NBA commissioner David Stern  talked with the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning, and the topic of conversation, as it has mostly been after the first two games of the NBA finals , was officiating. Stern was quick to back the referees, who have called 112 fouls between Games 1 and 2 alone.
‘We have a long way to travel, no doubt, as long as we’re going to be using humans, but we’re proud, believe it or not, of our officials. And we thank you very much for caring so much,’ Stern said.
He also easily dismissed notions to change the rules concerning suspensions given to players who amass seven technical fouls in the playoffs. Kendrick Perkins  currently has six for the Celtics  and is just one away from a one-game suspension.
‘At some point, our players have to play according to the rules,’ Stern said. ‘We don’t want to have to spend our time issuing lots of technicals. You know what’s amazing? When they get close to the limit, they stop. What do you think about that?’
A transcript of the interview follows. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page .
One NBA league source told Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen that more than anything else the league doesn’t want a brawl in the NBA finals thus perhaps the 112 fouls called in the first two games. Does that border on ‘overofficiating?’
I don’t know what league source. I’ll talk to Ian, because what he does and what many people do is they find somebody who’s a third assistant PR person on a team, and they dub them a league source. So I give no credibility to that.
Sources aside, it seems like the officials this year are determined to keep order, and it has hurt the flow. Do you disagree?
We can check the numbers. I look at them. I was sitting at the game on Sunday, being very thankful that I wasn’t an official. Because the pace and the speed and the intensity and the passion with which our guys play is very, very difficult to officiate. And once you make a decision that a foul has occurred in front of you and you are not going to call it, then you are endangering our players. That’s all. And it’s a hard job that these guys have.
These games are particularly intense. The teams have enough time to figure out what they’re going to do to the other. And they test the officials. They test them. They push and push and push. And if the officials don’t step up, then you’re going to have chaos and a game decided on [something] other than its merits. I recognized the risk that you are going to have a lot fouls called as well. But we’ve got very large bodies in small places, and it’s our job, our duty to protect these players.
There is an LA Times piece blasting you and the officials, saying ‘Fans don’t want to see a parade to the free-throw line and foul-plagued stars on the bench, but because the way the game is officiated, that’s what the overly image-conscious NBA gives us.’
We’re not overly image-conscious. We just want our players to play a great game and to play it a according to the rules.
Would you ever consider changing the rules about fouling out?
In all deference to Jeff Van Gundy and his treatise on the subject, I worship at a different coaching god. His name was Red Auerbach . And I’ve been at competition committee meetings for the last 30 some-odd years, and we follow people who know a lot more about basketball than I do or pretend to. And our current rules are the sum total of years and years of respecting the game rather than changing the rules on the whim of a commentator.
The problem I have is we don’t want whims. You go through the video and see, ‘Did they make a mistake? Did they not?’ Our guys make mistakes. There’s no questions about that.
What about the technical foul rule?
You know what? At some point, our players have to play according to the rules. We don’t want to have to spend our time issuing lots of technicals. You know what’s amazing? When they get close to the limit, they stop. What do you think about that?
One of the officials in the last game did a good job because he almost gave Kendrick Perkins a T but he held back and just gave him a warning.
But do you notice that Kendrick’s behavior’s a little different?
It’s also softened his game a little bit.
Oh, OK, so in order for his game to be good, he has to go around snarling?
But the further you go into the playoffs, the better chance you have at amassing technicals. Couldn’t you at least reset when you get to the finals?
It’s an interesting idea. We certainly have begun talking about that. So we can say, ‘OK, go ahead, pick up some more technicals.’ Because we have 450 players and they all have six technicals, right, guys?
But Perk’s response is five of those have been double technicals. Those didn’t used to be T’s. They’ve become a cop-out for referees who want to keep order so they pick two guys and give them double technicals.
I am sympathetic on the subject of the double technical. I think that we have to do a better job. And maybe even honestly go into replay there. If you’re inclined to give a double technical, you stop and see who should really get the tech.
The referees want help here. We give them a set of rules, and we tell them to go out and enforce it. We’ve moved to nine different kinds of instant replay, and we are determined to keep getting this right. We have a long way to travel, no doubt, as long as we’re going to be using humans, but we’re proud, believe it or not, of our officials. And we thank you very much for caring so much.
As the CEO of a successful organization, wouldn’t one of the last things you want to see be one or two superstars sitting in a Game 6 or Game 7 due to foul trouble? What about a ‘nobody fouls out’ rule?
That’s something the competition committee has considered and will continue to consider. I wouldn’t impose that marketing decision on a basketball group. There are good and sufficient reasons that our teams believe that that’s a fair issue of competition, and that you shouldn’t give a pass to players to play at a different set of rules or change the rules to take care of them just because you want to keep them in the game.
What keeps you up at night? What do you think needs to be fixed in the NBA?
Oh, boy. I think that as long as there are human beings officiating games, you’re going to have a certain amount of missed every game that can only be made by going back and using instant replay. And balancing the desire to get it perfect with the need to have a game that is played in less than four hours is what keeps me up at night. That’s a tough one. I’m a tennis fan. I love tennis. Stop after every play. Player challenge. Natural enough, and the fans understand that they’re getting accurate calls.
This one is more difficult. But when you go back sometimes, because I know I heard it from a few fans in Los Angeles as you might guess on the way out, then you look at the difference in foul shots, the Lakers did a lot better than the Celtics did at the foul line.
Could we see an instance in the NBA like we saw last week in Detroit with the imperfect game? Do you agree with Bud Selig ‘s decision to not go back and do what was right in most people’s thoughts?
Well, would you do it with balls and strikes?
No, but that’s the subjective part of the game.
That’s the easiest call to correct. They’ve got the technology now to square out the plate and tell you exactly what’s going on. That’s the issue that I have.
Would you have reinstated the perfect game?
No. What we do is we struggle overall. With under two minutes to go, we now direct the officials and give them the authority to replay who knocked the ball out of bounds. That’s something. Step on the line. Three versus two. Out of bounds or in bounds. If you’re going to lose somebody to a flagrant foul, review it. We’re doing all of the above. That’s what we do.