He’s been called the most boring superstar in the history of sports. He rarely smiles, gets angry or shows the slightest hint that he even knows what the word emotion means. So imagine how Tim Duncan felt when he got kicked out of Sunday’s Mavericks-Spurs game for, of all things, laughing. Duncan’s ejection was just another example of what has secretly become the biggest problem in sports. It’s not steroids, the salary cap or even the Madden cover curse. It’s the officials. Referees are making themselves part of the game more so than ever before, and it’s ruining what fans tune in to see.
In the week leading up to this year’s Final Four, basketball fans salivated over the upcoming matchup between two of the country’s best players, Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert and Ohio State’s Greg Oden. It was the first time anyone would see the NBA-bound Oden compete against someone bigger than him, and it was also an excellent opportunity for the 7’2″ Hibbert to prove his worth as an NBA prospect. Unfortunately, the matchup never occurred, as two quick fouls forced Oden to the bench only three minutes into the game. Oden played only 20 minutes, and Hibbert played only 24 minutes due to his own foul trouble. Instead of the matchup of the year, viewers were stuck watching a less-than-riveting battle between backup centers Patrick Ewing, Jr., and some guy named Matt Terwilliger.
Which brings us back to Duncan and his premature trip to the locker room. The future Hall of Famer was tossed by veteran official Joey Crawford, who has built up quite a reputation over the years for making himself part of the show. Crawford has since been suspended by the league, and in an e-mail to the NBA, he intimated that he has officiated his last basketball game. If that’s the case, it’s time for commissioner David Stern to set an example for other leagues and make it clear to the sports world that it’s time for officials at all levels to slip back into the background. After all, when the NBA playoffs start, fans won’t be tuning in to see the Joey Crawfords of the world. They’ll be watching for Tim Duncan’s patented jumper off the backboard, whether he smiles afterwards or not.