When a labordispute led the NBA to lock out its referees' union and hire replacementofficials early in the 1995--96 season, it wasn't pretty. Foul calls, whichtypically average 42 per game, often ran into the 60s. Games that once ran alittle more than two hours suddenly pushed three. "[The replacements]shouldn't be able to call a high school game," fumed Heat center AlonzoMourning after one game. "They blew the whistle so much, I thought therewas an echo in the building."
The NBA, havinglocked out the refs in another standoff with the union, is again turning toreplacement officials—but this time it expects better results. While the '95fill-ins were plucked from the CBA and college ball, most of the refs who beganworking preseason games last week were pulled up from the NBA D-League and theWNBA. And while a lack of qualified personnel forced the league to use two-mancrews 14 years ago, games this season will be officiated by the usualthree.
The replacementsare also getting serious backing from the league. Last week the NBA expandedthe use of instant replay to include shot clock violations and, late in games,out-of-bounds plays. And commissioner David Stern reminded coaches and playersthat he won't stand for criticism of officials. "The officials weregood," Jazz guard Deron Williams said after Utah's loss to Denver lastThursday. "I thought they did a good job. They didn't look likereplacements to me."
The 1995 lockoutlasted 68 days, and though the league is prepared to start the season nextmonth with replacements, there are signs this labor dispute will be shorter.The two sides have agreed on the parameters of a two-year contract, includingsalary terms. "They are not that far apart," says a source familiarwith the negotiations. "This is a deal that could get done at anytime."
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Citing the dangers of global warming, a member ofTokyo's 2016 Olympic bid committee said, "It could be that the 2016 Gamesare the last Olympics in the history of mankind."
STEVE C. WILSON/AP (REFEREES)
ZEBRA CROSSING Deldre Carr (left) and Tre Maddox are two of the labor fill-ins.