Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday Officiating (Part 2): NBA Style Rules

This is part 2 of my series of posts on my experience officiating an adult league using NBA Style Rules. Today, I will discuss the adjustments I had to make while officiating.

I could write pages and pages about all the differences between the NBA, high school and college basketball rules. However, I'll just keep things short to some of the things I experienced on Sunday.

In high school and college basketball, players get ten seconds to get from the backcourt to the frontcourt. The NBA used to also have the ten second rule but changed this to eight seconds in an attempt to speed up the game. This was probably the easiest rule for me to adapt to. I just had to remind myself that it was only eight seconds versus ten seconds. Alas, this rule had minimal effect on the games I worked on Sunday.

The NBA lacks a five-second closely guarded rule. So the perimeter players can hold the ball or dribble as much as they want without penalty. This took some adjustment on my part as I am so used to initiating five-second counts when a ball handler is closely guarded.

Looking over the rules for the adult league I was working, I realized I neglected to watch for the NBA five second "Back to the Basket" rule. Essentially, a player could not back down a player (below the free throw line) for more than five seconds while dribbling. I don't recall this being called in the NBA much and it slipped my mind yesterday. I don't think it had any major affect on the game

In college and high schools, the games use a possession arrow anytime there are held balls between the two teams. In the NBA, the arrows are not used. Anytime there are held ball situations, the officials have the opposing players do a jump ball to decide who gets the ball. The reason colleges and high schools adopted the possession arrows was to speed up the game. However, doing a physical jump ball might be preferable to many coaches and players. It gives teams a chance to regain the ball whereas the possession arrow is pretty much set in stone. There were a few times where my partner and I had to perform these jump balls but it wasn't that big a deal.

Having a 24 second shot clock in itself wasn't much of a problem. After all, I officiate high school games which use a 35-second shot clock. The main issues was that the shot clock was run off of a small laptop computer at the score's table. The sound off of the laptop wasn't all that loud so it proved to be difficult to hear when there were shot clock violations. As a player in the league, it wasn't that difficult to glance at the laptop to see how much time was left. As an official, stealing glances at something at the scorer's table was a little difficult when I was facing away from the table. This is something I will need to adjust to as many gyms that this particular adult league uses do not have shot clocks built in.

For the most part, timeouts in the NBA are handled just like high schools and colleges. The only exception is at the end of the game. In the final two minutes, teams have the option to advance the ball to halfcourt after a timeout after a made basket or rebound, assuming they haven't tried to advance the ball upcourt. This isn't a particularly difficult situation to deal with. It just takes some practice to adjust to the rule and also remember to notice what happens after a team scores or secures the rebound.

This is probably one of the more obscure rules and the most difficult for everyone (players & officials) to adjust to. At every level of basketball, teams can inbound to the backcourt at anytime. However, the NBA is the lone exception. In fact, the NBA did not allow any backcourt inbounding for many years. While I don't have the year handy, I know the NBA eventually changed it's rules to allow for backcourt inbounding in the last two minutes of the game.

There weren't any issues that came about with this particular rule. Most of the players are veterans of the league and are used to it. As for me, I didn't have to call any backcourt violations though I had to remind myself of the rule when players were inbounding.

That's all I have for this post. I probably missed a ton of things, but this should give you an idea of what I went through on Sunday.

Sunday Officiating (Part 1): Be Safe Rather Than Sorry

Sunday morning, I got a call from a guy to work some adult league games in the afternoon at the gym he works at. I had mentioned this adult league in one of my previous posts. It was the league that used NBA style rules instead of the traditional high school and/or college basketball rules. Since I had a fantasy football draft mid-afternoon, I agreed to work the two late evening games instead. The two games generated lots of interesting thoughts so I will share over three posts (at least that's the plan).

The first point I want to discuss is a situation that occurred tonight. The situation occurred late in the second (and last) game of the night. The White team, which had been leading much of the game, had fallen apart. The Black team had clawed their way back into the game and taken the lead. The White team was forced to foul to get the ball back. Alas, on one particular possession, one of the White players tried to foul a Black player and I decided to pass on the call.

The reason was that I didn't think there was sufficient contact before the Black player had passed the ball off to a teammate. However, the White player in question got frustrated with the no call and essentially tackled the second Black player. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed. The Black player was not injured and the White player understood why I passed on the initial foul.

