The National Basketball Association has been assigning two standby referees to all league games since Tuesday night in reaction to a strike vote Monday by 24 of the league's 26 regular officials.
John Nucatola, NBA supervisor of officials, told The Washington Post yesterday that the league is drawing from a 30-man pool of minor-league referees and a group of umpires that was trained by the NBA but dropped when the league abandoned a plan to use three officials per game this season.
The officials voted Monday to strike the playoffs next week unless the league negotiated a new contract with them. The current one expires at the end of the regular season Sunday.
The refs also gave their executive committee the power to strike the rest of the regular-seaon games. But they are holding out on that while the National Labor Relations Board rules on a charge by the National Association of Basketball Referees, the 24-man refs' union, that the NBA is guilty is unfair labor practices.
The issue with the NLRB is whether the NABR is the collective-bargaining unit of the officials. The NBA refuses to netotiate a new contract until the NLRB holds a certification election. The referees contend that the NBA is trying to break their union and that the current timing of their action gives them bargaining leverage they need.
The referees formed an informal union, the National Basketball Officials Association in 1973, formalized it this year and changed the name when Richie Phillips, a Philadelphia attorney, replaced Mike DiTomasso of New York as its agent in January.
A decision by the NLRB is expected as early as today. The playoffs start Tuesday night. The union has a list of 12 demands, including such items as arbitration over grievances and severance pay, which are not part of the current two-year contract.
The standby officials are being paid $300 per game, $40 per diem expenses and first-class jet fare for each game they are assigned. NBA deputy commissioner Simon Gourdine said. The pay is $35 less per game than the average salary of the full time NBA officials who voted to strike.
A full-time NBA official works 82 games a year. There are 22 full-time refs and four part-timers. The fulltime salaries, according to Gourdine, range from $18,000 to $38,772.
Richie Powers and Earl Strom, two of the highest-paid officials, are not members of the union, and will not join their fellow refs in a strike.
"We have refs onthe staff right now with five years experience who are not making $300 a game," said Darrel Garretson, a 10-year NBA referee and the executive director of the NABR.
"They (the league office) can put out all they want to about competent officials," said Garretson in a telephone interview from Seattle. "The umpires worked maybe five exhibition games. They were allowed to call goaltending, three-second violations and out of bounds on their side of the court. That's how they got called competent officials.
"Teams have played their guts out to get to the playoffs. I can't imagine those teams going into the playoffs with the refs they're (the league) talking about.
"The people who have been saying we're incompetent ain't seen nothing yet."
There have been reports of at least one fight and verbel confrontations between the regular officials and the standby. One Boston Celtic source reported "bad blood flowing" between Garretson, Jake O'Donnell and standby ref Richie Jackson in New York Tuesday night.
The scene occurred in the officials' dressing room at Madison Square Garden. Nucatola, who was in the room, said, "They just said, 'Hello,' introduced themselves, put down their bags and left. There was no confrontation."
Garretson agreed there was no confrontation, but added: "No pleasantries were exchanged because, to be truthful to you, I don't feel any pleasantries at all."
Wednesday, Nucatola's office issued a directive to all league teams to make sure that the standby officials were given a separate dressing room. Nucatola said that it was an oversight and not a reaction to any incident.
At Capital Centre Wednesday night, standby referees Roger McCann of Woodridge, N.J., and John Thompson of Philadelphia, both Eastern League officials, were assigned a separate dressing room from regular officials and given seats in the stands near what one Bullets official called "an NBA security representative."
The NBA steadfastly claims that the playoffs will proceed, with or without the regular officials. Gourdine said that the league had checked with various arenas and that, "We're confident if there's a picket line, we'll be able to stage a basketball game."
The officials, Garretson said, are adamant they will not work the playoffs without a new contract. "It balances on whether they're willing to negotiate, or to negotiate on their terms, which to me is not negotiating. If they want it to be resolved, it will be resolved. If they don't want it resolved, it won't be. If it isn't. I can guarantee you 24 guys who will not work it."