On Joe Crawford and Tim Duncan

The Sixth Man: SML will on occasion sub-in for one of the starting five, give them a quick breather.


There is no debate on referee Joe Crawford’s just announced suspension from basketball. One just has to watch the video of an incredulous Tim Duncan sitting on the bench, first laughing at another ridiculous call, then completely shocked at being tee’d up and ejected from about 30 feet away. Crawford’s history of questionable officiating and ethics has already been covered in detail by this site in the last post.

Of course, the bigger issue, and there is one, is renegade officiating in general. Well, “renegade” if you believe it’s not pre-organized; regardless of whether you are a person who believes that sometimes refs act as if they are above the game, or whether you are a person who believes those refs are acting as part of a deeper conspiracy, the point is we have all seen bad refereeing. Anyone that has ever played sports of any kind, at any level (professional, amateur or recreational), has had a run-in at some point with a referee who was power-tripping, or worse. But this is becoming a very big issue in major sports right now.

On his old site, dwil had this post about a referee from the Georgetown-UNC game. Another recent high-profile example was high school referee Mike Lazo from the OJ Mayo incident, in which he almost succeeded in getting OJ Mayo in a heap load of trouble, were it not for the video of the dramatic “bump” that emerged on the web. Here’s another post on refs in the NBA, and note that dwil specifically calls out Joe Crawford. This appears to be a problem throughout basketball, at all levels.

And it’s not just basketball. Non-basketball examples include Seattle Seahawks fans who still feel robbed by calls in the Super Bowl a couple of years back; actually, you can ask the fanbase of pretty much any football franchise, and they’ll have a game they’ll cite as an example of bad calls costing them a game. The question is whether this issue will gain the momentum needed in order to effect change.

Then, and this is admittedly a bit of a tangent, there is the matter of Tim Duncan and his legacy. I’ve said this before, and truly believe it: In 30 years, when people are discussing this era (the post-Jordan to mid-00’s era), the man they will be discussing and idolizing is the same boring man who won’t get mentioned on the highlight night-in, night-out. While Kobe will probably be the player us fans will mention to our kids and our grandkids, it falls upon the sportsmedia of that time to determine the historical greats of our era. And I believe they will pick the blandest superstar of our era, not the most divisive. In a way, it makes sense – if you are a young writer, looking up great players from the past, and your research finds one player everyone (writers, fans, everyone) agrees is a fundamentally-sound winning machine, and the other player nothing positive can be said or written about him without three critical rebuttals being posted immediately, who are you going to believe is the better player? This is how history will come to love Duncan, while Kobe will slowly get less important as memories of him fade. This also fits in with the Santa-Clausification of star (minority) athletes that you saw hnic and jweiler mention in posts earlier this week.

So, if this little episode with Joe Crawford leads to some sort of progress in the NBA, or in sports in general, on the issue of bad officiating (and I don’t believe it will immediately, but it is the first major public condemnation of bad officiating in a very long time, and another episode in another major sport may lead to a full out movement – certainly the sportsmedia and politicians could use a new scrapegoat to supplant the now subsiding steroid outrage), you can bet it will be linked back to Tim Duncan, and added to his legacy. That Tim Duncan struck the first blow in the fight to clean up sports from egotistical referees. Any excuse to turn him into a larger than life player.

For the record, I do believe Tim Duncan is one of the three greatest players of the post-Jordan era (along with Shaq and Kobe) and is probably a good person in general; it’s just that I can see the media turning him into an icon greater than his actual legacy, to be used to bring down other players in the very same fashion that Hank Aaron is currently being used by sportswriters against Barry Bonds. And I fear that.


10 Responses to “On Joe Crawford and Tim Duncan”

  1. SML-
    Ben Gordon off the bench comin’ in to fill it up! Nice aside about the future looking back on T.D. v Kobe.

    As far as refs go, night in and night out Crawford is the one referee I do not want to see officiate a game – and yet I almost always watch the games he refs to see what will happen. Whether it’s a drastic change in officiating from game’s beginning to its end or whether the more aggressive team suddenly doesn’t get calls even though its players are regularly going to the hoop, something odd seems to happen when J.C. is leading a crew.

    Will this lead to REAL uniformity in NBA officiating? IDK. Ron Nunn always says calls are supposed to be the same at the opening tip till the final buzzer. Not in my life have I ever seen a game officiated in that manner; and with three TVs and Lig Pass for the last three years I though I might by now.

    But I’ll be optimistic and hope this is begins a paradigm shift in officiating toward uniform game-calling by refs… I hope.

  2. Thanks D-Wil. I don’t think this incident alone will lead to major changes. But I was surprised at the swiftness and decisiveness of Stern’s punishment. And, yes, I know Stern is a tyrant – yet I was still surprised. David Stern clearly takes criticism of his refs seriously… just ask Mark Cuban. There has been more public criticism of referees in general recently (including from such places as the influential Bill Simmons), not just in the NBA, but at all levels of basketball and other sports.