However, I discussed this with my partner and he said I should have made the initial call. After thinking about the situation, I agree with my partner's assessment. I don't think the White player had any intention to harm the Black player that he tackled. If I just made the initial foul call, everything would have been fine.

Not to make any excuses, this was the first time I was officiating the league with it's rules. While the games went alright for the most part, I think I did spend a lot of time adjusting to the different elements. That may have contributed to my late no call. I think once I get used to working the league more, things should go much more smoothly.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Volleyball Official?

This will be a quick posting. Since I am still unemployed, a thought crossed my mind that I should try my hand at youth volleyball officiating. I had done it briefly YEARS AGO but did not stay with it. Since I have a little time, it's worth a shot to try and officiate a different sport. As it is, I like watching volleyball and have played it recreationally in the past. It'll be good to learn more about volleyball and see it from a different perspective. There's a rules meeting in a few weeks so I have time to decide. If I decide to go through with officiating volleyball, I may post about it here as well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Officiating is a habit

Yesterday, I didn't have much to do, so I stopped by a local gym to watch an adult league basketball game. Weird? You could say so since I wasn't actually playing in the league. However, I knew one of the teams that was playing. I had played with and against the guys on the team so I thought I go support them since they were playing in a playoff game.

Interestingly enough, I knew one of the officials that was working the game (I actually knew the other guy too, but not that well). I got a chance to talk to the official during halftime and breaks about a few things. One interesting thing we discussed was that it was slightly difficult to officiate this particular adult league. It wasn't because the players were being difficult or anything like that.

It was the fact that the league uses modified NBA rules (8 second backcourt count, no backcourt throw-ins until the 4th quarter, 24 second shot clock, etc). The official said that some of the NBA rules are so different to the typical high school or college rules that it takes a while to adjust to them.

The point I learned that is that all basketball officials are creatures of habit. Whether it be how we report our fouls or how we position ourselves (among many other things) during a game, all of this (after the initial learning period) becomes a regular habit. If you develop good habits, then you are in good shape. Alas, if you develop bad habits (and we've all done it at some point), then it will take time to break the bad habit and relearn. It's difficult but it helps to work with good partners and possibly have videotape of yourself to see what you are doing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Being Decisive

Today, I was working a couple of games with high school aged kids. The original plan was to run a three-person crew but the third had to cancel at the last second so we worked a two person crew instead.

The first game was a bit unusual. The White team took an early lead but let the Black team back into the game in the second half. The White took seemingly took control of the game again but fell apart in the last couple of minutes giving the Black team an opportunity to come back. The Black team had a final shot but missed it and lost. Overall, while there was some jabbering from the players (plus one technical), this game went alright.

The second game proved to be a more difficult affair. The White team had the better disciplined team while the Black team was more one-on-one. However, the difficulty arose from various situations that came up. One of the Black team's players (big 6'4" kid) was frustrated and did a few unnecessary things. The Black team coach was a young kid who probably shouldn't have been coaching. His constant whining about our calls (or lack thereof) and other stuff led his entire team to whine along with him.

Remember I mentioned a few posts ago that I need to learn to take care of situations better? I had a couple of situations that I had the opportunity to take care of potential problems. One was involving two players and the other was with a coach. I took a more laid back approach but it didn't work out. Fortunately, my partner was a very forceful and decisive person. She was there to take care of the issues. She ended up handing out a few technical fouls along the way as well.

I will to have my partner if this is how she generally handles situations in a regular games. Tonight was a reminder lots of people can blow a whistle and officiate a game. But the exceptional ones are the ones who have learned to handle unusual situations. That is something I am still working on.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mental Focus

Last night, I worked a couple of games in an adult league. I was supposed to work three games but the last game was a forfeit so my partner and I got to go home early.

The first game went by relatively quietly as it was a 30 point blowout. The first half of the second game also seemed to be going along the lines of a blowout as the White team led by 15 points pretty much the entire half. However, some guys from the other team (Grey) finally showed up and the game suddenly turned competitive.

However, this wasn't a good thing as I was mentally tired. I had not slept well the night before. Even though I am not working and can sleep as much as I want, this wasn't the case yesterday. I was woken up throughout the morning by phone calls and other things.

When the game turned competitive, I tried to focus but just could not do it. I talked to my partner when things got a little intense and he mentioned he saw a few things that he saw. My partner passed on it initially because he felt I had a better angle. I told him I wasn't quite there mentally and that he should call anything he sees regardless if it was in my area.

