When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: Adam Silver And His Failed Efforts At NBA Transparency

June 2, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks to media before the Golden State Warriors play against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
June 2, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks to media before the Golden State Warriors play against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has made ‘transparency’ a buzzword of his administration. But at what cost?

April 27, 2016. The Miami Heat played the Charlotte Hornets in Game 5 of the first round of the playoffs.

In the final minutes of the game, Heat guard Dwyane Wade went for a shot but found it contested by the Hornets’ Courtney Lee and Cody Zeller.

Wade was incensed; that shot would have tied the game, and he thought he was fouled. The referees thought otherwise and the Hornets went on to win 90-88, thanks to a deadly three-point dagger by Lee.

That win put the Hornets up 3-2 heading into Game 6. The Hornets eventually lost to the Heat in a seven-game series.

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Wade and his teammates weren’t the only ones peeved with the refs. Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union, went on an infamous Twitter rant regarding the egregiousness of the referees’ calls, or lack thereof, and the NBA’s post-game ruling on the alleged foul:

This wasn’t the first time that the officiating has come under fire during these playoffs. Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson was not pleased at the calls that went against the Pistons in their series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs swept the Pistons, 4-0, to advance to the second round against the Toronto Raptors.

And let’s not forget the controversial, well-publicized series of no-calls during Game 2 of the Oklahoma City ThunderSan Antonio Spurs second-round playoff series.

While the Spurs made no excuses for the lack of calls, the general consensus was that the missed calls would have swung the pendulum a bit in San Antonio’s direction and given a better chance to win that game.

The Thunder ended up winning the series, 4-2, to face Golden State in the Western Conference Finals.

Perhaps encouraged by Union’s popular social media vent, Ayesha Curry (wife of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry) let her displeasure be known as well when calls seemed to go against the Warriors during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, against Cleveland.

Curry’s criticism, while no more biased than Union’s, had much less basis in fact and smacked more of the usual fan loyalty than a rage against an unjust system.

It was more Golden State’s discombobulated play in Draymond Green‘s absence (and the 82-point combo by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving), rather than referee error, that led to the Warriors loss–especially given that the Warriors had a 26-23 advantage at the free throw line and got called for 21 fouls, compared to 22 for the Cavs.

The Warriors, who played without team do-it-all Green, lost to the Cavaliers at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. Game 6 will be on Thursday, June 17, at the Quicken Loans Arena.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed back against this with a media tour, but has convinced few that the league’s intentions are pure. Instead, he doubled down on the importance the league places on the referees’ Last Two Minutes (L2M) Report, which reassured … no one.

How did we get here?


The league referees have always had to submit a report of all game officiating, both during the regular season and the playoffs. These reports were usually only available to league executives, referees, coaches, and other internal personnel.

They were limited to incorrect calls, non-calls and referee errors. That’s it.

However, at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, Silver and Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA executive vice president of basketball operations (the guy who determines the severity of called fouls and subsequent player punishments, among other things) decided that it would be a good idea to make these reports public, citing fan interest in the refereeing process.

The fact that the National Basketball Referees’ Association (NBRA) wasn’t involved in this decision apparently didn’t matter.

"“But we want our fans to understand, we want our players and teams to understand. The idea is in these close games we want to share everything,” VanDeWeghe told Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports. “Our fans want to know as well. They want to understand why a call was made, what the rule was and how we viewed it. Was it correct or incorrect?”"

This attempt to educate the masses spawned the formal name of Last Two Minutes Report, and is now posted online daily through the NBA’s public website. It covers all games that are within five points at the final two-minute mark and/or go into overtime.

The L2M now includes correct calls and no-calls (in addition to the incorrect ones), plus notable non-calls.

The league means well (I guess), but you know the saying about good intentions.

A referee admitting that he missed a call, or made a wrong call, means nothing where it matters: the win-loss column.

This is especially pertinent in a high-stakes, high-pressure level such as the playoffs, where the best of the best in the league compete and any edge is grabbed and maximized in an attempt to reach the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.

That trophy is all that matters and is why players slog through injuries, trades, and crazy travel plans for 82 games, season after season.

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A loss based on whiffed calls isn’t as important during the regular season, where a team has multiple chances to rectify mistakes and improve standings. In the playoffs, though, it is literally win or go home.

Each team has four games out of seven–and four games only–to win and prove that it is worthy to advance. There is no room for error. There are no do-overs. Win or go home.

Indeed, even the most casual fan is now wondering the point of the L2Ms.

Unless the league goes and changes the outcome of a game (e.g., awards the losing team a win if it’s determined that the incorrect calls went against that team)–which ain’t happening–then the reports are mostly meaningless.

Players and coaches have increasingly called for the L2M to be scrapped, citing both its ineffectiveness and mean-spirited finger-pointing.

"“I don’t think those last two minutes is a real indication of any transparency because it’s a 48-minute game,” Wade told Jason Lieser of the New York Post. “A lot of things are in-the-moment plays and calls, and it’s easy to go back and do Monday morning quarterback things. If we could all do that in life, we’d all be different people, but we can’t. I don’t think it’s a good thing.”"

Steve Kerr, head coach of the Warriors, thinks that the league is just protecting its neck and putting the officials in a negative position for no true purpose.

Wade, Jackson, Kerr and any others who have given a side-eye to the L2Ms make valid points.

Then there is the fact that a big deal is made of players and coaches criticizing game officials, with fine amounts put on blast.

The referees, however, do not get the same publicized treatment, though they apparently do get fined for errors and called into question for future playoff game scheduling (which are the elite games to call, and require the best referees).

In light of the increased calling errors throughout the playoffs and the magnification of those errors, it should come as no surprise that the NBRA wants the league to stop making the L2Ms public, citing as one of the reasons an encouragement of “anger and hostility towards officials.”

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There is validity to this: fan intensity during the playoffs is one thing and has always been constant.

The trend of celebrities airing angst on social media, however, does create an even more hostile environment for referees, given that most celebrities have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of followers, and not all of those followers set boundaries between online and offline worlds.

A simple tweet could be taken to an extreme; things could get real thick, real quick, in real time, putting the safety of officials, players, and fans at further risk.

If the NBA, and Silver, wants its transparency mission to be taken seriously, it has to be willing to walk the talk. That starts with working with all concerned parties to create an educational product that does not harm and increase ill will.

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Transparency is a tricky thing; just ask Mark Zuckerberg.  Perhaps the NBA should reach out to him and get pointers on how it should be done, since Facebook continues to thrive on a level of which the NBA can only dream.