NBA Instant Replay

NBA Instant Replay

Jun 15

Shouldn't they have a better TV than me?

















I’m annoyed (picture Lewis Black) by the gushing praise by Mike Breen* and every other announcer when it comes to NBA instant replay. Every time Joey Crawford or some other ref “goes to the monitor” to review a “key” late game call, you can count on some kind of effusive mouthjunk from the announcers’ table. An example might sound like,

Breen: “These late game calls are so important you gotta get them right, and that’s exactly what they do now.”

JVG: “You’re exactly right, Mike. These calls are just too important in these situations. You have GOT to get them right.”

That’s some bullshit. ¬†According to the NBA’s “Instant Replay Situations”¬†document, which is in fucking Comic Sans by the way (appropriate), the current system allows review in 11 situations; that is not enough.

The simple truth is the NBA reviews a subset of calls a subset of the time.

The result is a subset of progress.

The current system is a half-baked solution to a full-baked problem.

Yes, more correct calls are made now than before the system was implemented – there’s no denying that. But does that mean bad calls aren’t still swaying important games one way or another?

Imagine this scenario: Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki are involved with some hard-to-call out-of-bounds play. The whistle blows and the initial call gives the ball to Dallas. Now, because this is “crunch time” the refs “go to the monitor” to “get the call right.” The replay clearly shows that the ball actually went off Dirk, so the call is reversed. Lakers Ball. Good, right? No; because the replay also shows a clear hack by Gasol inhibited the ability for Dirk to control the ball and forcing him to knock the ball across the baseline. However, given the current rule structure, the officials’ hands are tied to make “the right call” and instead have to give the ball to the Lakers. How is this logical? This scenario actually happened in a playoff game a few years ago but I can’t remember who was playing.

Fouls are the most influential calls in the NBA. They commonly lead to points, turnovers, substitutions and key momentum swings. Exhibit A against the current system took place last night. In game 2 of the Finals, in the game’s most critical possession, trailing by 2 with about 10 seconds remaining, Kevin Durant appeared to be fouled in the act of shooting by LeBron James. This foul was not called, Durant missed, and Miami got a huge rebound. The Thunder were then forced to foul LeBron with 7 seconds remaining, and he made 2 free throws to end the game. Both Breen and Van Gundy (and most people outside of Florida) thought there was a foul. In other words, most people thought Durant should have shot 2 free throws and likely tied the game, and reset the entire competitive scenario of game 2. Where’s the gushing praise of instant replay then?

I know that reviewing fouls is a “can of worms” and there are several issues with “stopping the flow” of the game. But let’s stop pretending like the NBA is getting all of the “important” calls right, and that instant replay is some kind of panacea that eliminates a key problem with the league.

Imagine for a minute that Scott Brooks was able to use his “1 challenge” last night on that late-game call. The referees “go to the monitor” and get the call right; LeBron picks up his 5th foul, Durant probably makes 2 free throws and either Miami wins the game with a dramatic last possession score, or we’re heading to overtime. Bang!

I’m not sure how to fix the system, but I am sure we could make it better going forward. Human error will always be “part of the game,” it just shouldn’t be that big of a part.

*I like Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy a lot, but golly, it seems like they’re contractually obligated to laud the system every time it’s used.


  1. Brett

    The out-of-bounds + clear foul thing happened this postseason too.

    It was at the end of Game 5 of the Spurs-Thunder series. Sefolosha was clearly fouled by the Spurs player (Green I think?) on a ball that went OOB touching Sefolosha last. The call was missed (I’m not sure how…) but since it went off Thabo, the Spurs got possession.

    But what’s the solution via replay? Just give the fouled team possession, or possession w/a foul called? I think the latter could open a huge can of worms.

    • Kirk

      Thanks, Brett.
      Really good comment. The solution is simple, right? if the play stopped anyway, call the f’ing foul.

      if it’s a foul, it’s a foul. Why is a clear foul on video not a foul?

      Imagine if these ideas were applied to guys who robbed 7-11:

      Prosecutor: Your honor, the replay clearly shows the suspect robbed the convenience store.
      Judge: sorry, we can’t admit that as evidence.
      Robber: yep.

  2. I believe instant replay shouldn’t include foul calls; a foul is seen from a subjective point of view, so one contact that could be seen as a foul by a ref could be considered legal by another ref, and it could happen that 3 people would be watching the screen discussing if that’s a foul or not in their opinion. I don’t want that.
    Actually I don’t know if I’m an instant replay fan or not, but I’m sure I wouldn’t put fouls into that “Instant Replay Situations” list.
    Withal, I would change a rule: taking your example of Dirk and Pau, the initial call gave the ball to Dallas; if the replay couldn’t clearly show who touched the ball last, the initial call is also the final one. I would call a jump ball instead. I always admire intellectual honesty of those umpires who admit they haven’t seen something, like Crawford last night if I remember correctly.

  3. Matt


    Love the website! I don’t recall what game it was, but I believe you’re thinking of the Lakers-Celtics series from 2010. If I remember right, the refs reviewed an out-of-bounds situation and, although Lamar Odom had been hacked, it was off him last and the ball went to the Celtics.



  1. Great Exercises in Internet NBA-Related Postings 6-15-12 | Hardwood Paroxysm - [...] the version of instant replay the NBA currently uses enough? Kirk Goldsberry doesn’t think [...]

Leave a Reply