Early in the Washington Wizards’ overtime win over the Miami Heat, before the pressure escalated and emotions heightened, Wizards forward Markieff Morris strolled down the court during a stoppage in play and had a calm conversation with official Ray Acosta. Whatever the two discussed, the matter was cleared up peacefully before Miami crossed half court to set up a play.
Later in the game, however, Morris wasn’t as serene. The Wizards held an eight-point lead in the closing minutes of the third quarter against the rallying Heat and committed consecutive turnovers. Something had sparked Morris’s ire and his words directed at official Marat Kogut led to a technical foul — his 10th of the season.
So much for improved relations between refs and players.
On Tuesday morning, as part of the league’s initiative to address the working relationship between the two sides, the Wizards met with Monty McCutchen, who was named head of referee development and training last December, along with Michelle Johnson, NBA senior vice president and head of referee operations, and former player Shareef Abdur-Rahim. During the meeting attended by players and coaches, the league representatives covered a myriad issues, including on-court conduct, respect of the game rules and the expectations of NBA referees, according to a person familiar with the details of the private meeting.
“We just have to respect each other’s job. All of us have a tough job,” said Coach Scott Brooks, who has six technical fouls this season and described himself as “out of control” in picking up his most recent one on Sunday night.
“There’s pressure to win. There’s pressure to make shots. There’s pressure to make the right calls for referees,” Brooks continued. “We just got to make sure that everybody’s trying to do their job and you got to respect it and treat each other with the common decency that you want to treated with.”
Also in the session, Wizards players had an open floor to start a dialogue. However, when asked for his takeaway from the meeting, Morris replied: “Nothing.”
“I still got a tech tonight so honestly, all of that just went in one ear and out the other,” Morris said. “Because sometimes emotions get involved and guys just jumping the gun, but you know hopefully next year it’ll change though.”
Point guard Tomas Satoransky has started since John Wall has been out, but indicated that he has not always received the respect that established players tend to get when it comes to engaging in on-court conversations with officials. Last year when Satoransky played sparingly as a rookie, he appreciated McCutchen, who was still then in the field, because the veteran ref listened. Although Satoransky called the meeting “very good” and praised the NBA for being proactive in solving the problem — “You don’t see this in Europe,” he said — and still has one major gripe.
Satoransky plays with a quiet demeanor, and the most he’ll ever do to show displeasure with a call is walk away and roll his eyes. However when he does talk, Satoransky would like to be heard.
“The thing that bothers me sometimes — if they call something, I can understand it,” Satoransky said. “But I like sometimes to talk to them and I think I always approach them in a respectful manner. … I don’t ever curse or anything. I just want to know what’s happening. What bothers me the most is when they don’t want to talk to me. Just explain to me [the call] and I’m fine.”
Staying true to character, Satoransky said he didn’t share his feelings in the meeting. Neither did Morris.
“It was most of them talking, trying to clean up a bunch of different stuff,” Morris recalled. “It’s just a lot going on between the players and the refs right now.
“Honestly the game is not about the players and the refs,” Morris said, expounding on the tensions. “We’re playing for the fans, so we’re trying to clean up a whole lot. It’s at an all-time high right now.”
Morris didn’t say much in the meeting but stayed true to his word about playing for fans.
After scoring 16 points and pulling down 13 rebounds in the win, Morris walked toward the tunnel which led to the locker room and made a Wizards’ fan’s night. Morris stripped off his game-worn jersey, placing it in the hand of a young boy who grew so excited that he grabbed Morris and hugged him around his neck.
“I had told him no,” Morris said, recalling an earlier exchange with the young fan while citing team rules. “They were crying about us giving our jerseys away but it was a bigger jersey that I didn’t want, so I gave it to him. And he was screaming.”
“I like to see that type of stuff.”
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