Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Former Replacement Official Says Refs Will Be Tested

Former Replacement Official Says Refs Will Be Tested

NBA referee uniformBert Smith has been there, done that, so when an NBA replacement official calls him this week to ask for advice, on what to expect from star players and volatile coaches, on what it's really going to be like doing the games, they would be wise to listen closely.

It will range from obstacle course to gauntlet.

Smith was a young, promising official working college basketball games in the Big 12 and Conference USA when the NBA plucked him to be a replacement in 1995 during the last referee union lockout.

He worked 16 games that year, including a Sonics-Pacers game Nov. 18 in Indianapolis when he ejected then Seattle coach George Karl, who kept riding him over a call he didn't like, got a technical foul, then drop kicked the ball into the stands to show his displeasure. Smith tossed him.

"George was the only guy that year I had to eject,'' said Smith, now a veteran NCAA official who works mostly in the Southeastern Conference. "It's going to be interesting this time. It's not going be be easy. The replacements have to realize they are going to be tested, really tested. They have to understand that Kobe (Bryant) wants to be yelling at (regular official Steve) Javie, not a replacement guy. Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers (coaches of the Lakers and Celtics) don't want replacements doing their big game.''

The NBA will start the exhibition schedule with replacements this week in Utah when the Jazz play the Nuggets, now coached by the same George Karl. His Seattle team in 1995-96 won 64 games. His Denver team played in the conference final last spring, and should be even better this time.

"I don't remember (kicking the ball and being ejected in '95). I'm getting too old to remember,'' Karl said earlier this week. "Go back and get the video. I've gotten thrown out in Indiana a lot.''

Smith wasn't asked by the NBA to be a replacement this time. He left the NBA's developmental program several years ago, deciding to focus on the college game and his other career. He knows several college officials who rejected requests this time from the NBA, but he also knows some who accepted and will be among those starting the season.

"It's a touchy situation (for guys with NBA aspirations). If you're asked and tell them no, it's like saying, `I don't want this job interview.' And they just say, `if you don't want to help us out now, then why should we help you out later?''' Smith said. "If you don't come through for the boss, the boss is going to remember.''

Despite the trials, Smith still looks back at '95 as a positive experience for him. Until December of '95, they were working with two-man crews instead of today's standard three-man crews, which automatically made the job tougher.

They were easy targets for fans, players, coaches and broadcasters who didn't like the way games were going.

"We were just a means to the end for the NBA, but I have no regrets at all. For the most part, guys (players and coaches) were respectful. But it's really a no-win situation. We missed calls. Games weren't officiated as well, but regular officials miss calls, too. They (players and coaches) will want to see what you're made of, what kind of intestinal fortitude you have. All you can do is be honest with them when you miss a call.''

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