You don’t average 10.5 assists per game, second in the NBA, without being accurate in delivering the basketball to others. Unfortunately for Russell Westbrook, his accuracy earned him a technical foul Wednesday, when his toss to a referee hit the unsuspecting official in the head.
Russell’s own pained reaction and subsequent apology indicated that he did not mean to peg the ref, Tre Maddox, with the ball as the Thunder and the host Hornets were heading into a first-quarter timeout. Nevertheless, it seemed odd for him to throw the ball toward an official who clearly wasn’t engaged with the guard at the time.
ESPN analyst Jalen Rose thought Westbrook’s act was intentional. “Did he mean to throw it at the official? Yes,” Rose said during the network’s studio show (via Business Insider). “Did he do it with accuracy? Absolutely, yes. The intent wasn’t to hit him to get suspended or to get ejected. But he didn’t mind hitting him.”
“I’m not going to incriminate anybody,” Chauncey Billups, another ESPN analyst, said. “But I have been in that position before, and you get a little mad sometimes when things are not going your way. I have thrown a ball at a referee before . . . absolutely [on purpose], and I am a precision passer, too.”
“[Maddox] turned right at me and then he looked away,” Westbrook said after the game (via the Associated Press). “I don’t know what to tell you, I really don’t. I’m not the type of guy. I would never, ever disrespect the game in that way, throw the ball at a referee. I’ve never done it before.
“That’s just not even heard of in our game today. If you do that you get kicked out of the game. That’s not allowed and I would never do such a thing.”
The technical Westbrook received for the incident brings his season total to 10, this after two technicals recently had been rescinded by the NBA. The league may choose to rescind this one, as well, if it deems the beaning of the official to have been an accident. That would come as good news for Westbrook and his team, given that once a player accumulates 16 techs in a season, he is automatically suspended for one game.
The incident was reminiscent of one from a 2005 76ers-Knicks game, when Allen Iverson received a technical foul for hitting referee Scott Foster with a basketball on a bounce pass as play stopped for a timeout. Iverson had to be restrained by teammates after getting hit with the technical foul.
Westbrook didn’t let the incident with the referee throw him entirely off his game Wednesday. He shot just 10 of 31 from the field but hit 11 of 13 free throws and scored a game-high 33 points, nearly notching his 17th triple-double with 15 rebounds and eight assists. However, Oklahoma City lost to Charlotte, 123-112.