Erik Spoelstra was halfway down the court and ready to go off on an NBA official recently at a game in Milwaukee.
Then he got a response that stopped him in his tracks.
“I went marching up to half-court and said, ‘Now you made that [expletive] call down there, da da da da da da …” Spoelstra said. “And he said, ‘I’m hearing you, but listen how you started out this conversation.’ As soon as he said that, I said, ‘You know what? You’re right. Forget about what I needed to say, I’m just out of my mind right now.’
“That communication actually worked. It resonated with me. Start from just a place of respect, and you can work from there.”
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A total of 464 technical fouls have been called league-wide entering Saturday’s games, prompting several player complaints that referees are being too quick to make those calls this season.
On Friday, the NBA launched an attempt to remedy the situation.
The league is instituting a five-pronged initiative designed to address the on-court working relationship between NBA players and referees.
Recently-appointed NBA senior vice president, head of referee operations Michelle Johnson and former top-rated referee Monty McCutchen, named NBA vice president and head of referee development and training last December, will conduct meetings with all 30 teams to discuss rules interpretations, on-court conduct and the expectations of NBA referees. Those meetings are slated to begin after the All-Star break.
Spoelstra, who entered the weekend with seven technicals (most among head coaches), believes coaches and players feel “out of their comfort zone” with referees around the league this season due to lack of experience among many officials.
Of the league’s 64 current officials, 14 have only three full seasons of experience in the NBA and four are in their first season.
“The biggest thing right now is experience or lack thereof,” Spoelstra said. “The veteran officials, most of them have retired or been by NBA or moved on, and you’re going to take a hit as that happens. The same thing would happen in our league if all the players with over 10 years’ experience all of a sudden weren’t playing next year. You’d feel it, you’d notice it.
“It doesn’t mean that there’s not young, talented, committed officials coming up through the ranks right now, but they just need more games, more experience in learning how to communicate and making it a collaborative effort, the league learning how to hold the whole system accountable and hold all of us accountable. We’re the other part of the communication, that we’re going in with respect and able to get our point across without crossing the line.
“But everybody obviously feels out of their comfort zone right now because you don’t have the normal veteran faces that you’ve grow up with through this league.”
Eight Heat players have been issued technical fouls this season, with Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo each getting two.
James Johnson has one technical this season and was suspended for one game after an on-court confrontation with Raptors center Serge Ibaka on Jan. 9 in Toronto.
But Johnson praised the way the officials that night handled the incident.
“I think dating back to the little scuffle I had, I think they did a great job separating, making sure nothing else was gonna happen, and we’ve moved on from there,” Johnson said. “No one’s holding any grudges, I don’t believe. They can help you. They can’t hurt you. You just have to play through it.”
Spoelstra said Heat players are spoken to daily about how to treat referees.
“That’s a daily conversation you have to have, because it’s the easiest cop-out in trying to build some toughness with your team, you try not to give them cop-outs,” Spoelstra said. “But you know learning how to communicate, get your message across in a respectful way. We put a picture up, it helps to learn their names and now just ‘hey,’ or ‘hey’ name-call, that’s not going to get anything accomplished.”
FATHER FIGURE PASSES AWAY
Udonis Haslem was back with the Heat on Saturday night following the death of his agent, Henry Thomas.
Haslem missed the Heat’s previous game Thursday night to visit Thomas in Chicago.
"You know, there's people that come along in your life and they have an impact on your that'll last forever," Haslem said. "And Henry is one of those guys. I thought I was signing with an agent. I signed up for a whole lot more -- a father figure, a mentor. Your father can prepare you for life on a normal level. When you step in to the NBA this is another level, this is not normal life. And you need your home father and you need your NBA father. Henry became my NBA father and continued to be my father off the court, as well."
Thomas also represented former Heat players Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Tim Hardaway.
"It’s a sad day," Spoelstra said. "It really is unique. The fact that he has been involved with so many of our players over so many years, that even compelled me to bring it up to the team today. It feels like he has been part of our extended family. He obviously was a very influential person to UD [Haslem], Dwyane [Wade], CB [Chris Bosh], Timmy [Hardaway, Sr.]. Our hearts go out to his family. You’re just always used to seeing him around."