Forgive the coaches and players around the country who revelled in a few moments of schadenfreude when they learned NBA commissioner David Stern was giving referee Joey Crawford the thumb earlier this week. I can guarantee you every one of them, whether they ply their trade in high school, college or the pros could think of at least one official they would like to introduce to Stern.

In case you missed it, Stern suspended Crawford indefinitely, at least through the rest of this season and playoffs, for his conduct toward Tim Duncan, who claims Crawford challenged him to a fight during a game in Dallas in which Crawford assessed two technical and ejected Duncan.

Crawford has been officiating in the NBA for 31 years and has long been regarded one of the best for some time. But he has been a bit of a loose cannon and Stern admitted he’s warned him about similar conduct before.

Crawford appears to be one of those officials who confuses authority with entitlement. They think because they’re in charge, they are also part of the reason people pay for their tickets. Throw in a quick temper and a need to carry a grudge, and you get a guy challenging one of the most respected players in the NBA to a fight.

In nearly 10 years of covering high school and college sports, I’ve never seen a ref or umpire challenge someone ot a fight, but I can attest that there are a number of officials who can’t resist injecting themselves into many of the games they work. They’re the basketball official who has rabbit ears and T-up a coach when he mumbles something under his breath in a raucous Augusta Civic Center. They’re the umpire who throw the rule book out and only call strikes between the letter and the waist because “It’s my strike zone.” They won’t hesitate to disrupt the flow of a good game just to remind everyone who’s boss, and they are the bane of every coach’s existence.

I’m the first to give officials, particularly high school officials, the benefit of the doubt. Most of them do a good job for short money and take a ridiculous amount of abuse from parents and fans who have never even seen a rule book, let alone opened one. They do an important but thankless job, and the best of them do it almost anonymously.

But some, the Joey Crawfords of the world, can’t seem to handle the anonymous part. And left unchecked, they will do whatever they can to thrust themselves into the action.

Several years ago, Major League Baseball umpires were getting out of control. They were extremely confrontational with players and managers, and had ludicrously loose interpretations of the strike zone. Then a number of Major League Baseball umpires resigned en masse in hopes of getting a new labor deal. Baseball called their bluff, hired replacements and a new union was formed.

Since that happened, the strike zone, while still not upheld to the letter of the law, is more uniform, and umpires haven’t been looking to get into scrapes on a regular basis.

Clearly, officials need to be reminded periodicly that they’re not the show. A lot more leagues, amateur or professional, could use a David Stern to put out the memo.


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