Let Them Frill Their Inner Robes
Now that I've dragged my fingers out of the air duct and gotten on with my day, it's time to build on events I've nearly missed. First thing first: Stephen Jackson's ejection. When Baron Davis got tossed, I saw nothing but "upbeat sarcasm." Though in that case, I know he was up in the ref's sockets, and had clearly made said official's actions the object of his disdain. Sarcasm might be less aggressive than spitting of cursing but if the standard is undermining authority, then I guess it's a line-crosser. I'm also told by people who regularly step on basketball courts that clapping in someone's face is a dick move, whether it's mocking or resolute. I am willing to accept that, on some level, the refs' emotions are the litmus test for outrage. That's why we have a right to expect for them to be level-headed, socialized people, and it's why we sometimes have to trust their contextual conclusions.
Turn with me now to last night's disposal of Stephen Jackson. This was what happens when a referee thinks in terms of precedents, instead of letting the moment wash over them in a productive manner. I firmly believe that Jackson was ended because he clapped, and clapping was something Davis had been t'ed up for in game two. Unfortunately, human expression is never so simplistic, so formulaic. To get what Jackson meant, whoever made the call should have paid attention to the game around him, rather than knee-jerked like he did. Here's Matt Barnes on the subject: "If you can't clap to get your team motivated and you get thrown out for that, it's kind of tough." Obviously Barnes is would defend Jackson after the fact, but couple his explanation with how it all went down. S-Jax wasn't looking at the ref, the Warriors were still in the thick of competition, and Jackson has been the team's emotional leader throughout this series.
But the ref saw another Warrior clapping, and assumed the worst. Or, more accurately, assumed that history was repeating itself, which is truly bizarre considering that the call on Davis was a purely subjective determination. A ref takes offense and pronounces the technical; the former yields the latter, making the moment into a technical. What makes it thus is the official's gut awareness, not a set of criteria. While Joey Crawford is bad for the profession, he's at least good refereeing gone bad, rather than a misguided attempt to turn the technical foul into something, well, technical. Actually, analytical works better. Save that shit for regular fouls, which can never be excused by appealing to the sixth sense of the zebra. "Felt like a hack to me" is nonsense unless you're in on the play.
As backward as this sounds, I feel this stems from a mutant form of political correctness. Not sure if you'd call it well-meaning, but I honestly think that refs would rather be given clear, eternally-applicable principles than delve into the intricacy of the way players express themselves. Some of this came up in reference to zero tolerance, but here I think it's even more pronounced. It's one thing to sanction away yelling and throwing; it's another altogether to make rule-of-thumb policy with regard to complex situations. Neither instance of clapping was just clapping, but to get into how they differed—or why they differed—one would really have to grasp a lot about player attitudes. I can only imagine that some refs, be it because of age, race, or class, don't feel comfortable wandering out that deep. And thusly, the terror of this series.
Let's end this on a positive note: being a referee is like being police, which is to say allegiance to an abstract principle that calls on subjective instincts. Cops toil for justice, refs for the order of the game. They are expected to put themselves into the equation, but remember to never take things to personally. Joey Crawford is like that old guy who remembers the days of the neighborhood police presence but has lot the ability to relate. That call on Jackson was the war on drugs.