By Michael Hobson
There are far too many games in the NBA when it appears as if the officials still think the Toronto Raptors are among the dregs of the league. Too many times when officials give the benefit of the doubt to the opponent and too many times when officials seem to take personal delight in penalizing the club. This may be a complaint that could be made by all teams, but it seems as if the league has absolutely no concern with the fact that their in-game officials typically favor some teams.
The NBA decided, a few years ago, to publicly announce their findings on calls in the final two minutes of games that finish within five points. In essence the league doesn’t want to micromanage their officials, but it seems the league tip-toes around any issue or issues involving their officials.
Is it because they have a hard time finding willing participants – those willing to enter the hotly contest zone of an NBA court? That can’t possibly be when so many quality people are out there looking for work, but when fans look around and see so many mediocre officials being promoted to lead official it makes us wonder.
For instance, how does someone like Marc Davis become a lead official when he has proven time and time again he isn’t qualified to even be on the court?
There is little doubt that certain officials carry grudges against certain teams. Remember when Joey Crawford was suspended for acting unilaterally and handing out technicals to the San Antonio Spurs and, specifically, Tim Duncan a few years ago? This was one of the very few instances when the league stepped in to reprimand one of its officials and only when it became blatantly apparent. Crawford tee’d up Duncan while the future hall-of-famer was on the bench not even talking to the officials.
This brings me to Jason Philips — one of those officials, along with Michael Smith, who should not be allowed anywhere near a Toronto Raptor game. Each time Phillips officiates a Raptor game the officials bend toward the opposition. The Raptor players, coaches, in fact everyone associated with the organization, knows that a Phillips game means tough sledding and they are going to have to fight because of bad officiating to win the game.
But the game against the Houston Rockets may have been their Tim Duncan moment when it comes to Phillips. With eight minutes remaining in a tight game Phillips whistled Raptors coach Dwayne Casey for a technical—the reason; Casey had stepped onto the court.
“He (Phillips) said I was on the court to call a play,” said Casey after the game. “I was not talking to the official whatsoever. I’ve never seen that called in all my years. He said I was warned, but there was no warning.”
Casey also said, “I’ve seen coaches go all the way to almost half court to call a timeout. So this was totally new to me.”
As well Casey said, “If you’re going to call it you have to call it both ways. The other coach was on the court throughout the game.”
What Casey didn’t say but what is apparent to everyone in the organization is that Phillips has some kind of grudge against Toronto. There have been a number of instances over the years when a Phillips officiated game turns toward the opposition. Like a bad cop harassing individuals for personal gain, Philips takes it upon himself to make Toronto games miserable for the Raptors.
What has the league done about this fact? Nothing. Why? Because the league does almost nothing to reprimand its officials. So what happens if an official gets away with either favoring a particular team or making calls against a particular team? The behavior continues. The league’s general apathy concerning their officials is the main reason why there is a burgeoning mediocrity of NBA officials. Bad officials are kept in the game long enough to become lead officials simply because they’ve been in the game long enough.
I have pointed out many instances over the years where I believe NBA officials favor the opposition over the Raptors. It is a rare occurrence when Toronto gets a favorable whistle.
Now, it is usually a sign of bad sportsmanship and whining to blame officials for losses, but what if it’s true? What if the slight of the officials bends toward one team? The Raptors are not experienced enough yet to ignore the bad whistle , even though they know going into games, especially those officiated by Phillips, that the game will be tilted toward the opposition. As such the bad calls slowly begin to affect their demeanor and their normal aggression softens. They know any contact will be deemed a foul against them.
Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri is a good company man. He loves the NBA and respects its leadership. As such he is loathe to criticize the league on any issue. He’s been fined twice in the past two years for uttering profane language in public during the playoffs, but that was done simply to motivate his team and their fans. He was fined because it caused the league a certain amount of embarrassment.
It would seem that bad language is embarrassing to the league but bad officiating is not.
At some point the Raptors are going to have to say enough. They have to insist the league keeps bad officials with personal grudges, like Jason Philips, away from their games. If the league refuses, then the Raptors should criticize game officials when those grudges surface during games like the Houston game.
Coach Casey always uses the line, “I like my money,” when asked about poor officiating, but nothing changes. Someone in the organization has to make a public statement condemning the poor officiating. They need the public to be aware that they are “mad as hell, and they are not going to take this anymore!”
Michael Hobson, Sports columnist and author
Follow him on twitter @mhobson12