The high-paced nature of basketball is what grabbed me from the beginning, and is what still keeps me watching today. From no-look passes, tomahawk slam dunks, half-court alley-oops and incredible acrobatic layups to impossible game-winning shots, brutal blocks, killer crossovers and sneaky steals, basketball just keeps calling me back for more.
However, it’s the pacing of the game that also makes the sport one of the most difficult for officials to call. Everything happens so quickly, making it very easy to miss or make the wrong call, and that needs to change.
On March 3, 2011, Devin Harris, then of the Utah Jazz, cut the Denver Nuggets’ lead to two points with 1.2 seconds to go in the game. Andrei Kirilenko then stole the inbound pass from Kenyon Martin and had a chance to force overtime.
As Kirilenko was attempting his 2-foot shot, Martin was able to get his hand on the ball, and caused the 10-year Russian veteran to miss the shot and lose the game. However, the replay showed that when Martin touched the ball, his feet were out of bounds, meaning it should have been Utah’s ball with 0.7 seconds left — a game-changer.
Now, can you really blame the officials for missing that? Maybe. It is their job, after all. But I think they could be cut some slack here. First and foremost, the nature of the play itself is just bizarre. Furthermore, steals on an inbound pass usually come from a defender intercepting the pass to the man he is guarding, not the inbounder.
In addition, an official will normally be more focused on where the ball handler is standing, not his defender, in order to determine if a turnover should be called. Whatever the reason, the call was missed.
While this example is rather insignificant in terms of either team’s destiny at the time, several other instances on every level of basketball are similar in nature. Sometimes calls get missed, certain players seem to get fouled every time they touch the ball, and teams seem to have calls go their way. This simply should not be the case.
Men make mistakes — it’s a part of nature. But how are we to expect that a game be fairly officiated if we’re relying on imperfect people to do it? It’s not to say that there aren’t good officials out there, because there are, but even the best of the best make mistakes.
Regardless of the team, player, location or game situation, the game should be called the same way every time. That is the only way to keep the competition fair.
A good start would be collaborating with the British company Hawkeye Innovations. If you’ve ever watched professional tennis on television, you’ve seen their ball-tracking technology in action, used in replays as well as an officiating tool. Even FIFA has adopted the goal-line technology to be used worldwide.
While the technology has been used for tennis, soccer and cricket, there is absolutely no reason why basketball leagues shouldn’t contact Hawkeye, look into the technology and improve the officiating of the game we love. It’s reliable, it’s trusted, it’s proven.
While this would solve issues similar to that of the aforementioned instance in Salt Lake three years ago, it shouldn’t stop at determining possessions or buzzer-beaters. That could be just the beginning of a revolution of taking out the subjectivity so often found in the game.
What if it was possible to use sensors to determine gameplay calls such as fouls, traveling, charges, illegal screens, double dribbles and goaltending? What would the NBA be like if no one got away with anything?
It would be reasonable to say that you would see more even of a playing field. After a short time, the players would be able to adapt to how the system works, which would result in more consistent play. A player shouldn’t have to adjust his or her game each night depending on how tightly a game is being called. It should be the same every time.
Officials should not be taken completely out of the picture, because that’s impossible. They’re necessary to keep the game in control and moving, but why not give them some help?
Whether this is in basketball’s future remains to be seen. As of now, there is no public knowledge of any conversations in any basketball organization to take this step.
Maybe it’s time someone made the call to do so.