Despite what David Stern says, NBA referees are bad. In fact, they're very bad. I think I've determined why they're so bad, though: it has to do with favoritism. I know, I know. That's not exactly a new revelation but the proof is in the last 2 or 3 weeks. Example 1 is the Celtics game on ESPN a couple of weeks ago (not the one against Detroit; I'll get to that in a second). It was clear throughout that the Celtics were getting the favorable calls. In fact, it appears, on the whole (and, admittedly, I've been on vacation for the last 3 weeks so I haven't been paying complete attention), that the Celtics are getting all the calls. These range from minor calls, like traveling, to major calls, like getting the nod on charging/blocking decisions. It was plain for everyone to see.
Example 2 is the Pistons-Raptors game this past Friday. Although the Raptors couldn't hit the broad side of a barn all night, the Pistons got every call: charging/blocking, possession, ticky-tack fouls, etc. It got to the point that it was hard to watch. I can't believe that Stern would let the refs off the hook, esp. in a nationally televised game. It was downright disgraceful. As an aside, Stephen A. Smith needs to be fired immediately. For him to say something as stupid as "Jose Calderon is not a starting point guard" is asinine. I kind of understand Smith's appeal: he's bombastic and opinionated. Unfortunately, he's also ill-informed and, occasionally, downright stupid. I have no love for ESPN right now and he is one of the reasons.
Example 3 is Saturday's Pistons-Celtics game. As I watched it, it looked like the refs couldn't decide who to favor. It was sad, really. In the end, the calls came out relatively equal, at least on first glance. This leads me to my conclusion: the refs favor the "good" teams when they play "bad" teams but when two "good" teams play, they call the game more evenly. Stern needs to fix this, esp. in the wake of the Donaghy scandal.
The easiest fix is impartiality. The second easiest fix is hiring refs with a spine. Too many are persuaded by players and, honestly, I can see why: players range from 6-0 to 7-6 and are (usually) in phenomenal shape and are pumped up from the competition. As a result, the league needs a way to independently prove calls. I propose a fourth and fifth official who are seated away from the court and are watching TV feeds. They can use radios to clarify, sort out, and even call fouls. The rationale? If I can see it on TV the first time, imagine what a professional ref could see. Far more than any other US sports league, the NBA is the subject of conspiracy theories. I think this would go a long way to fixing that.