Joey Crawford got to Joey Crawfording late in Friday's clinching win for the Grizzlies. He tossed Chris Paul as the Clippers' eliminating loss wound down. He tossed Zach Randolph moments later. (Both times, the wonderful Matt Barnes thought he'd been ejected.) All in all, Crawford made a big show of sending two of these teams' biggest stars to the showers early. He's Joey Crawford. He loves to make big shows.
And isn't that a problem?
The NBA has cracked back on Crawford in the past, booting him from a postseason for getting into it with Tim Duncan back in 2007. But hints of that larger-than-life Crawford always poke through, with Friday being the latest example. He is certainly the most well-known, recognizable NBA official, and games he works almost always take a different tone than other games.
That's a problem because no sports league, especially the NBA, wants to draw attention to its referees ... even the good ones. Officiating is extremely difficult, and because it relies on humans, mistakes happen. Even if you assume a 95 percent accuracy rate for NBA refs, in a 200-possession game, you're going to have ten blown calls. Fans will harp on those. Media will harp on those. Players and coaches will harp on those. The league may know its referees do an unimpeachable job the best they possibly can. But because mistakes are inevitable, you'd want to draw as little attention as possible to the whole subject.
Joey Crawford has never been accused of drawing as little attention as possible to himself. There are other NBA refs with reputations among fans: Danny Crawford (he hates Boston, supposedly), Bennett Salvatore (on Miami's dole and David Stern's personal enforcer, they say), Violet Palmer (... where to begin?). But Joe is the king. I mean, who in the hell calls a blocking foul like this?
The NBA should desperately want to avoid drawing attention to its officials, not because they are bad, but because they are not perfect. Joey Crawford brings attention on himself not because he's bad, but because in a former life he was a Broadway star and he misses the spotlight. By the transitive property, the NBA should not want Joey Crawford.
Yet he still gets assigned to the biggest games. So the NBA has to deal with a world that sees one of its most high-profile refs as a major factor in the results of those games, and in which the league can't really do anything to reverse that. So, here's to grousing about Joey Crawford for the next ten years, internet! The wackadoo ending of Grizzlies-Clippers is just another arrow in the quiver.