MANKATO, Minnesota—Every autumn, the National Basketball Association (NBA) sends a representative to each team on a visit intended to explain rule changes and points of officiating emphasis for the upcoming season.
On Wednesday afternoon Timberwolves players met with a referee, who informed them that, among other changes, the league intends to crack down on “overt” gestures this season.
That means swinging a fist in the air, clapping sarcastically at and running up to an official, or even jumping up and down in disbelief to protest an official’s call will earn a player a technical foul and an accompanying fine ($1,000 each for the first five offenses last season).
In announcing the move last week, NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson said the new policy is intended to improve the league’s image and “how our game looks.”
He added that league research indicates fans think players complain too much.
Before a single ball is bounced this season, you can say at least this much about this new intention:
It sure is a good thing Rasheed Wallace retired after last season.
“I’m sure it’s going to be an awakening for a lot of guys right away,” Wolves veteran point guard Luke Ridnour said. “I’m sure there are going to be a lot of technicals for guys early on in the season.”
The NBA cracked down on players’ on-court behavior during the 2006-07 season, a practice that led the players to file with the National Labor Relations Board a charge of unfair labor practice against the league.
This time, Jackson said this new emphasis is not “zero-tolerance policy” and he said players can still discuss calls with officials if they do so with courtesy.
“The NBA is doing the right thing,” Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. “There’s a right way to talk to referees, and they’re going to be allowed to ask questions. They just have to ask questions in the right way. Referees, at the same time, have to understand that players are emotional, they’re intense, they’re adrenalized.
NBA coaches also have been told there will be nearly a zero-tolerance policy with assistant coaches yelling at officials this year.
“At the end of the day, you have to keep playing,” swingman Martell Webster said. “You can’t control what refs are going to call. This is a game of emotions. We love this game. We compete to win. You can have passion, but you also can’t let yourself get caught up in what a ref calls. Some things you can’t hold on to. You just got to keep playing.”
That’s what Rambis told his players after Tuesday’s night scrimmage, when Ridnour estimated that “we all would have gotten about five T’s” each in an emotional practice session.
“We’re focusing on their attitude to just—good, bad or indifferent—keep playing,” Rambis said. “Don’t get caught up in what has happened. You’re not going to change that. It’s gone and it’s forgotten.”
There’s one new example forward Kevin Love might be troubled by: No more jumping up and down after a call.
“If you throw the ball against the backstop or curse out a ref, that’s a ‘T’ for sure,” Love said. “But I don’t see jumping up and down as a ‘T.’ That’s tough. I know there were a lot of times last year when I did that. There are going to be a lot of technicals this year. You’ll be giving money back to the league. I wish we could pick what charity to give it to.”
Of course, such a point of emphasis always is open to interpretation. How much arm flailing is too much?
“I think that’s good and bad,” forward Michael Beasley said of the league’s intentions. “Sometimes we should just shut up and play basketball. But sometimes for fans’ sake and for viewers’ sake, it’s good to see some emotion.”