By Chris Sheridan
Israeli and Euroleague coaching legend Pini Gershon butted heads Sunday with the NBA’s new replacement referees, and it took a rabbi, several security guards and a whole lot of time to get the situation defused.
In one of the more bizarre moments of this NBA preseason, the head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv stubbornly refused to leave the court for 10 minutes after he was ejected in the third quarter of his team’s 106-91 exhibition loss to the New York Knicks.
"Never seen anything like that before, and I’ve been doing this an awful long time," a senior Madison Square Garden security official said in the aftermath of the ejection of Gershon, the 57-year-old coach who led Maccabi to the Euroleague championship twice earlier this decade before leaving to coach Olympiacos, then returning to Maccabi.
A slew of calls had been going against Maccabi when New York’s Al Harrington was whistled for an offensive foul with 5:05 remaining in the third quarter, right in front of the Maccabi bench, for pushing off with his elbow. Perhaps not realizing the call was being made in favor of his team, Gershon jumped in the face and started screaming at replacement referee Ben Taylor, who immediately whistled Gershon for his second technical foul and gave him the heave-ho signal.
But Gershon immediately made it clear that he was not leaving, standing upright in front of his bench and shaking his head ‘no’ -- even after security officials from the NBA and Madison Square Garden tried to coax him off the floor (without any assistance, it should be noted, from the Maccabi hierarchy).
As Taylor stayed away, referees Victor Montgomery and Williams Mensah also tried unsuccessfully to convince Gershon to leave, and an elderly rabbi from an Israeli charity that sponsored the game came onto the court and pleaded with the NBA referees to reverse their call.
"He’s not leaving," said Maccabi forward Yaniv Green, a former Pistons summer league player who was clearly amused by the turn of events.
Gershon, who never grew belligerent, finally left under a security escort. It was unclear if NBA officials had threatened Maccabi with having to forfeit, which would have been one of the referees’ few avenues of recourse had Gershon not relented.
"I don’t want to talk. I am still too mad about this game. Maybe next time," Gershon said as he boarded a freight elevator some 45 minutes after the game.
If Gershon was under the jurisdiction of the NBA, he would be facing an astronomical fine and suspension for his actions. Instead, he is expected back on the sidelines -- and likely under the close watch of another crew of replacement referees -- on Tuesday night in Los Angeles for Maccabi’s exhibition game against the Clippers.
"For sure Coach Gershon is a character. You know he’s energetic, he likes the crowd and the crowd likes him very much. In Israel, they come to the game to see him even more than they come to see us. So this was quite in-character," Green said. "It’s a scrimmage game, a friendship game, and I think it’s better if those kind of things don’t happen, but it happened."
On a more positive note, Larry Hughes of the Knicks hit a jump shot with 8:30 remaining to snap his 0-for-18 slump to start the preseason. Hughes finished 1-for-3, upping his accuracy rate to 5 percent in New York’s five exhibition games.