Should the NBA Use FIBA Refs?

ESPN’s True Hoop has a fantastic piece up today, in which they ask Alejandro Sanchez Varela, a FIBA ref out of Uruguay, to discuss the prospect of FIBA refs working NBA games. He began by citing this quote, from Joel Litvin, the president of “league and basketball operations”:

“I think it speaks to the fact that our current staff of referees are the 60 best in the world,” Litvin said, “and the referees who will replace them are probably pretty close to being the next best 60 in the world.”

And he responded thusly:

I am sure they are not the next best 60 in the world, Mr. Litvin. Top FIBA referees are the next best 60 in the world, and among them European referees primarily. And the explanation is easy: Referees working in Euroleague and in the major FIBA tournaments are the ones officiating the best level of basketball after the NBA. And for taking a job like this one, experience is what counts.

Nicola Vujcic, Theodoros Papaloukas, Pablo Prigioni, Carlos Arroyo, Dimitrios Diamantidis, Igor Rakocevic, Tiago Splitter, Trajan Langdon, Juan Carlos Navarro, Matjaz Smodis, amongst others, are the best players in the world after Bryant, James, Howard, Wade and Paul Pierce. And the ones receiving the major contracts, also after the NBA players. So be sure that the FIBA referees working Euroleague games are the next best 60 referees in the world. Oh, and not to mention that they are the ones working the Olympic Games and all the world tournaments.

He continues from there in great detail, and it’s pretty fascinating. Indeed, there are significant differences in the officiating of FIBA and NBA games, and Varela is comprehensive in highlighting various differences between the two. As he explains it, the transition would not be easy.

Still, it does seem that if the NBA is truly looking for the next best officials, they should turn their focus to those of FIBA. Given that this labor strife centers on a disagreement over hundreds of thousands of NBA dollars—for you or me, this would be like haggling over five bucks—you’d think the NBA could end this lockout at any point. Still, if they plan on digging in their heels on this one, maybe it’s worth training FIBA officials? As long as they don’t legalize goaltending, that may be the most reasonable solution to any of this.

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