For years, the much-celebrated NBA "points of interest" have made an otherwise dreary autumn quite interesting. Whether it's an increased crackdown on traveling, hand-checking, flopping, churlish behavior sent the way of referees, or the post-introduction spectacles that were ruining the sport of basketball, the NBA loves to applaud itself for showy declarations sent to its referees. Declarations that hit the media soon after, obsessed over in October and November, and usually forgotten by February.
The newest in this long list is a so-called "Reggie Miller Rule," designed to stop one of the go-to moves of a player that played his last game over 89 months ago. From the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:
Also, officials will emphasize the "Reggie Miller rule" for a shooter who kicks his legs out during jump-shot attempts to create contact and draw fouls. Officials plan to call offensive fouls on shooters who blatantly kick out their legs to initiate contact.
The problem is that this rule was already in place. It's what is called an "offensive foul," and referees have had the go-ahead for years to whistle offensive players that strike a defender after moving into the defender's designated space. You don't see as many kicking calls over the course of a season as you see, say, a drive and crash into a well-positioned charge-taker; but the calls have been made in the past.
It comes down to, as has been the case for years on the other end with flopping, the NBA referees getting it right in the moment. Which is hard to do on the fly as it is, but became especially tough to officiate correctly once the league smartly developed the "call everything … and we mean EVERYTHING"-edict to help save an ugly league in 2004-05. When the NBA made it so every bit of contact had to be whistled, the referees (human, reacting on instinct and within a second's time) usually side with those who appear the most aggrieved initially. In a flopper's case, it's the guy that hits the floor first. In a kicker's case, it's the poor shooter spun inside out by that big, bad defender.
The issue here is training referees to potentially consider that a second's space utilized after a bit of contact, before they blow the whistle, might be their best friend -- even if it results in the usual boos from a crowd that considers a late call (even if it's the correct call) an anathema. For years the NBA has attempted to influence its referees like a high school SAT teacher instructs their worried pupils — go with the first instinct, because it's probably the correct call.
It probably is. NBA games shouldn't be about "probably," though. See the contact, blow your whistle … but keep watching. Take in for a second the idea that the shooter may have kicked their legs out, or that the defender left his man absolutely no space while sidling underneath him in an attempt to draw the charge.
Don't, as the NBA keeps attempting, try to legislate this from on high. Miller-styled kicks still exist, to be sure, but it isn't as if NBA referees haven't been aware of these things for the last two decades. Their quick whistles and missed kicks are a function of a game that is both impossible to call, and the pressures created by a league office that wants EVERYTHING called RIGHTNOWHURRY.
(It's Caps Lock Day, in case you were wondering.)
In other, better news?
The NBA has added goaltending calls to its list of reviewable plays in the last two minutes of a game. A disputed goaltending call or non-call is pretty rare as well, but it's an absolute game-changer in the final 120 seconds when defenses tighten and shooting percentages fall by the wayside. One wonders what the cut-off would be in terms of closeness of score, for those NBA fans that tend to pay attention to seven or nine-point games that could influence a point spread or over/under.
We appreciate the NBA's move on these matters, and even if Reggie Miller did retire in 2005 this is still an issue (with defenders getting quicker and longer, and an increased offensive emphasis on the sideline 3-pointer) worth discussing. The problem behind missed calls like these, though, can't be solved by shoving a ref's nose in it and demanding he pay closer attention. The NBA, its referees, its players and especially its fans are going to have to find a way to ably call this game while understanding the inherent limitations of trying to govern something that keeps evolving and attempting to shape something so fluid.