Dr. Jack Ramsay

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Thursday, January 30
Both coach, referee must keep their cool

By Dr. Jack Ramsay
Special to ESPN.com

At one time in the NBA, there was a widely held belief that the first coach to be assessed a technical foul won the game. There was also the somewhat common practice for a coach to get ejected intentionally in order to fire up his team. Red Auerbach was the master of both techniques in the old days.

Jerry Sloan
Jerry Sloan was escorted off the court after pushing referee Courtney Kirkland.
I'm not sure how many coaches adhere to either strategy any more, and I doubt if either was in Jerry Sloan's mind Tuesday night, but they both worked in Utah's favor in a 102-92 win over Sacramento. Utah was being man-handled by the Kings in the first period, but after their coach was sent to the locker room by referee Courtney Kirkland, the Jazz played a different tune, outscoring the Kings 30-8 in the second period. John Stockton later implied that the ejection had a jump-start effect on the team.

Sloan reacted originally to a non-call when Doug Christie stepped on the sideline while in possession of the ball. The play occurred right in front of the Jazz bench and Sloan had a clear view of the violation. Then Christie drove to the hoop and drew a foul that further irritated Sloan. Kirkland came over to the Utah bench, and after a brief exchange of words, Sloan shoved Kirkland in the chest -- a cause for immediate ejection and a suspension for seven games.

I don't know what words were spoken by the two principals. Sloan is wrong for pushing Kirkland and will pay a stiff penalty for that. But why was Kirkland in the bench area debating the situation in the first place? Referees are instructed to move away from a player or coach when there is a confrontation. Kirkland invited a response by staying in the "hot zone." None of this would have happened if Kirkland had moved to the other side of the floor.

When I was coaching Portland, I had frequent run-ins with Darrel Garretson, who later became the league's supervisor of officials. I recall a game in which I protested a call early in the game and drew a technical foul. From that point on, Garretson looked directly at me after every call he made against the Blazers, waiting for me to react so he could toss me from the game. I was distracted for the rest of the night and didn't do my job well. My assistant Jack McKinney said after the game, "Garretson took you right out of the game." He was right. I had let myself be intimidated rather than face ejection. That situation can happen and it shouldn't. That's not the job of the official.

NBA officiating is a tough, tough job. There are hundreds of split-second decisions that must be made accurately and with conviction. Overall, NBA referees are the best in the world, but there are fine lines of distinction at work here. The coach wants the game called fairly and consistently. A good official must call the game well, hear out players and coaches who voice objections appropriately, yet maintain control of the game. Not an easy task.

In Tuesday night's game in Sacramento, the whole mess could have been avoided if Kirkland had exercised a little discretion and common sense.

Dr. Jack Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach who won an NBA title with Portland in 1977, is an NBA analyst for ESPN.

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