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Did NBA official Ken Mauer really say that?

In a fourth quarter that saw a close game between the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder turn into a laugher on Mar. 30, there was some drama and controversy to be had nonetheless.

With 1:05 left to play in the fourth period and the Thunder leading 112-92, third-string Phoenix point guard Zabian Dowdell mysteriously got ejected by official Ken Mauer, who quickly threw Aaron Brooks out of the game just a few seconds later. At the time, no one seemed to understand what had occurred to warrant such a quick trigger by Mauer, especially late in a game that was academic by that point.

Closer examination of video seemed to indicate that Brooks had been goading Mauer soon after Dowdell’s ejection. His gesture, while not as demonstrative, seemed to be a relative of Sam Cassell’s “big balls” move, as Brooks was caught grabbing his shorts near the groin area. That explained Brooks’ departure.

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However, the reasoning behind Dowdell’s expulsion from the game was still unclear — until after the game. When asked about what had transpired to get him ejected, Dowdell told reporters that Mauer had disrespected him and said the incident was uncalled for but would not elaborate on specifics, likely fearing further retribution in the form of fines from the NBA. Despite that, Sports 620 KTAR’s John Gambadoro posted the following to his Twitter account about the incident: “Word I'm hearing from courtside is referee Ken Mauer told Zabian Dowdell to stop being a little bitch.... Dowdell asked Mauer if he would call him that off the court and Mauer tossed him…” The impetus was apparently Dowdell complaining about the officiating.

No one else in the locker room would comment on what they heard either, but Marcin Gortat did refer to a “couple interesting situations” that happened in the game during a post-game interview, video of which was posted on sbnation.com and YouTube. Gortat also stated in the interview that “four years of my career … I’ve never seen something like that.”

It is unlikely that this story will go much further, considering the NBA has gag orders out on its officials (meaning we probably will never hear Mauer’s side of the story) and the players are too wary of fines to go into detail.

But it does raise questions about the officiating in the NBA. Commissioner David Stern has worked to curb excessive player complaints to officials during games, but a shroud of secrecy is pulled over the league’s management of its referees. No one knows when the league disciplines an official, but there is no denying that officials are far from perfect.

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Current official Joey Crawford brought about similar, albeit more widely reported, controversy regarding the integrity of officials on Apr. 15, 2007, when Crawford caught San Antonio’s Tim Duncan laughing on the bench and ejected him. Crawford reportedly believed Duncan had been laughing at him and, supposedly, Duncan also used an expletive directed at Crawford. It was reported Crawford even challenged Duncan to a fight during the incident. Crawford was suspended for the remainder of the 2006-07 season and the playoffs but was reinstated the following season.

And everyone remembers former referee Tim Donaghy, who resigned from the league in July 2007 amid allegations he fixed games he officiated. Donaghy eventually pled guilty to two charges against him and was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison.

No one is stating that NBA officials are perfect; they are human and make mistakes just as everyone else does. But the NBA does not help itself by making it appear that officials are above the law. If the NBA ever wants to appear more like the top professional basketball league in the world and less like a dictatorship, then it should open itself up to more scrutiny. The NBA has no problem coming down hard on players and coaches who step out of line (re: Stan Van Gundy’s comments comparing Commissioner Stern to a Middle-East dictator). It should let everyone see that officials are not immune to discipline either — if for no other reason than to prove that the player is not always in the wrong.




By: Eric Lorenz
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer

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