NEW YORK -- Now, NBA players are fed up with what's happening after the whistle.
With technical foul calls nearly doubled compared to the same point last season, union director Billy Hunter wants commissioner David Stern to lighten up on the NBA's crackdown on complaining -- or he might even seek legal action against the league.
Players are fined for every technical foul they receive, and there were 122 of them called through the first 51 games of the season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. There were 66 through 50 games last season.
"You say you want to deter it, curtail that kind of conduct on the court and now it's kind of dipped down so the slightest little inclination ... a guy throws his hands up, the refs are now calling a tech," Hunter said. "So I really think it's incumbent upon the commissioner to kind of tell the referees, instruct them they got to back off a little bit."
And if he doesn't?
"I think what may ultimately happen if it continues to occur is we will probably be compelled to bring an unfair labor practice action or something," Hunter told The Associated Press. "Try to seek some relief, at least to have the issue either heard or at least elevated so that it gets a lot more public attention than it's currently getting."
It has received plenty already. It had to share the spotlight with the controversy over the new game ball during the preseason, but the issue moved to the front once the real games started and teams began realizing the impact it was having on them.
Denver and Sacramento lost their leading scorers when Carmelo Anthony and Mike Bibby were ejected from their season openers. Rasheed Wallace wasted no time getting tossed, but even well-mannered players such as Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan have been hit with technicals along the way, as has Kobe Bryant.
So much for special treatment for the superstars, which is the way the league planned it.
"What the referees were instructed to do was apply the rule across the board without regard to individual players," executive vice president of operations Stu Jackson said. "They're instructed to apply the rule fairly with all players and call what they see."
The NBA made the post-whistle actions a point of emphasis when Stern grew tired of watching players overreact, verbally and physically, after calls went against them. It's been called a "zero-tolerance" policy, which the league objects to.
But that's exactly the way it feels to many players.
"It's crazy because guys are so passionate about the game," Hornets guard Chris Paul said. "I know myself, it's not that you're always trying to show the ref up, it's just your emotions. You're playing a game that you love and at times you may express it different ways."
And it's more than just allowing a free point on a foul shot that bothers the players. A technical also hits them in the wallet: Players are fined $1,000 for each of their first five technicals, an amount that increases by $500 for each five after that, capped by a $2,500 penalty for each one starting with the 16th. A one-game suspension also comes at that point and for every other technical thereafter.
"We talk to the ballplayers, we kind of empathize with them," Hunter said. "We understand the circumstances, understand how they feel, how they feel it negatively impacts their game."
Coaches have said they are OK with the policy as long as officials show good judgment and are consistent. Players worry about getting whistled for a natural reflex in a key situation.
"It's kind of hard to keep your emotions down when you play a game like basketball and keep them totally wrapped up," Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said. "Too many referees have rabbit ears and very thin skin. And until they realize that they're not perfect, they can't expect the players to be perfect. There has to be some kind of give-and-take there."
Jackson said there is, as long as players don't overdo it. When Duncan began yelling about a clearly incorrect call that went against him Monday night in New York, the official didn't respond right away. It wasn't until Duncan kept up the argument on the next trip that the technical finally came.
"This is not a zero-tolerance policy. If a player doesn't act inappropriately or make disrespectful statements on a call or a non-call, such as yelling or cursing or inappropriate physical reactions or gestures like flailing their arms, without that we'll allow players a heat of the moment reaction," Jackson said.
"But when those reactions or those comments become continuous, then you're subject to receiving a technical foul."
Another complaint from the players is that they lost the right to have dialogue with the referees. Officials have always been able to interact with the players as they please, and what may be a technical from one may not even warrant a reaction from another.
"If you're in the league for a long time, you develop relationships with certain officials," Bryant said. "In fact, some officials I've known even since high school, because some of the officials are from the Philadelphia area."
Jackson said the league has heard only a few complaints from players, but Hunter said he has received plenty of calls. He may be placing one of his own soon to Stern.
"My staff is talking regularly back and forth with his staff," Hunter said. "If we think they're not being sensitive at all, it usually requires a session between myself and David. We haven't had it yet, but the way things are going, I'm sure I'll be calling him in the immediate future."