It’s Only Funny Til Someone Gets Hurt…

As we get set for Final Four weekend, the former coordinator of officials for the PAC-12, Ed Rush, has resigned his position in the aftermath of a controversy where he offered $5K or a trip to Cancun to any PAC-12 referee who would give Arizona coach, Sean Miller, a technical foul in the PAC-12 tournament. Indeed, Miller got one at a crucial time in a game there; then the story got out. The coordinator of officials was Ed Rush; he says it was just a joke intended to “lighten the mood” in a tense time. Rush had a long career as an NBA official before retiring and beginning his association with the PAC-12.

I mention this not to shed any light on what happened or did not happen when Rush and the game officials spoke because I was not there and I do not read minds. Rather, I want to share with you a story regarding basketball officials and why they should not joke about games. I have told you at other times that I spent 37 years of my life refereeing basketball – never at the NBA or collegiate level by any means. Now, here is a controversy – of my own making to be sure – I found myself in.

I was scheduled to do a recreation league double-header involving 9-10 year old boys. I had done lots of games in this league and knew the league administrator and all the coaches who would be involved that evening quite well. My officiating partner and I arrived for the first game of the night at the same moment and walked into the gym together; we approached the scorer’s table where the league administrator and the two coaches for the first game were chatting and I said:

    “So, what’s the Vegas line on this game and did you guys bet the OVER or the UNDER? If you took UNDER we can foul out any kid who even looks like he can dribble the ball more than twice without hitting his foot.”

Unfortunately, that attempt to “lighten the mood” was overheard by a parent of one of the participants. She was unhappy with me to be sure but she was also angry with the coaches and the league administrator because she thought they were betting on the games and fixing the outcomes. After she lectured all of us for a couple of minutes we were able to get logic to prevail as she realized that oddsmakers in Las Vegas – about 2000 miles away – were not setting lines and taking wagers on a game involving 9 and 10 year olds.

I learned a lesson that evening; Ed Rush learned a similar lesson about 35 years after I did.

Back when Ed Rush was in the NBA, he was the target of scorn from Mark Cuban who said something to the effect that Ed Rush was not competent to run a Dairy Queen. You may recall that the CEO of Dairy Queen took offense at that remark and challenged Mark Cuban to work at a Dairy Queen for a day – which Cuban did to much publicity.

Mark Cuban loves publicity. About 10 years ago, when Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman in a Denver hotel, Mark Cuban said that the publicity from that event was good for the NBA because it got people talking and thinking about the NBA who would normally not do so. I think that commentary demonstrates how much he loves publicity.

Today, I am convinced that Mark Cuban is in the midst of another publicity-seeking endeavor when he says he would consider drafting Brittney Griner and giving her a chance to make the Dallas Mavericks. If he were actually serious about doing that, he would be the first executive in any sport where a draft exists to announce ahead of time his interest in a specific player. No one does that for fear that some other team will take that player ahead of one’s natural turn in the draft. Unless of course, one knows that the player involved simply cannot play…

I think that Mark Cuban knows well that Brittney Griner is widely known to be the best women’s player in college basketball and that she has been the center of plenty of attention because she can and does dunk the basketball in game situations. Lots of people know Brittney Griner; now, in light of his comment, all of those people can talk about how she might “get a shot” in the NBA. The only minor problem is that Brittney Griner – as good as she is against collegiate women – has no chance to be an NBA player. Sure, Mark Cuban can sign her and put her at the end of the bench as the “12th player” who only sees action in the final minutes of a game where the score differential is 30 points or more. He owns the team and he can do that to make a point; that will not change the fact that Brittney Griner cannot play basketball against other NBA players.

She is listed as 6’ 8” and 205 lbs; I will take those measurements to be correct. For reference, LeBron James is 6’ 8” and 260 lbs. Griner is a post player only; she does not handle the ball nearly well enough to be a forward so she will be “down on the blocks” against NBA players who are even bigger than LeBron James. When Griner dunks a basketball, she gets her wrist and forearm over the rim; when NBA centers jump to get rebounds or block shots, many of them have their heads near the rim.

Should Brittney Griner get a chance to make an NBA team? If that is what she wants to do and if a team is willing to have her in training camp or on their summer league team, of course she should have that chance. Is it anything other than a publicity stunt? Not really.

One positive thing that might come out of having Brittney Griner play NBA summer league games in Orlando or Las Vegas is that it might sell some tickets to those contests. If you do not think that is an issue, tune in for a couple of moments this summer on the NBA Network starting on 13 July to check out the crowd at a summer league game. There are more people there than were in attendance at that 9-10 year old boys game where I got myself into a controversy as noted above – but not THAT many more…

Finally, Mike Bianchi had this commentary on NBA finances in the Orlando Sentinel:

“Did you see where singer Dionne Warwick owes $10 million to the government? It could be worse. She could be like the Magic and owe $10 million to Hedo Turkoglu.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

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  • Dave  On April 5, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Good one on the comment that the parent overheard.. ha ha! So it’s not just a recent phenomena that everyone is so ‘sensitive’ to everything that is said. To have someone on any professional roster just for the publicity of it may bring noteriety & short term ticket sales but also would put a dent in the integrity to whatever professional league that is. It would be something stinking up the place & detract from my personal interest in watching. The only thing I can think of remotely along these lines was Renaldo Nehemiah because I remember all the media hype but that’s probably pushing the edge of that type of example. I also seem to vaugly remember a baseball? team owner who was wanting to put himself on his own team many years ago?? Not sure… Or maybe that was a commercial I saw? The recent female kicker at the football combine would be along those lines albeit at a much different context since it wasn’t like she had made any team only trying out at a regional combine. What other examples fall in this category in the history of professional sports?

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On April 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm


      I recall Ted Turner deciding to manage his own Atlanta Braves for a game or two until the Commish told him he could not do that – using the “best interests of baseball clause” in the MLB charter.

      Before Renaldo Nehemiah, Frank Budd held the world record in the 100-yard dash and was drafted by the Eagles even though he played no college football. My memory says that was in the early 60s; it was definitely before Bob Hayes started with the Cowboys.

      Ann Meyers had a tryout with the Indiana Pacers in the 80s. She did not make the team but had a much better chance than Brittney Griner would have because Meyers could handle the ball and could have played something other than center.

      Ed “Too Tall” Jones went from a highly successful football career to a less-than notable boxing career.

      Ernie Ladd went from a good-but-not-great football career to a great career as a pro ‘rassler.

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