumb dumb.

            So again, even if you think Lowe gets it wrong here, it’s a wrong part of a much larger article that ISN’T lazy, and is actually good. As for the WE WENT THERE bit, he didn’t title it that – that’s a Grantland subcategory with an admittedly stupid name that I assume came down from editorial.

            I appreciate the opportunity for a guest post, but I can’t really say much more than to repeat myself that this ref issue is a small part of a much larger article, and not emblematic of what Lowe does on the whole anyways. Just go back and read a few of his articles covering the nuts and bolts of the game. I think they’re great and what sports journalism NEEDS to be. You’re missing out if you’re not reading his coverage, he does actual work.

        • jimkanicki says:

          ps and not to put you on the spot: if you want to take up the cudgel for Lowe, i’ll cheerfully yield the floor for a guest post. no pressure!

          • NeedsFoodBadly says:

            Just posted – another great Lowe piece:


            He’s got one line about “ref idiocy” but the rest is pure analysis. This article shows what I like about Lowe – break downs, graphics, videos. Best of all, unlike the stuff at Deadspin/elsewhere, he treats the Pacers like an actual, honest-to-goodness basketball team, not some ridiculous also-ran that has stumbled backwards into success against the Heat (See Deadspin’s article about (paraphrase here) “Everything Went Wrong for the Heat and the Pacers Only Won By 7” or whatever). He also correctly is looking at the ridiculous improvement in the Pacers offense this post-season. I’ve been watching them all season, and their offense has been HORRID. It’s like someone installed a NOS tank in Hibbert (or, more likely, the Heat are stupid soft in the post).

            Anyhow, read that thing and tell me if your opinion of him changes. Sorry to harp on it, but he’s possibly my favorite sports writer right now and I’m 800% hyped about basketball right now and thus more long-winded than usual. Go Pacers!

  3. Max says:

    I gave up complaining about officiating a while ago. What finally set me straight was the way replay was used in football at the time, and their hyper-specific rules about what is/is not reviewable. Sometimes, it is evident that the wrong call was made, but because the play is “not reviewable” then we just have to move on, but then other times, plays are questionable, but in super duper slo mo, it looks like the ball is jostled in the recievers hands so its ruled no catch even though everyone and their brother knows the dude hung on to the ball.

    Either they want to get it right, or they want to futz around about technicalities. So long as they’re futzing, I don’t see any reason to get all worked up about it. They can’t review EVERY thing, so we all might as well accept human error as part of the game.

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