Replacement refs will blow

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

The spectre of NBA games degenerating into a glorified free-throw contest grows larger with each passing day.

As the silence intensifies, the prospects of scrub officials blowing their whistles on every possession becomes more likely.

The power NBA officials wield can't be quantified because they have so much say in how a game gets played and what liberties players are allowed to take.

Over the years, the zebras have put their whistles away when a star player takes as many as four steps to get to the basket or get his shot off.

The truly elite player can virtually get away with anything in the game's most crucial moment.

Veteran coaches get the benefit of doubt on border-line calls because they have forged such good relationships over the years that referees often look the other way.

In precisely two weeks tomorrow, the first opening tap will unfold when the NBA's pre-season curtain raiser tips off, and replacement refs will oversee the game when Denver visits Utah.

When the NBA opens its regular season on Oct. 27, Joe Blow and not Joe Crawford will be blowing his whistle and, in all likelihood, blowing calls.

Talk around the NBA is that the current impasse involving the league and its referees threatens to be long because no one is talking. The talks broke off last week for the obvious reason -- money.

According to reports, the officials are more than willing to sacrifice their pay cheque and are inclined to give up on certain benefits. The NBA, according to reports, wants deeper cuts.

How it all plays out is open to interpretation and speculation.

There's a lot to be critical of about NBA officials, but as a group they are among the best in sports.

Every possession is critiqued and many steps have been taken over the years to ensure transparency.

Not every call, of course, is the right one.

But now comes the fear that the quality of basketball will suffer because replacement refs will be used.

The league's officials were scheduled to report this weekend at their annual camp as NBA teams get poised to open training camps. It's now in limbo.

There's talk that a meeting has been called for this week to discuss the union's future course of action.

It's easy to dismiss the stalemate, but it can't be overlooked because of its potential impact.

When the Raptors were hatched in 1995, it coincided with a lockout of the NBA's officials that made most of the games unwatchable, even by expansion standards.

The lockout lasted roughly two months. Here's hoping cooler heads prevail.

There's a lot of intrigue surrounding the NBA in the wake of teams making wholesale changes and big-name players changing jerseys.

The credibility of the league, which took a huge hit following the Tim Donaghy scandal, will be challenged with the presence of replacement refs.

In the end, the biggest losers in any dispute involving money are the fans.

When fans are asked to dole out dough to watch an NBA game this season, they will not be getting their money's worth because they are not watching the best.

In this case, fans don't go out to watch an official, but watch out because the games will not be good. And that is not good for business.

Air balls

Michael Jordan's deportment at last week's Hall of Hame enshrinement is a topic that won't go away.

Why people are surprised is the biggest surprise.

In his playing days, Jordan was an assassin.

He didn't care about anything or anyone. His sole purpose was winning.

The friends he made were the ones who arranged Jordan's tee times or were willing to carry his jock strap.

The endorsement-seekers weren't far behind.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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