Terminator 3.5: Rise of the Instant Replay

With just under a minute to play in only their third game of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers fell victim to one of the greatest enemies in sports, an enemy that torments not only the Blazers, but every team in the NBA. This enemy of the league extends its vile afflictions beyond the hardwood and into the stands, the broadcast booths, and even into other sports, anywhere it can possibly plunge its talons. This enemy, this menace to society, is instant replay.

0:14 left in the game: the Blazers had the ball and a one-point lead. Their opponents, the Gold State Warriors, prepared what they figured to be one last, desperate attempt to get the ball back. After failing to steal the inbounds pass, two Warriors trapped shooting guard Wesley Matthews against the sideline. The Blazers had one timeout remaining, and with only a one-point lead they hoped Matthews would keep that timeout in the remaining category. Matthews fought to slip free of the sideline trap while simultaneously trying to draw a foul; he did neither.

The ball squirted out of his grasp and rolled between Blazer point guard Steve Blake and Warrior shooting guard Klay Thompson (Washington State University all-star Klay Thompson, I should mention). Both Blake and Thompson tried to grab the rolling leather orb, which resulted in it being redirected by one of them, out of bounds. The referees signaled that it was still Blazers’ ball, and that it was last touched by Thompson. At this critical moment, with excitement and energy high from the teams competing and the spectators watching, instant replay decided to rear its ugly head. The refereeing crew watched and re-watched the replay for what seemed like an eternity, before overturning their initial call and giving possession to the Warriors.

Instant replay: an attempt to utilize modern technology by allowing referees to re-watch an event that unfolded moments before. This sounds great in theory, but instead of serving as a tool for the referees to use, it seems as though the referees are simply there to blow their whistle and stop play, so they can run over and see who’s getting a rose on The Bachelor err… watch the replay. Instant reply does have its advantages, the right team usually ends up with the ball (after ten minutes of waiting as the referees re-watch the tape), but it eliminates some important elements that have made the act of watching basketball (or used to), such a thrilling and enjoyable experience.

The most important element of all is the referees themselves. A stoic and professional group of individuals, they enter the court for the game, only to disappear when it’s over. Never making a public statement, never addressing the media, or answering to the mass criticism they receive from both the fans and teams, referees stand alone and strong, like a unit of marines, only older, slower, and with zebra costumes on.

The referees bring an irreplaceable factor to every game. Like most fictional villains, the refereeing crew is smaller, older, and cranky, yet they hold a power over the physically superior heroes that everyone loves. They are an almost invisible part of the game that suddenly comes to life with a single blow of the whistle. Watching them rely on instant reply instead of confidently making a call and jogging back down the floor is pathetic to watch, like Lex Luther discovering that all green stones have mysteriously disappeared from his rock collection.

What was a very exciting game from the start, between two of the youngest teams in the NBA, ended with a ten-minute delay to check the instant replay. The Blazers would lose this game not only because of this call, but also because of two more failed attempts to inbound the ball. The Warriors made their free throws, and executed great defense in the final minute, winning the game fair and square.

Like many games that have been influenced by instant reply, what the referees concluded with the help of multiple camera angles, was probably the right call. Leaving nothing to chance, and the rightful team gaining possession of the ball.

Sports are not supposed to be this precise though. The beauty of athletics compared to other entertainment mediums, is the fact that it is real, non-scripted, and unpredictable. Sure, I love going to the movies or a concert as much as anyone, but I know that the movie was filmed months if not a year before and at some point, Free Bird will be played at the concert. Sports are real, raw. That is why we love them and the villainous referees are a very important part of it all.

The Blazers won’t suddenly win every game if instant reply was abolished, but at least they would be playing good ole dramatic professional sports. Let the booing of the crowd shower the referees after a bad call; let the coach get a technical foul for his ape-like reaction when he hears the call. It is all part of what makes the NBA the NBA.

Give the referees back their power, and let the hatred resume. Down with the machines.



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