NBA, referees' union launch campaign to address relations with players

LOS ANGELES -- NBA players, referees and officials from their respective unions are scheduled to meet Saturday to attempt to bridge a widening gap between the sides in what has become an acrimonious season.

The parties have agreed to keep the participants in the All-Star Weekend meeting confidential at this point, as this is expected to be the beginning of a longer process.

In the meantime, this week both the NBA and the referees' union launched campaigns on television and social media to attempt to change the narrative surrounding officiating this season.

The NBA has used some of its allocated commercial time during national television broadcasts to show a version of a public service announcement that shows positive player and referee interactions.

The video is narrated by Bill Russell, who says, "I'm an old person now ... but everyone can work together because of mutual respect for the game. Period. The basic reason is that we respect each other's humanity."

The league also posted the video on its social media accounts. It is part of the NBA's comprehensive plan to improve player-referee relations. The league has been emphasizing "respect for the game" measures that the video highlights. Also as part of that process, league vice president of referee training Monty McCutchen and vice president of referee operations Michelle Johnson have been traveling around to meet with individual teams to encourage dialogue.

Also this week, the referees' union began a social media video series called "One fan at a time." The series is meant to connect officials to disgruntled fans. In the video, numerous fans complain about officiating following a Cavaliers-Rockets game from earlier this season. One fan agrees to talk further about his feelings, and when he shows up, he finds he is meeting with referee Scott Foster, who had officiated the game.

Foster takes the fan through the controversial calls, showing replays, and answers questions. He also explains how officials are graded on every call.

"When you can get a referee in a social environment with a fan, people can understand them more because it can be easy to abuse and dehumanize them," said Mark Denesuk, a spokesperson for the National Basketball Referee Union. "It can be eye-opening to watch the process. For those who don't have faith or confidence in the system, this shows them the referees' perspective. It builds respect and perhaps a little empathy."

Denesuk said the timing of the release of the video is coincidental to the league stepping up positive public relations surrounding officials. More videos are planned in the series in the coming weeks.