Recently retired Strom joins criticism of officials NBA needs 'to clean house at the top'

November 04, 1990|By Terry Pluto | Terry Pluto,Knight-Ridder News Service

AKRON, Ohio -- The quality of National Basketball Association officiating is bad, and it's getting worse.

No surprise there. Virtually any coach, player or fan will say as much.

But Earl Strom happens to agree, and Strom has been an NBA official for 29 years and generally is recognized as one of the best to wear a whistle.

"I'm really concerned with how the game is being called and how officials are being treated and taught," Strom said. "We need to clean house at the top, to bring in a whole new regime to be in charge of the officials.

"We teach our new officials how to stand, how to hold their arms up, how to run -- but we don't tell them how to handle people.

Well, handling people is as much a part of officiating as knowing the rules.

"A good official is like a cop in the street -- he ignores the jaywalkers and watches out for the muggers. You reward aggressive play, but you nail the hatchet men and the bullies.

"In other words, you use your judgment. Well, now they want to take the human element out of officiating, and I think that's a huge mistake. How can you watch the game if you're always worrying about exactly where you are supposed to stand and how you're supposed to hold your shoulders?"

Strom, 62, retired this past summer. He will be a broadcaster for the Los Angeles Clippers this winter. He also is promoting his wonderfully entertaining book, "Parting Shots" (with Blaine Johnson).

He lays the problems with NBA officiating at the doorstep of the NBA front office, especially the supervisor of officials, Darell Garretson.

"First of all, Darell should not be officiating games and be in charge of the officials, too," Strom said. "He can't move anymore and he's just not a good official. I don't care if he is the boss.

"Then he has his son [Ronnie] as an NBA official. I suppose Ronnie can become adequate, but you want more than adequate. I mean, there are guys with more talent and who have worked harder in the CBA who were passed over when Darell promoted his son.

"If that isn't nepotism at its highest, what is? He has thrown his kid into a terrible situation."

And there's more.

"Darell has the officials all looking over their shoulders, even the older guys like Dick Bavetta and Jess Kersey. He runs a police state, telling them who to talk to, what to say, where to go, on and off the court. He has Bavetta afraid of his own shadow."

Strom was known as a "road referee." He would not be intimidated by the crowd and seemed to relish making the tough call that incited the boos. He was known as decisive, a man whose main goal was to keep the game flowing, yet keep anarchy from breaking out on the court.

"They tell you that you should treat all the people the same -- which is nuts because people are different. For example, if I'm working a game between Detroit and Cleveland and Lenny Wilkens runs down the sideline to challenge my call, I'll listen to what he has to say.

"Lenny isn't there to show you up. Of course, if he won't shut up, then you have to nail him [with a technical]. But usually, Lenny says what is on his mind and that's it.

"But Chuck Daly is a showman. He'll prance up and down the sideline, trying for a technical, wanting to get tossed to get the crowd into it. I have a short fuse with him.

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