    I think that it is becoming more and more of an issue, and while Stern thinks he will be able to quickly shove this one episode under the rug, I believe what will really come from this will be more instances caught on tape that have to be dealt with… and that might eventually lead to real change, not just swift reaction….

  3. It’s hard to say how the sports media will portray great players of this era in 30 years, because it’s hard to say what the sports media will be in 30 years. It could be that the internet opens everything up so that the history of the sports becomes a more democratic, wiki-inspired venture. 30 years ago this conversation would have been held in living rooms or bars or arenas, not on a worldwide forum. Who gets to define history is unstable, and it’s difficult to know who’s going to do the defining in 30 years.

    That said, eras still get defined by titles. When people are talking about the 00s in 30 years, they’re going to look to see who had the championships. Of the true greats of this era, Kobe’s currently at 3, Duncan’s at 3, and Shaq’s at 4. Whoever wins the next three championships could go a long way toward defining this era for posterity.

    A few months ago I wrote of Duncan, “He inspires nobody; we remember him because we have to remember him, not because we want to.” He’s going to be a required chunk of knowledge for any NBA historian because of his success. But I don’t think he’ll loom in the memories of fans and writers. But of course, we’re not talking about how one homogeneous group remembers an era, and more and more that’s going to be important to legacies.

  4. sml: i really like your idea that duncan would be historically used as a prop, but i think that he will end up getting lost in the shuffle of great players from his era. even watching duncan regularly, you can’t fully appreciate his actions unless you’ve come from a coaching or skills development background.

    i can’t see anything about him demonstratively that could be lionized, by even the fluffiest of pens. duncan is just a dude that plays basketball, but he happens to be better than 99% of those that came before him.

  5. Nerditry: That is preciously the opposite of how I feel. Don’t get me wrong – I totally understand why you think that Duncan “would be lost in the shuffle”; he’s already lost in the shuffle nowadays, why would anyone care about him in the future?

    Well, for one, because he is a winner, like Pacifist Viking said, he’ll have to be remembered. And though his game is boring (so was Bill Russell’s, compared to the more exciting Wilt Chamberlain’s), there is no argument or debate on his worth. Over time that will become more definitive, not less. He will be acknowledged and credited for all the Spurs championships, for all their 50-60 win seasons over the past decade.

    Kobe Bryant, on the other hand… because of his heated coverage of his career, I believe he might be simply relegated to “amazing scorer” and will end up this generation’s Elgin Baylor, a player those old-timers swear was the nicest, smoothest scorer they ever saw, but who most people nowadays simply remember as the GM of the Clippers, and whose great accomplishments have been “forgotten”.

  6. sml: i can’t agree that the book has already been written on kobe in that he can be accurately predicted to finish his career as it’s currently progressing. elgin never won a title and kobe won three early in his career, invariably tying himself to those discussions and those in the future determining shaq’s relative standing.

    duncan’s three rings have no more value than that of kobe’s besides the fact that he was the specific anchor in the most recent. trust that i love tim duncan’s game, but i don’t believe that people will be able to heartily discuss him as that game is absent of nuance in the popular sense. these types of debate will be solely enjoyed by the basketball heads of our future, casual fans will just know that he was a machine.

  7. For the record, I do believe Tim Duncan is one of the three greatest players of the post-Jordan era (along with Shaq and Kobe) and is probably a good person in general; it’s just that I can see the media turning him into an icon greater than his actual legacy, to be used to bring down other players in the very same fashion that Hank Aaron is currently being used by sportswriters against Barry Bonds. And I fear that.

    Interesting take and one entirely posible.

    As to the NBA officials: The league has allowed them to become petty tyrants who seemingly think people pay good money and invest their emotional attachment to watching them call fouls.

    They have almost completely ruined the game for me. And certainly, I view all game outcomes as suspect, such is their power. I now watch the games to see the brilliance of the players but don’t take anything else about the league too seriously. Whatever integrity the league once had is completely lost IMO.

  8. TheLastPoet Says:


    I feel your pain. I have argued elsewhere for a continued belief in the “purity” of the game. That’s in the game itself, not the off-court issues, problems, and concerns that may or may not plague professional bball. The scourge of racism, the lure of capitalism, criminality, thug imagery, age limits, dress codes, and on down the line, all and more are legitimate issues. But once the ball is tossed up, I’d like to believe that, like Vegas, what happens on the court stays on the court. The talent of these great players takes over, consuming all else, and whatever happens then was simply meant to be. It’s a romantic notion, at best, perhaps foolish, at worst. But I’m tryna hang on to it!

    That’s why when some crusty ol wart like Joe Crawford intrudes upon my vision of the game with a blatant act of tyranny and (anti-)favoritism, then my dream becomes blurred. At best, I can still hear that 80s song playing in my head, “no romance, without finance.” At worst, like Joe Crawford himself, I can hear the pundits “laughing” at me, saying “Poet, you were a fool to think that it wasn’t always this way…”

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