Celtics Beagle Editorial December 2002
In the aftermath of the incomparably poor "officiating" by the refs in the Dec. 11 Celtics game vs. the Phoenix Suns, I urge everyone to contact the NBA League offices in New York to voice their opposition to the demonstrated incompetence that led to possible serious injury to Paul Pierce and essentially handed the game to the Suns.

Here is the information to express your concerns:

Commissioner David Stern
National Basketball Association
Olympic Tower, 656 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10022
tel (212) 407-8000 / fax (212) 754-6414
email: dstern@nba.com

The following is a copy of the e-mail I have sent.  I will be following up with a telephone call on Thursday - their offices are open from 8:30am-7:00pm Eastern Time:

TO: dstern@nba.com

Mr. Stern:

I'm writing to formally complain about the actions instigated by the referees Sean Corbin, Ken Maurer, and Scott Wall in the December 11, 2002 game that took place at the Fleet Center in Boston, where the Celtics played the Phoenix Suns.

Throughout the game, it became clear that the Phoenix players were allowed to commit fouls against Boston players without penalty, whereas the reverse did not hold true.  Then, in the third quarter, the injury that the fans who were watching were afraid of occourred with 9:14 remaining.  Paul Pierce was fouled hard and ended up hitting the floor face first.  It is still not certain he didn't suffer a concussion.

Yet, no foul was called against the Phoenix defender.

I grant you, every fan--myself included--has a certain amount of hometown bias.  But this display by the officials was the most glaring example of either incompetence or bias that I've seen in over three decades of watching the game.  This goes far beyond any rational chance of it being a biased perspective, when a player hits the ground bleeding and the only foul called is against the Celtics Coach Jim O'Brien for being rightly furious at the display of poor officiating culminating in the injury to Pierce.

The cumulative effect of the "work" done by the officials was to essentially ensure that the Phoenix Suns won a game they didn't earn at the expense of the integrity of the game.  I do not blame the Suns.  I blame the officials, and firmly believe that the matter should be investigated, and the result of the game nullified due to the interference by the officials.

I have, via the membership of several NBA-related lists and my own website, encouraged my fellow fans to contact the NBA League offices to register their objections to the events in that game.

The NBA has tacitly allowed much greater physical contact--as exampled by the last time Shaquille O'Neal of the Lakers managed to get a slap on the wrist after committing aggravated assault and battery.  This has gone to ridiculous extremes, and it has to stop.  Does someone have to get crippled or killed to call the games properly? And what of the negative effect on the League standings?  The Suns now have a "win" they didn't earn, while the Celtics have a "Loss" they didn't deserve.

In addition to the problem of overly physical play, stands the ethical question of just how badly the League will fare if the results are not perceived as honest ones.  To my mind, regardless of the "official" record, I do--at the very least--consider this game to be either A) an unresolved tie to be completed at a future date; or B) a Celtics victory and a Suns loss.

And that's unfortunate, when the players aren't permitted to decide the matter for themselves because the officials are obviously not doing their jobs properly.

I await a specific response when you have reviewed this matter.

I never did receive any reply to my e-mail reprinted above, or to my complaint by telephone the following day.  There was never any statement on whether the officials in question were disciplined in any way.  In the weeks following that game, several more incidents directly attributable to poor officiating have happened around the NBA.

The most recent incident was in the Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers game on December 21, where Pierce once more was hammered in the face, and a flagrant foul wasn't called.  Pierce took exception to the abuse and shoved the opposing player back, and both players were ejected.

While Pierce himself admitted his reaction to the attack was "emotional" and "selfish", his Coach, Jim O'Brien stated that he was surprised that a flagrant wasn't called and understood completely that Pierce took the actions he did, adding that he would have been surprised if Pierce hadn't done something.

Tom Heinsohn, who was the color broadcaster on Fox Sports New England during the Celtics/Suns game, went ballistic on the air, loudly berating the officials for "terrible" work.  When someone questioned an NBA representative on whether Heinsohn could be fined, the response came so fast, it was obvious someone had already looked into doing just that.

Pat Riley, coach of the Miami Heat publicly berated the officials following a loss when he maintained that his team "got screwed", following comments he alleges one of the officials made last yea that they were enjoying watching Riley and his team die.  The only response of the NBA was to fine Riley $50,000.  There was no word on anyone actually checking to see if his claim had merit.

That's the way of the NBA these days.  No one in the league--be it owner, coach, or player, is allowed to make any public criticism of any official, or of officials in general.  There is no realistic oversight into how--or if--the officials are regulated, monitored, or disciplined.  They have a level of secrecy in their operations that the Catholic Church must envy.  No one is allowed to gainsay them, as Mark Cuban found out last season, racking up unheard of fines for his critiques of officials.

There are those who look at recent events and try to dismiss them as hometown bias.  That's not going to work anymore.  There have been too many incidents involving the same officials in too many games.  Sooner or later, there's going to have to be a radical change in the process, including a reasonable tolerance of the freedom of expression.

If this doesn't happen soon, and the worst of the officials kept from doing any more harm, somebody's going to be seriously hurt--or killed.  The players are too big, too strong and too fast not to be kept firmly under control within the bounds of the game.  We expect the officials to let players know how much is too much and to use their judgement fairly and equally across the league.  That's not happening far too often, and it needs to stop.

Please, before it happens again.

November, 2002 editorial
October, 2002 editorial