Yesterday's game illustrates how difficult it is to be an official. There are just days or nights when your mind or body isn't quite 100% and it affects how you work. It was a little frustrating last night. Fortunately, my partner was there to help out and we took care of things enough to prevent the game from getting out of hand.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Officiating as a Refuge

Regardless of whether you love your job, hate your job or have no feeling towards your job (that's assuming you have a job), I surmise there are at least two things you enjoy while at the job. One of those things would be getting your paycheck. The second thing would be the social aspect of your job. You might hate your job, but there's got to be a co-worker or two you get along with and talk to. during the course of a work day.

For me personally, I enjoyed all aspects of my last job. I liked the job itself, the people and the paycheck. So being unemployed the past four months have been difficult. I'm definitely missing the paycheck and I'm missing the social aspect of seeing and talking to people.

Fortunately, unemployment helps a little bit with missing my regular paycheck. But unemployment doesn't help much with the social aspect of being unemployed. To that end, I've seen some of my friends for lunch that I otherwise would not have seen if I was still working. But even then, it is not like I can see them all the time. They have work and other people (husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends) to see beside me.

I hadn't officiated a lot in the early months of my unemployment. However, I realized that I had overlooked officiating as something that could fill the gaps that had opened when I lost my job. It was only recently I decided to work some more games.

Officiating can help out with not having a paycheck (if only a little bit). The biggest thing was a chance to just talk to different people. It's not like I've never talked to my partners or others at the gym before. However, when you come from a full time job, some days you are tired and may not want to socialize as much.

However, at the moment, I've come to see officiating as breaking some of the job hunting and other routines I've developed since I've gotten unemployed and that is a very good thing!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Coming Home

This past Friday, I was given a couple of basketball games to officiate at the Chinese Recreation Center in Chinatown (San Francisco). For those not from San Francisco, the center is right across the street from the Cable Car Museum at Washington St. & Mason St.

The games I was officiating were first round playoff games for an 18 years old and under summer basketball league that was running. The games themselves went by very quietly. My partner and I were in and out of the gym in about two hours.

What surprised me was the reaction of the folks who run the center. They were both surprised AND happy that a "homegrown Chinatown boy" had come back to officiate the games. It was surprising because I'd officiated at the center plenty of times in years past (Christmas and Chinese New Year's tournaments) though I'd never officiated the league before. To me, it wasn't that unusual to come back.

However, in my recent visits to the center, I noticed they had been putting up old basketball photos from the center's history. To the uninformed observer, the photos may not mean much. For me, knowing the history of basketball in San Francisco's Chinatown, I know the photos and the associated history mean a lot to everyone at the center.

I never thought of myself as a "homegrown Chinatown boy" because I never actually lived in Chinatown. However, I did go to school at nearby Commodore Stockton Elementary and St. Mary's Chinese Day School. For all intensive purposes, I did grow up in Chinatown for good eight years of my life. In addition, I coached basketball at St. Mary's for twelve years. Because St. Mary's did not have a gym, my teams practiced at the center often and that's what a lot of people at the center remember me for.

I definitely had a great time officiating Friday. The games themselves were not the main focus. The reaction from the various people in the center made me realize that my contributions went beyond just the game itself. I felt like I was giving back to the community which had given a lot to me and that felt good!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Basketball is a Contact Sport

In my posting Official Sales Engineer I mentioned that I got up around 6:30 AM last Thursday to officiate three basketball games starting at 8 AM. What I didn't mention was that I had FOUR more youth games in the evening starting at 5 PM. Crazy? Yes, those of us who do basketball officiating for a living are a little off kilter sometime. :)

I'd reffed these youth games the previous three weeks and you never know what you're going to get. The week before, I had a super exciting week with four exciting games. Three of them went into overtime and the point differential between all four games was seven points.

Given that I was tired from my morning games, I was hoping for a quiet evening. For the first three games, I got my wish. Two of the games were relatively low key and one of the games was a forfeit so I got to relax for an hour.

The fourth game didn't start off too badly either. The only difference between the fourth game and the others was there a lot of energy in the gymnasium. The coaches, players and fans were all in the game. Because of the energy, the kids were playing pretty hard but things were under control for the first three quarters.

However, as the third quarter ended, I knew the fourth quarter would be a tough one. The reason for this thought was the league allowed full court pressure defense in the 4th quarter only (for the age level). That potentially meant that kids would be running all over the place. Given the energy that had showed in the first three quarters, that wasn't necessarily a good thing.

