The Friday Five: 5 Times Joey Crawford Was a Terrible Referee

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA, or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.

In case you weren’t aware, long-time NBA referee Joey Crawford will be hanging up his whistle at the end of the season. Crawford, who is currently recovering from knee surgery, told the Delaware County Times that he hopes to return to the court in March, but will be calling it a day once the season is done. In the article I’ve linked to there, it’s noted that Joey Crawford is held in high regard by the NBA family, mentioning that he even received the Golden Whistle Award. I have to admit, that really, really puzzles me.

That’s not to say that Joey Crawford has never done his job properly. We tend to focus on the negatives; the one time out of ten that there’s controversy, instead of the other nine times that were unremarkable. Still, to simply acknowledge that Joey Crawford is “controversial” and “colourful” is putting things very mildly, to say the least. From incorrect and downright strange calls, to diva-like and attention-seeking behaviour, to needlessly interfering with the play and even losing his temper, some of Crawford’s worst antics have sullied the sport. So, for this week’s Five, I’m listing the best of his worst, namely five times that Joey Crawford was a terrible referee.

1. Fouls Damon Jones, Penalises the Detroit Pistons

As per NBA rules, the referee is part of the court, and therefore in play. That means that if the ball happens to touch an official, it’s still live until it goes out of bounds, or an infraction occurs. What it doesn’t mean, however, is that the referee is an active participant in the game. Unfortunately, Joey Crawford got a little too close to the action on this particular play, and ended up colliding with the Miami Heat’s Damon Jones. Hey, mistakes happen, no one’s perfect. You could argue that he was careless and out of control, but basketball is a fast and physical sport. Again, these things happen.

The problem is, Chauncey Billups ended up being assessed a foul despite not making contact with Jones, regardless of what Steve Kerr insists in the video. In other words, the Pistons are being punished with Billups picking up a foul and Jones getting to shoot two free throws, because of Joey Crawford’s mistake. I’m not a Pistons fan, but Leftos is, so I’ll borrow his catchphrase…SERIOUSLY?!? Surely, a side out of bounds, no fouls either way, and a sheepish “Sorry about that, Damon” would’ve been more appropriate. Apparently not.

2. Interrupts Kevin Durant’s Free Throw to Abuse the Scorer’s Table

I remember watching this game live, and being utterly disgusted with Joey Crawford’s behaviour here. Now, it should be noted that it’s still on Durant to make the free throw, and if you want to win games, being down 100-99 in overtime isn’t the best position to be in. However, interrupting the free throw just to make a minor correction over at the scorer’s table – something that surely could’ve been done before tossing Durant the ball, or after the attempt had been taken – was very unprofessional. While Durant must accept responsibility for the miss, Crawford’s interruption couldn’t have helped his rhythm, and wasn’t really fair to him.

On top of that, look at the way he’s screaming and screeching at the scorer’s table. More than once, Joey Crawford has displayed a bad temper that has no place in sports, particularly in the officiating ranks. Interrupting the free throw to make a minor correction, making a big fuss about the whole thing…I’ve often had the impression that Crawford believes he is the most important person on the floor, the one the sport revolves around and fans come to see. And to be frank, he’s not, and it doesn’t. You can’t blame him (entirely) for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss, but you can definitely blame him for being an ill-tempered, unprofessional diva.

3. Sends Steve Nash to the line, because why not?

The title of the video is “The Worst Foul Ever”, and it’s definitely up there. Where to begin with this one? While there probably is enough contact to call a foul, as the commentators note, it’s kind of a soft call to make for someone’s fourth foul in a postseason game. You can argue that point both ways, of course; the game probably should be called the same way regardless of the situation, but traditionally speaking, a little more physicality is allowed in the Playoffs. What you can’t argue, however, is that Steve Nash wasn’t the one who was fouled, and thus shouldn’t be on the free throw line.

Cries of “Get some glasses, ref!” may be cliché, but it seems like an apt jeer on this occasion. If you are going to call such a ticky-tack foul, then at least send the player who actually got fouled to the free throw line. When stuff like this happens, it feels like the referees are just making up the rules as they go along, and Joey Crawford’s officiating has often left me with that impression. It’s truly mind-boggling how that ended up happening. When the player who’s benefitting from the questionable call and fortuitous mistake clearly disagrees with what’s happening, you know it’s a huge blunder.

4. Joey Crawford Can’t Have a Civil Conversation, Ever

Exhibit A is a clip from last year’s NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Now, you could perhaps give Crawford the benefit of the doubt here. NBA players do like to complain a lot, and it’s possible that Timofey Mozgov was getting on his nerves. But if Mozgov was indeed calmly asking for an explanation – you know, so that he could avoid committing said infraction again – Crawford’s pouty “Shut up!” was a bit much. How dare you question the great and powerful Joey Crawford!

A couple of years ago, a game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers saw him screaming manically at a ball boy who apparently didn’t do a good enough job mopping the floor. The only way he could be more over the top would be to stupidly bounce down the court after calling a blocking foul…wait, he’d already done that. I suppose you could argue that he was actually being a good referee here, ensuring the safety of the players, but it is an example of him being a pretty terrible human being. I guess “Hold up buddy, you missed a spot!” would’ve been too much to ask for. Personally, I think referees – and everyone, for that matter – should keep a cooler head than that. Chill out, Joey!

5. Ejects Tim Duncan for Laughing, Challenges Him to a Fight

Yes, I’ve saved the worst for last. I’m sure a lot of you figured that this one was coming. Joey Crawford once ejected Tim Duncan for laughing while on the bench, and then challenged him to a fight as Duncan was leaving the court. I mean, do you really have to say any more than that? At first, Crawford maintained that Duncan deserved the technical fouls and ejection, and that he’d done nothing wrong. Following his suspension though, he did see a sports psychologist, and seemed to change his tune a little. For his part, Duncan was fined $25,000, because…well, standard procedure I suppose, even though it was a ridiculous ejection in the first place.

To me, it stands as one of the most petty calls and ugly moments involving an NBA official, outside of the Tim Donaghy scandal. At the time, I remember feeling that Crawford’s punishment should have been harsher, especially given past incidents where his temper had been an issue. I do have to give him credit for seeking professional help and at least trying to change his ways following the incident. Unfortunately, as a couple of the above items illustrate, his temper still remained an issue at times, as did the truly baffling calls. The league’s top official? Yeah, I just can’t agree with that assessment.

Joey Crawford

Now, having spent the whole Five ripping him, I do have to acknowledge that once again, we tend not to pay much mind to all the times that Joey Crawford actually got it right, and was a competent official. After all, it’s not as though every trip down the floor saw a terrible blunder on his part. He’s also a human being with a family and friends, and I wish the guy no ill-will. But as a passionate basketball fan, I just feel there were occasions when he didn’t do the right thing by the sport. In all seriousness, I do wish him good health and contentment in his retirement. To be blunt, though, I’m not at all sorry to see him go.

What’s your take on Joey Crawford? Feel free to have your say in the comments below, as well as join in the discussion that’s taking place in the NBA & Basketball section of the NLSC Forum. That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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