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Technology Steals the Show at NBA Finals Game 1

LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers coach, Tyronn Lue, react to a call reversal in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.
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Thursday night’s Game 1 NBA Finals matchup between the defending champion Golden State Warriors and LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers, provides another example of why I oppose the use of technology to review plays and reverse officials’ calls.

Full disclosure: I’m no LeBron fan—understatement. I am, rather, an unashamed, unapologetic, unrelenting LeBron “hatah.” I am, plain and simple, #AnybodyButLeBron. Having said that, I can acknowledge greatness when I see it, and I can certainly appreciate a great game. Game 1 was one of those. It was competitive, back and forth, high energy. It was not one of those blowouts we saw too often in some of the earlier playoff series that put the most ardent basketball enthusiasts among us to sleep.

Look, in spite of LeBron, no one believes the Cavs have a chance to win a seven-game series against Golden State, and, certainly, no one expected what we saw Thursday: the Cavs walking into Oracle Arena, Golden State’s home court, and competing as they did. Billed as a series in which the number one team in the world faces the number one player in the world, the outcome is all but determined. Ain’t no way Cleveland can pull this off—even with the self-professed, self-aggrandizing, so-called “King James.” Yet LeBron came out and did his thing from the tip, starting the game six for six from the field. Throughout the contest, he hit jumpers, drove to the basket—pushing off, as usual, but I digress—and defended. He tied Michael Jordan’s record of 109 30-point playoff games, finishing with 51 in the 124-114 overtime loss. Don’t get it twisted: he’s not Jordan. He’s not even Kobe. But he is LeBron, and that’s pretty good.

However, it wasn’t good enough. And maybe—we’ll never know for sure—it would have been, had technology not played a factor. With about 36 seconds remaining in regulation and the Cavs up two, the officials reviewed a play in which LeBron seemingly took a charge against Golden State’s Kevin Durant. The review was to determine if LeBron was in the restricted area. He was not. But the officials did not stop there. During their review, they also determined LeBron was not in position to draw the charge, and, therefore, they reversed the original ruling. With the blocking foul called, Durant went to the line and tied the game.

Now, having watched the replay several times, I say what I said when I saw it in live action: blocking foul on LeBron. No, he was not in the restricted area, but he had also not established legal defensive position. He did not draw the charge. The officials, therefore, got it right when they reversed the call. Some disagree, and some say it was too close to justify a call reversal. Close call, sure, but the officials got it right after the review.

Well, if they it got right, what’s my point?

Here it is: As much as I “hate on” LeBron, he played a spectacular game. All day Friday, sports commentary should be about what an amazing game he played, the history he made, how he out-warriored the Warriors in their own house. Instead, what are people talking about? They’re talking about the officials—how they “robbed” the Cavaliers, how they shouldn’t have needed to review the play in the first place, how they had the nerve to reverse a call initially in favor of the “greatest player in the world.”

If officials weren’t allowed to review, none of this would be a discussion. We might be saying the officials got it wrong, that they blew it, blah, blah, blah. But what else would be new? We’ve always discussed officials getting it wrong, even in key moments, and we hate it, and sometimes, we’re suspicious of it, but we deal with it because that’s how it goes in sports.

The human element is the appeal of sports. That’s not just the human element of the players; it’s the human element of every person involved in the game—including the officials. So I have never agreed with officials being allowed to review plays in any sport. I just don’t believe in it. Back in the day, whatever the officials called, they called. We lived with it. If they made the wrong call, too bad—just as if a player makes a wrong move, too bad; recover, live with it, blow a gasket and get a technical, whatever. But it is what it is.

All this “check the video” stuff takes away from the purity of the sport. The human element, including human error, is what it should come down to, not technology. If we’re talking more about officials reviewing a call than the players and the game, there’s a problem. And this game gave us plenty to talk about: the great plays throughout, the pushing and shoving as tempers flared, the inexplicable amnesia J.R. Smith contracted at the end of regulation, and what appears to be his ensuing lie about it. Even the eyesore of a shorts suit LeBron wore to and from the game would be a preferable conversation.

“But you don’t like LeBron, and without that technology, he may have won Game 1.” True. “And then what?” Game 2, baby. That’s the way the ball bounces, so teams have to bounce back—like they used to. We all know officials are going to get it right more than they get it wrong, so let officials do what they do, players do what they do, and technology not do what it did last night: steal the show.

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