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NBA will use new high-tech data cameras to track referees

Sep 5, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

NBA-referees- Getty Images

A couple weeks ago, we brought you the report that the NBA would be paying to install the STATS SportVU cameras in the half of NBA arenas that do not yet have them. Expect that to become official in the next 24 hours.

With those cameras that track the position of the ball and every player on the court three times a second you get a wealth of data — how fast a player is, how well they shoot off one dribble versus three, detailed looks at team defensive positioning, the possibilities are virtually endless.

Also, the league could use it to track referees and see who is making calls and from what position on the court.

Which is something they plan to do, reports Zach Lowe at Grantland.

It won’t tout it, but one reason the league acted fast was to immediately enhance its ability to monitor referees — always a touchy subject. The cameras represent the most precise way to grade the three on-court officials based on how consistently and early they get into the league’s three set positions — called “lead,” “slot,” and “trail” — and whether they make appropriate calls from those positions based on their exact sight lines. This is the next stage in seeing which officials are the best, and thus deserving of high-stakes assignments, and in quantifying that in ways that are hard to dispute.

“We will use whatever data and means we can to improve our referees,” says Steve Hellmuth, the NBA’s executive vice president of operations and technology. “The refs haven’t been tracked before. Now for the first time, they will be.”

My guess is there is no way the league shares this data with the owners (despite Mark Cuban’s fervent wishes) as it tries to keep all its referee evaluations out of the public eye.

But it could help the league — are particular officials making a lot of calls where they do not have a good sightline? Are they missing certain things (the league used the cameras it had to look at defensive three seconds calls last season)? There will be other specific calls looked at with the cameras as well.

If it brings about better officiating, I’m all for it. I just think as usual it will not come with more transparency from the league.

  1. silencegooddoer - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    What about LeBron’s crab dribble?? Will the cameras finally prove he is too fast for the ref’s eyes and it is not really a travel violation??

  2. spursareold - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    Shaq’s lucky he’s gone. These cameras could easily have shaved a couple of THOUSAND points off his total by bringing to light in a quantifyable way what we already know: he was in the lane over 3 seconds almost every time down the floor.

    • jimeejohnson - Sep 5, 2013 at 1:12 PM

      Spurs fan would be a good, unbiased, neutral source of information regarding an ex-Laker. Yeah, right.

      • spursareold - Sep 5, 2013 at 3:56 PM

        I’m not asking you to believe me. The camera doesn’t lie. That’s the point.

  3. hildezero - Sep 5, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    It’s about time NBA decides to do this. This should’ve been done a few years ago.

  4. jtbsteeler - Sep 5, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Stern leaves then, now you watch the refs. It’s late in the game.

  5. mitchication - Sep 5, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    Referees eyes are slow. Players feet and hands are fast.

  6. wsuperman4445 - Sep 5, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    this is not going to be a good Idea, the NBA ( if they have not done so already) should have ” practiced” this in secret with some college games or pregames to judge the validitee of this.. I am sure some testing was done but this is like the red-light cameras that are now being put in various cities. the camera does not allow for certain things just like the red light cameras does not allow for motorist to make other choices once they cross the white line and the light goes from yellow to red in other words you cannot back up or go forward… in the case of the NBA every referees call will be eventually challenged slowing the game to a crawl every Referee will be under so much pressure to call or not call a play for fear that their judgement will be called into question for instance almost on every exchange of the basketball with the camera you can count on at least one player staying in the zone more that 3 seconds if you take it to the camera can you imagine the start and stoppage of a game with that kind of call? multiply that by players carrying the ball and other potential calls this is going to be a disaster and the way we do it in this country once you let something in ( in this case the camera’s ) they tend to divert more and more to the camera until there are no Referees on the floor just a series of buzzers and calls not my kind of basketball

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