How The NBA Is Using Hero Pilot ‘Sully’ Sullenberger To Train Their Refs

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The NBA is a rapidly changing league in many ways, from the spreading and spacing of offenses to the versatility and hyperactivity of defenses (to say nothing of the changing fiscal landscape off the court). The game changes so quickly that the institution that houses it can struggle to keep up. But to its credit, the NBA is attempting to teach its referees to adapt, or at the very least, behave themselves better.

On Thursday, NBA referees attended a video-training course in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where they were focusing on improving two things: their positioning on the court (to better adjudicate plays on the perimeter), and their temperament in games. Apparently, the training video included a Joe Pesci blowup from Goodfellas and the classic scene from A Few Good Men in which Jack Nicholson loses his cool:

This is apparently what the NBA considers the closest analogue for Joey Crawford doing Joey Crawford things, and honestly it might not be so far off. Bob Delaney, former referee and current VP of referee operations, explained the challenge zebras face:

“The maturing of a referee comes when we understand how to interact with the will to win that’s on that floor,” he said. “The will to win on an NBA floor is a tidal wave and it’s not personal affronts. It’s just in the teams’, the fans’, the coaches’, the players’ view, we get in the way of the win. So we’re the ones that make the call, so we get in the way.”

For a good example on how to act under pressure, referees were shown the audio tapes from Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s emergency landing in New York City. Delaney explained why he used these clips:

“I mean it was calm, it was collective,” Delaney said. “The point we made to them was, `Who do you want to be when you’re flying this game? You want to be like Joe Pesci, you want to be like Jack Nicholson, or you want to be like Capt. Sullenberger? You want to land these games the same way that Capt. Sullenberger did, in a professional manner.”

Let the record show this is the one time when a bunch of mostly middle-aged men were expected NOT to emulate Jack Nicholson. It’s a good thought (and improving referee positioning to better officiate the modern NBA is a great move), but one has to wonder how many new tricks an old dog like Crawford is willing to learn. But if we see a newer, softer side of Joey, we have Sully to thank.