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Commentary: The NBA rule book is not going to make everyone happy, ever

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NBA referees huddle

FILE — NBA referees huddle to talk about a fight between Orlando Magic’s James Ennis III and Milwaukee Bucks’ Marvin Williams during Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via Associated Press

After the Utah Jazz lost to the Memphis Grizzlies by a single point on Monday night, there were a lot of reasons for consulting the NBA rule book.

The officials made a basket interference call with 14.1 seconds left to play after Ja Morant missed a free throw and the two teams were fighting for possession. Had that call stood, the Jazz would have had possession.

But, the officiating crew reviewed the call and decided that it was not basket interference. So the whistle was deemed inadvertent, resulting in a jump ball. The Grizzlies won the jump ball and then Jaren Jackson Jr. hits a 3-pointer that decides the game.

Combing through the NBA rule book at midnight is a really weird place to be. Every time I find myself wading in those waters, I come away thinking about how hard of a job the officials have and also how hard of a job it is for the NBA to make rules that will be fair and make everyone happy.

It’s actually an impossible job and you can’t make everyone happy.

I think that the officials on Monday night did the right thing in reviewing the basket interference call. Do I think that they came away with the right decision? I’m not 100% sure. It’s a hard one that I’m glad I didn’t have to make.

But, when the game is on the line and the officials, in fewer words, say, “Hey, we shouldn’t have blown the whistle. That interrupted the flow of the game, and we’re sorry. Here’s a jump ball to correct the mistake,” it just feels wrong.

That was why I ended up reading ‘inadvertent whistle’ and ‘suspension-of-play’ entries in the NBA rule book in the wee hours of the night.

When the whistle is inadvertently blown and there isn’t possession of the ball, which was the case on Monday, it results in a jump ball. But less than a second after the whistle, Royce O’Neale has the rebound secured. Did the whistle change the way that the teams were fighting for the ball? Should O’Neale’s rebound be taken into account when the officials are determining what to do with the ball after review?

I admit that it’s infuriating to have a jump ball be a deciding factor in a tight basketball game, but I really don’t know how to fix that situation. If the officials were to award possession to either team, there would be arguments against that decision. A jump ball might just be the most judicious, even if frustrating, thing to do.

There are of course fans that are going to say that if the officials just made the right call to begin with, then there wouldn’t have been a jump ball, but that’s not helpful.

There are going to be mistakes, because officials are human (though they don’t make mistakes nearly as often as a lot of people think). When those mistakes happen, there’s really no way to rectify the situation that would make everyone happy.