Alas, the fourth quarter can be summarized by a few incidents that occurred. For sake of identifications, the teams will be identified by colors: RED and GREY

  1. RED team has the ball in the backcourt and GREY is using their full court pressure defense. RED player attempts a pass to a teammate near half court. GREY defensive player is also near half court. In an attempt to steal the pass, the GREY player knocks the RED player to the ground. I was following the play the whole way and whistled a foul on the GREY player. It was one those cases where both players were hustling and there was a lot of contact involved.
  2. Unfortunately, the RED player was hurt and unable to shoot his free throws (1 and 1 situation) so he was replaced. The RED coach was not happy over what had happened and had some words for the GREY coach. I had to warn both coaches not to speak too each other during the game.
  3. The game proceeded after this. My partner and I kept tight reins on things and things seemed under control.
  4. Unfortunately, a few minutes later another incident occurred. The GREY team got the ball and was on a fast break. I was the lead official and saw the GREY player was at least a couple of steps ahead of the closest RED defender. As the GREY player attempted the layup, the RED player made a wild attempt to block the shot from behind. The wild block attempt didn't go well. Not only did the RED player not get the block, because of the angle of his jump, the RED player landed on the floor awkwardly and hurt himself.
At this points, things went haywire. The RED coach was upset and thought things were getting out of control and informed me he was pulling his team off the floor. He was going to forfeit the game. Along the way, some of the RED parents were yelling as the us to "Control the Game". It was a pure madhouse. Since the RED coach insisted on forfeiting the game, I let him and his team leave. I submitted an incident report afterward as I assumed there would be some complaints from the RED team.

All in all, the ending was frustrating because the game had been close and competitive. The kids deserved a chance to finish the game. Instead, because of the walk out, I don't think anyone (officials, coaches, players, parents) left the gymnasium satisfied. In the future, I hope parents and coaches remember that the "game is for the kids".

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MLB: SF Giants vs. LA Dodgers umpiring

For this post, I'm going to put my basketball referee whistle down and discuss some major league baseball. Folks who watched the three game series between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers that concluded this afternoon will probably know what I am talking about.

In terms of baseball, what the Giants will take away is the fact that they lost two of three games to the rival Dodgers and are also behind the Colorado Rockies in the Wild Card race (at least for now, pending the outcome of tonight's game)

However, what Giants fans will also take away is the umpiring crew missed several calls over the series, with all of them going against the Giants. The last and most glaring one was in the 9th inning of today's game which cost the Giants the lead and Tim Linecum the potential win. Fortunately the Giants bounced back and eventually won the game on Juan Uribe's walk off home run.

As a fellow sports official, I'm apt to defend other officials in the majority of cases. After all, sports officials have difficult jobs. Unlike broadcasters or fans, sports officials don't get the benefit of instant replay (well, only in certain cases). You go with what you see and like I mentioned in first blog post, you SELL your call for all that it's worth.

However, given the number of missed calls that occurred over the three game series, this makes defending the umpiring a little more difficult. In the post game show, the Giants broadcasters probably said it the best. The broadcasters said that if the umpires had not made the mistakes in the previous two games and then made the one blunder in the 9th inning, it may have been easier to forgive the umpires. Instead, because of the previous mistakes, the frustrations just boiled over. The broadcasters noted that is was fortunate the Giants won today. If the Giants had lost, the fans could have taken out their frustrations on the umpires.

As far as why the umpires made so many mistakes, I don't believe there was a conspiracy or any type of betting going on. That would be a little far fetched. However, perhaps the umps weren't sleeping well or not mentally sharp for whatever reason. Bang bang plays require a lot of concentration and if you're not 100% focused, you are going to miss things. It's not an excuse for the umpires, but the fact is they're human and subject to ups and downs like the rest of us.

One thing I hope is the Major League Baseball talks to the crew and find out what happened. While the Giants can't do anything about the missed calls, I'm sure they can file complaints or demand some explanations. I admit to being curious to how the umpiring crew will explain the missed calls.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Introduction and Welcome

This probably should have come before the first posting, but I was eager to test things out and so this will be the second post instead. :)

Internet blogging has been around for quite sometime but for one reason or another, I never got into the habit. I've read many blogs thought the years, from friends blogs to others I have discovered while surfing on the Internet. The one main issue I had with writing a blog is that I didn't feel like delving into my personal life that some people did. Plus, I felt my personal life was rather boring and not worth reading about!

