Worry about score, not whistle


On Monday night, just before climbing into bed, I decided to wrap up my day by revisiting the 2020 ESPN Docuseries “The Last Dance” which chronicles the career of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during that era. I was impressed by the series when it was first released so figured I would unwind and tune in for a second viewing.

There was a nugget in one of the episodes that I found tremendous and was shocked that I had not remembered it three years later.

If you look at my previous columns, you’ll see plenty of takes regarding the treatment of referees from the youth level to the pros. I try my best to support referees because they take a beating every time they are out there. People wonder why we are in a crisis when it comes to shortages of officials throughout the country. The abuse they are subjected to has grown out of control in the past decade or so.

Now, back to the documentary.

There was one episode that centered on forward Dennis Rodman. He is one of the most recognizable players from that generation and it was quite compelling seeing the behind-the-scenes happenings of his life both on and off the court. What a character.

One thing about Rodman was that he was brash. He was an agitator on the court which worked to his advantage and led to his multiple championships and eventual hall of fame induction. He was perhaps the fiercest defender in the history of the league with multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Although his physicality and aggression worked wonders on the court, it did come with plenty of controversy as he often pushed the envelope or crossed the line altogether.

There was a wonderful exchange between Rodman and a referee that was caught on camera and was mic’d up that was included in the series.

Rodman was getting on the ref about a missed call. It did not cover what exactly happened, but Rodman argued that an opposing player got away with something. The ref’s response to his complaining was brilliant.

He said, “I don’t see everything. Usually what I see is the (you know what) you do.”

Rodman just shrugged it off, knowing he was beat and walked away. I loved the ref’s response and I think it serves as a great reminder that players are expected to hold themselves accountable while playing.

One of my biggest pet peeves in sports is flopping and whining. Players that would rather draw a foul than just play the game, or players that are more concerned about the whistle being blown than the points being scored. That is another problem that has become far too prevalent.

Referees may not see everything, but they are aware of everything that is going on, if that makes sense. Their job is to understand who is doing what at all times. Sure, they may not witness each and every penalty that occurs, but they know which players are the frequent fliers. They know where their attention needs to be. It is similar to parents and their children. They may not see how each and every fight starts, but they know who caused it.

In the same episode, Jordan spoke about toughness. The Bulls were eliminated by the Detroit Pistons in consecutive postseasons and Jordan said it was because they were the tougher team. Chicago had more talent, but the Pistons dominated on the floor because they were meaner and wanted it more.

Jordan said that he would get on his teammates about complaining to the refs. He told them that if the opposition sees you frustrated and whining, then they know that they have gotten in your head.

He was exactly right, and things like that are why he’s the greatest of all time.

NBA basketball has become tough to watch. This generation is totally on board with whining and trying to work the officials. It really has become that way in all sports, but basketball is the worst. Personally, I blame LeBron James for normalizing that soft behavior, but let’s not go down that road.

I would encourage any athlete to watch “The Last Dance” and to take notes. Items such as these are so powerful in building a winning player, team, culture. Jordan was the ultimate winner and competitor and this series brilliantly followed his rise to stardom.

Athletes are responsible for their actions on the court or field. The refs are not there to impact the game one way or the other. They are there to enforce the rules, facilitate the gameplay and to earn a paycheck. Players far too often are happy to blame a loss on the officials if they miss a call, but not give them credit for a win if they make the right one. It’s infuriating.

That exchange between Rodman and the referee was fantastic. I don’t remember the last time such a simple dialogue gave me goosebumps.

My Pitch, The Last Dance, Basketball


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