Who was that cranky old man and why did he ice Kevin Durant?

With 27 seconds left in the crucial Game Five of an incredibly hard-fought NBA playoff series, the score was Memphis 100, Oklahoma City 99. OKC’s Kevin Durant, who shoots 87 percent from the foul line, had just hit his first free throw. The ball had been returned to Durant for his second, potentially game-tying shot and he was beginning his foul shooting ritual.

Suddenly, an old, bald, loud-mouth guy rushed towards Durant and grabbed the ball from his hands. He then ran to the scorer’s table and berated the scoreboard operator.

25 seconds later, Durant finally had the ball back. His rhythm disrupted, Durant missed the free throw and Memphis went on to win 100-99.

Who was the cranky old man who grabbed the ball? It was, of course, the referee — 62 year old Joey Crawford, son of old-time baseball umpire Shag Crawford, who was once suspended by the NBA for losing it during an incident with Tim Duncan.

Why did Crawford grab the ball from Durant as he was about to shoot such a key shot? For housekeeping reasons — he wanted the scoreboard fixed to show that both teams were in the bonus for shooting free throws.

Were Crawford’s theatrics necessary? Of course not. The scoreboard could have been corrected after Durant’s shot was made or missed.

For Crawford, every basketball game represents an opportunity for a “look at me” moment. But now basketball games are routinely being disrupted even in the absence of showmen referees.

Replay is the culprit. In last night’s Memphis-OKC contest, the game was stopped several times to try to determine which team the ball had gone out-of-bounds off of. Even after multiple replays, it was basically impossible to tell.

The same problem is plaguing college basketball. In the closing seconds of the national semifinal game between Kentucky and Wisconsin, the contest was stopped for several minutes for an unnecessary replay review. Meanwhile, Traevon Jackson, an excellent free-throw shooter, stood at the line ready to shoot three shots with the score tied. After the long delay, Jackson missed his first shot. Kentucky then won the game on a three-pointer.

Other key tournament games were stopped for minutes in order to determine whether, when a ball went out of bounds or a timeout was called, there were 6.6 seconds or 6.8 seconds left in the game. The notion that any college basketball game lasts precisely 40.0 minutes is a joke. Seconds are lost throughout the game but replay (thank God) only kicks in the closing minutes. Basketball is seeking a phony precision.

Sporting contests have a flow and rhythm. If the flow and rhythm are disrupted, the games become hard to watch and hard to play.

The quest for a perfectly officiated game isn’t worth the disruption. And the quest becomes unacceptable when finicky officials end up affecting the play and, indeed, the outcome, as may have happened with Kevin Durant and Traevon Jackson.

As John said in his post about instant replay in baseball, Play Ball.

BY THE WAY: John and I have been discussing whether replay in sports is a liberal/progressive concept. We think it is. Maybe one or both of us will write about this.

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