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One big misunderstanding
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There are lessons galore to be learned from the Mark Cuban-Ed Rush fracas.

One is that if you want someone to show you his cards, don't start off by questioning his ability to play them. Another is that if you hold back your cards from someone used to peeking upon request, be prepared to have them drive through your neighborhood with a megaphone telling everyone what a bad card player you are.

That's a broad assessment of how we've arrived at Cuban coughing up 500 extra large to wear a hairnet for Dairy Queen for a day and Rush hearing his name every time he turns on a radio or TV. Which, if you know referees, is at least as uncomfortable as a hairnet.

When all of this started, it became clear to me that Cuban doesn't really know how Rush or the league-officiating system operates. I do, to some extent, because several years ago I got to know a few refs and realized they are as passionate about getting it right as I am. I also realized how casually they get ripped for missing a call that we're able to see thanks to a half-dozen instant replays, and how easily ulterior motives are presumed -- a plane to catch, a bigger market to serve or a star to protect. (Sportswriters suffer the same cavalier questioning of their integrity and acumen by the general public; comes with the territory.)

I wanted to find out if such suspicions had any merit. Rush, new to the supervisor of officials' job and believing the shroud of secrecy the league placed over its officials created a lot of the problems, allowed me.

What I found is that there were flaws. Over the years, there were officials who were reluctant to foul out a star or that a violation in the first 46 minutes didn't always earn a whistle in the final two. There clearly also were officials who had a personal dislike for a particular coach or player that clouded their judgment.

What I also found is that Rush wanted to excise all of that using every available resource -- technology, consultants, seminars -- at his disposal. There was a time when Cuban's concerns would have been well-founded, and clearly the officiating system is going through a transition period. But the mistake here is that he's attacking the very guy who has been at the forefront of addressing all that.

A referee's job is far more evolved than seeing and calling violations; he or she is responsible for maintaining the game's flow and fairness, which requires interpreting the rules within the context of that particular game. Anybody who doesn't understand that doesn't understand the NBA game.

What Rush wants is every referee interpreting the rules and grasping the game as uniformly as possible. Cuban, coincidentally, seems to have taken a similar approach with his employees in resurrecting the Mavs franchise.

The two actually have far more in common than they know. I suspect that Cuban asked a lot of questions that either exposed his naivete about the game and officiating or insulted the integrity of both Rush and deputy commissioner Russ Granik. When someone challenges my work, I try to explain what I did and why. If the assault continues and they're not germane to my job, I figure they're just ranting to vent and ignore them. I suspect Rush and Granik did the same to Cuban, inspiring him to take his grievances public.

Cuban has suggested that a horn sound eight seconds into each possession to alert referees of backcourt violations. He has mentioned using a clock to count off the five-second inbounds time limit. They're worth exploring, though that swings the debate to who is operating the clock. A bigger issue is that the scorer's table officials are home-team employees. If anyone is concerned about the game's integrity, it seems that should be addressed first.

In any case, it's hard not to like someone passionate about what they do and open to new ways to do it. I sense Cuban feels that way, too.

Which is why he'd like Rush if he actually got to know him.

AND ONES: I'm apparently not alone in thinking Sidney Lowe is doing a great job. GM Billy Knight is working to get him a contract extension, a team source says ... Karl Malone will not demand a trade to the Mavericks or anyplace else. Several teams, upon learning that Malone and his agent were given permission by Jazz owner Larry Miller to pursue a deal with the Mavs this fall, made offers for the Mailman. While Malone still wouldn't mind moving to a contender and has his teammates' approval to do so, he apparently doesn't want to at the expense of his business ties in Utah or with Miller. That the Jazz aren't playing quite as badly of late has helped, too ... Bad indicator: Lamar Odom is brooding, and some attribute it to the Clippers not planning to re-sign him. The coaching staff can't be thrilled after he ignored their pleas to huddle up for a 20-second timeout in the final seconds of the Clippers' 86-83 win over the Bucks.

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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