Long time league executive Mike Bantom has been hired as the new executive VP of Referee Operations. Along with being a long time executive in the league, Bantom is also a former player. In his new position, Bantom will oversee the NBA’s officiating program, including the recruiting, training and development of all NBA officials. He will be second in line to Joel Litvin, NBA President of League Operations.
Bantom averaged 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in his nine-year NBA playing career. He made the NBA All-Rookie team after Phoenix drafted him with the eighth overall pick in the 1973 NBA Draft. Following his NBA career, Bantom competed seven more seasons in the Italian Professional League before retiring in 1989. He was also a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic team that controversially lost the gold-medal game to the Soviet Union. Bantom has been an executive with the league for nearly 25 years. He has served as the league's senior vice president of player development since 1999 where he has been in charge of the NBA's Player Substance Abuse program, its Rookie Transition Program and its Continuing Education Program.
Bantom will replace former two-star U.S. Army General Ronald Johnson, who stepped down from the post in July after holding the position for the past 4 years. After the betting scandal that rocked the NBA, Johnson was appointed to try to give the refs back some credibility. Johnson hasn't given the officiating credibility, in fact, the officiating has been just as bad, if not worse than before he took over. Here are just two examples.
There was the debacle in the 2010 Finals. In the final quarter of that crucial contest, the Celtics were up on the Lakers in the 4th quarter with 8 minutes to go. At that point, the referees took over giving the Lakers 21 free throws to just 6 for the Celtics. The refs let both teams play in the first 3 quarters, averaging 5 free throws per quarter. Then in the 4th quarter, they quadrupled the number of fouls called on the Celtics but allowed the Lakers to continue to play. The 21 fourth quarter free throws awarded to the Lakers were the most taken in any quarter in any game in the 2010 playoffs.
I believe that the agenda in play in that game was to keep Rasheed Wallace, a known ref baiter for his entire career from getting a ring. I think Sheed knew it because after the game he went to the refs' locker room and was banging on the door demanding to talk to them. He retired after that season, knowing that the refs wouldn't allow him another ring.
For another example, just look at this past season's playoffs. Marc Davis made some of the most horrible calls I've ever seen against the Celtics in the 2012 playoffs. He continued to make terrible calls until it reached a boiling point for Rajon Rondo who bumped him while protesting a particularly egregious call right after one almost as bad just before. Rondo was ejected for the next game but it was Davis who should have been ejected for his unprofessionalism and incompetence.
The officiating in the 2012 playoffs was among the worst I have seen and it wasn't just me. There were fans of every team complaining about the terrible calls. In some games it was obvious, like the Thunder/Lakers game where the Lakers shot 41 free throws to keep them in the series. Other times it wasn't quite as obvious as an entire game called one sided but there were bad calls at crucial times.
Possibly the fact that Bantom was a player and knows the frustrations of being called for phantom fouls or playing a game five on eight will give him the perspective to make changes in the way things are done. But then again, he still has to report to Herr Stern and so I won't hold my breath.