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The NBA Refs Union Is Going To War With Mark Cuban

Photo: Nell Redmond/AP

Officiating an NBA game is an incredibly difficult job. You have to monitor ten players, many of whom are trying to get away with some transgression or another on any given play, and keep an eye out for a series of complicated rules violations. Meanwhile, you’re also charged with making split-second calls and determining the guilt or innocence of players who are actively trying to get themselves fouled.

This is all probably a lot harder when an incensed Mark Cuban is screaming at you from his perch on the bench. Cubes is easily the most hands-on owner in the NBA, and he has no problem banning reporters for suspicious reasons or calling for a referee’s suspension over a missed call in a game that didn’t even involve his team. Referees have gotten so sick of dealing with Cuban that they recently complained to the league office and accused Cuban of trying to “obtain a competitive advantage by coercing and intimidating officials.” The Vertical got their hands on the National Basketball Referees Association’s complaints about Cuban to the league office, as well as some internal memos to union members about what to expect from Cuban and how to deal with him.


The NBRA’s general counsel Lee Seham wrote two letters to NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell notifying him of Cuban’s behavior. Seham also detailed several transgressions, which included Cuban apparently talking openly about playing a role in the firing of official Kevin Fehr. Spruell held a conference call with many officials this week and several of them expressed concern that the league wasn’t doing enough to support them. Seham and the NBRA are also reportedly concerned that Cuban going largely unchecked (he has, it should be noted, been fined over $1,000,000 for criticizing officials over the years) could lead to increasingly brazen behavior from other owners.

In a March petition to the league, the NBRA detailed a series of incidents in which the union says Cuban has gone over the line berating officials. The incidents include an allegation that Cuban yelled at an official so fervently that the Mavericks owner spit all over him. They even asked the NBA about the policy for dealing with an irate fan who yells “motherfucker,” and noted that Suns owner Robert Sarver yelled at a referee last February and called him “a fucking disaster.”

Ultimately, the NBA wrote back saying that they’d reviewed all the instances that the NBRA brought up and found only one worthy of a second review and chat with Cuban. The NBRA wrote back again and brought even more examples and harsher rhetoric-claiming the union was “astonished” by the decision. One could easily trace the NBA’s inaction regarding the matter to the publication of today’s article on The Vertical.


For his part, Cuban responded to the The Vertical with a lengthy statement/salvo, which they printed in its entirety on their Facebook page. It’s very long and full of examples of refs missing calls, but here’s the meat of it:

To suggest I have influence is to suggest that the NBA officials can be influenced. If an official can be influenced by pressure from anyone, they should not be in the NBA. I don’t believe they can be influenced. As far as my influence on employment, several years ago I sent a list to the NBA of officials who had been NBA officials for more than a decade and never made the playoffs.

I asked why we weren’t bringing in better officials than those who weren’t able to crack the top half of officials. [I think it’s 37 who get selected as playoff refs.] I also asked if being an NBA official was a lifetime job and at what point do we recognize that there is someone else out there who can do a better job? I did this knowing that any terminated refs could receive substantial pensions. As far as anything else, I’ve been the same way since I bought the team and have no reason to change.


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[The Vertical]

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