However, I found different outlets for writing though. For over three years now, I have contributed articles to Retrogaming Times Monthly. My column, Apple II Incider, reviews games that were available for the Apple II series of computers.

I also started to use Facebook as a pseudo blog. I wrote notes (a Facebook) term and posted them to my profile. I found that there were some of my friends on Facebook were actually reading them.

Lastly, I am a freelance writer for My column, San Francisco High School Sports Examiner, attempts to cover the San Francisco high school athletics landscape. I pursued this opportunity have getting laid off back in April of 2009. I had numerous interviews but nothing came through, I decided to give my dream of sports writing a shot, even if it was only on a freelance and not full time basis.

Then there is this blog. The name Behind The Whistle is a play of VH1's popular Behind The Music tv series. Instead of talking about the history of various music groups, I'm here to talk about basketball officiating. I've officiated for many years at the youth, high school and adult levels and have gone through some interesting experiences. It's too bad I haven't shared those experiences before, but it's not too late. I think I will have many more years of officiating left to go!

While my personal life outside of officiating may not be great reading for a blog, I think discussing officiating may be of interest to many people. Many people who are not part of the officiating circle may not realize what officials go through on a day to day, game to game basis.

I hope all readers will enjoy reading the blog as much I enjoy writing it. I welcome any comments or suggestions for posts as well!

Official Sales Engineer

Thursday morning, I was crazy enough to get up at 6:30 AM to referee three basketball games starting at 8 AM. Fortunately I wasn't the only one as I had two others join me for the three games. One of my partners was Tiffany, who works in the same high school officials group with me. In addition she works junior college basketball games as well.

Tiffany is a good official and she offered lots of tips and suggestions during our three games that helped me out a lot. However, there was one thing we talked about that really sunk in with me. I had asked Tiffany if she was going to move beyond high school and junior college basketball for upcoming the 2009-2010 season. For lots of officials, junior college basketball is a spring board into NCAA basketball.

Tiffany said she had no such plans for the upcoming season. While Tiffany felt confident in her skills and abilities as an official, she felt she had not been exposed to enough different scenarios in her short time as a high school and junior college official.

The reason this resonated with me was due to my last job as a Sales Engineer. I had come into the job last August not completely understanding my role as a Sales Engineer. Fortunately, I had plenty of experienced people to help me. In my initial months on the job, I learned I needed to understand the software services as well as present them in a more "sales oriented" way.

It took me a little while to learn all our services and fine tune my "sales pitch" for the services. As I got comfortable, I thought: "This isn't too tough. I can do this job." Alas, life also has a way of reminding you that not everything is going to go smoothly.

As I progressed from some basic sales calls to more complex calls, I had a major realization. The initial sales pitch, my knowledge of our services and my technical sales pitch weren't always going to enough. For a business to plunk down hundreds or thousands of dollars a month for our services, they needed to be completely convinced the services were a fit.

This is where the challenges came up. Every business had different technical needs and as the Sales Engineer you were expected to handle the questions. The simple questions revolved around our services and what they could do. The harder questions sometimes revolved around competitors or whether our services could fulfill a specific require the business had in mind. Even the best Sales Engineer would tell you they don't know everything. However, they do know how to say "We'll get back to you" if they didn't know whether the services would fulfill the business need.

In a sense, basketball officials are glorified sales people. All officials want to do is to convince everyone that they are enforcing the rules of the game properly. Generally, being in position and blowing the whistle on fouls & violations are sufficient. However, on a game to game basis, there will scenarios that come up that need to be addressed. Some may involve just talking to players or coaches and diffusing things.

Like my last job as a Sales Engineer, there may be scenarios that need to be addressed with knowledge. Instead of technical knowledge, this would be basketball rules knowledge. But it isn't as simple as it sounds. A lot of people think they know the rules but the official basketball rules book is thick and very technical. It's not exactly something you can read once and understand. Once the knowledge has been gained, the rest is all about experience. You handle a scenario once or twice and it should stay with you.

Despite having quite a few years of officiating experience under my belt, I do feel like my rules knowledge needs to be improved. Also, while I have experience, I don't think I've absorbed the lessons as well as I could have in the past. However, it is never too late to get started! Getting up at 6:30 AM on Thursday was a bit crazy but learning a few things along the way was good. Hopefully, I can take these lessons and continue to improve.