The NBA’s Foul Trouble Dilemma

By: 06.09.10  •  37 Comments

Ron Artest, Dime #21

Whatever happened to the days when officials would swallow their whistle?

In the 1980’s, when Boston squared off against L.A., Kurt Rambis was getting clotheslined by Kevin McHale, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was flinging elbows at Larry Bird‘s face, and that was just part of the game. But it seems like ever since Ron Artest and Paul Pierce got tangled up in the opening seconds of the 2010 Lakers/Celtics series, the officials have decided to call every little flop and touch foul. The NBA needs to worry less about protecting their players and more about them actually playing.

In Game 1, there was a total of 67 personal fouls called. In Game 2 it was 58. Fouls will always be a part of the game, but a grand total of 125 combined in just two games is way too many. (The refs called 47 fouls in Game 3, so maybe they got the message and have eased back.) The problems with constant fouling is constant stoppages in the game, the rhythm of the game is thrown off, and as fans we all would like to see the best players on the biggest stage actually play the game. Unfortunately, in these NBA Finals we have been subjected to watching top players sit on the bench too often. As a result, after every game the losing team’s fans immediately start blaming the officials for the loss before anything else. And the numbers back them up.

The NBA markets their league as one of individual superstars, so most people buy tickets or tune in so they can see their one favorite player on the court — not to see him sitting on the bench.

“I’ve been against fouling out, the rule,” ABC/ESPN announcer Jeff Van Gundy said following Game 1. “I don’t like the idea. If you say the NBA won’t change to a ‘no-foul-out’ rule, well, let’s at least give them an extra foul. Because no one came here to watch who’s in foul trouble. They’d like to see the Lakers’ best, the Celtics’ best, and … I think it’s one of the problems with basketball in general.”

I completely agree. Now, in a perfect world no player would ever foul out. While we all know this is not the case, with the current rules somebody is bound to be in foul trouble. But that shouldn’t disqualify him from the game.

“In football they don’t say three holding calls and you’re out,” Van Gundy added. “In baseball they don’t say two errors and you’re out. I just think it’s bizarre that we would want our best players to be sitting out.

“Especially because I think it would take a lot of burden off of the officials, too. Because if they make a poor call now it can really have an impact on the game, but if there were more fouls, at least that one foul wouldn’t dramatically change things … Ray Allen‘s two [early] fouls dramatically altered the course of (Game 1). I’m not saying the outcome of that game, but the course of the game.”

Is the league is going to begin calling massive touch fouls and flops simply because they don’t want a particular outcome (i.e. Tim Donaghy)? Or is the game becoming more and more difficult to officiate, because players are continually getting faster and stronger?

I hope it’s the second scenario, and if that’s the case, then maybe the league should take Van Gundy’s advice and look to tweak their rules. I would much rather see Kobe and KG competing for a ring and not for minutes.

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