On Feb. 5, the Los Angeles Clippers were handed an embarrassing defeat by the Cleveland Cavaliers. With LeBron James fresh off a two-week injury rest, the Cavs continued a 12-game winning-streak by absolutely dismantling the Clippers at home. Although the final score had only an 11-point margin, Cleveland led the entire game and LA had no chance of catching up.
During post-game interviews, the Clippers’ defeat became even more embarrassing. When asked about the high number of technical fouls in the game — the Clippers received five total — point guard Chris Paul criticized the referees.
His comments have come under scrutiny because they were directed towards one official in particular — Lauren Holtkamp, in her rookie season as the NBA’s third-ever female referee.
“I think we have to show better composure, but at the same time some of (the technical fouls) were ridiculous,” Paul said in his post-game interview. “The tech that I got right there was ridiculous. I don’t care what nobody says, I don’t care what she says; that’s terrible. There’s no way that can be a tech. We try to get the ball out fast every time down the court, and when we did that, she said, ‘Uh-uh.’ I said, ‘Why, uh-uh?’ And she gave me a tech. That’s ridiculous. If that’s the case, this might not be for her.”
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Paul has a point. If he received a technical simply for questioning Holtkamp’s decision to slow down their rate of play, there’s no reason he’s deserving of a technical. If he cursed or yelled at the referee, it would be a different story. Saying, "this might not be for her" could be considered a step over the line, but it's a relatively fair judgment for a rookie official.
The other Clippers players, of course, have backed Paul. Many of them have taken issue with the other technical fouls that were distributed throughout the game, two of which caused Matt Barnes to be ejected.
Barnes had an explanation for both of his fouls, the first of which was given after he continued guarding Kevin Love following a whistle in the third quarter.
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“The first one I’m guarding someone who outweighs me by 40 pounds and he makes a spin move and I slap down on the ball so he doesn’t get an and-1, and he held my arm and I tried to pull my arm back, and I get a T,” Barnes said. “The second one (was) when they called Jamal for running into LeBron. I said, ‘Just don’t give them the game,’ and they kicked me out.”
“I guess she thought I was talking to her,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said of the technical foul he received after pleading for a foul following his third quarter dunk. “We talked about it. She said that she thought I was talking to her. She made a call and I talked to the other refs and they disagreed with it. Hopefully it will be rescinded. We’ll see.”
Although NBA players often take issue with referees, Paul’s comments about Holtkamp have been heavily scrutinized by the media simply due to the official’s gender.
ESPN published an article with the headline “Chris Paul Rips Female Rookie Ref,” which has since been changed to “Chris Paul Irked By Ref’s Call.” The New York Post published an article with the headline “Chris Paul Attacks ‘Ridiculous’ Female Ref’s Credibility.” USA Today, The Huffington Post, ABC News, and nearly every other major media outlet ran a similar story.
The NBA’s referee union has already issued a statement, saying “the NBRA deplores the personal and unprofessional comments made by Chris Paul. She belongs.” The union also claimed the calls had been reviewed and deemed “fully justified.”
There’s no doubt that Holtkamp belongs. She has spent the past six seasons in the NBA D-League, working the championship series for two years. She has the credentials and the credibility and her gender has nothing to do with any of that. If anything, the NBA should encourage more female referees and employees to join the typically male-dominated league. But the sensationalism surrounding Paul’s comments in no way mean that Holtkamp’s calls were “fully justified.”
The league does not tolerate criticism of officials and will likely fine Paul and/or his teammates. Also, the officiating had nothing to do with the Clippers’ loss. They were outplayed by the Cavaliers, and the technical fouls only added to their obvious on-court issues.