It's not entirely accurate to say that the wheels came off for the Los Angeles Clippers during a strange sequence in the third quarter of Thursday's debacle in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. That would imply that the wheels had been on at some point, which they had not. Almost throughout the game the Cavs outscored the Clippers by a 3 to 2 margin -- I'm considering using the ever increasing Cleveland lead as a real world example for teaching linear equations with negative slopes.
But even if the outcome of the game was already decided, and the Clippers' frustrations were already overflowing in a first half that saw Chris Paul pick up a well-deserved flagrant foul and Doc Rivers pick up an early technical foul, the team was trying to snap out of their doldrums, trying to fire themselves up, early in the third quarter. In the midst of that, Matt Barnes was assessed a T for holding his foul of Kevin Love a little longer than the officials liked. Barnes was making sure Love couldn't get an 'and-one' after the foul, the kind of thing that happens a lot, and more often than not does not result in a T, but technically is against the rules. This being Barnes, it's not surprising the technical foul was issued.
Just seconds after that, Paul was given a technical by a rookie referee who had drawn a comment from Paul on an inbound play for not allowing the Clippers to get moving as quickly as they wanted to. And mere seconds after that, DeAndre Jordan reacted with a display of emotion after finally getting a put back which the same rookie ref interpreted as a scream for a foul when Jordan insists (and it seems to me he's right) it was just a scream, and Jordan too was T'd up.
As I've said, the outcome of the game wasn't changing, but it is worth noting that all of this occurred in the midst of what would have been a 9-0 Clipper run early in the second half -- only instead it was a 9-3 run, with all three Cavs point coming on technical free throws. Nine-zero runs are how teams start comebacks, and sometimes improbable comebacks do happen. The Clippers may have had one chance to get back into that game, and it did not happen, partly, depending on your perspective, due to the players' petulance or to an officiating crew and one rookie in particular who were too short fused.
And oh by the way, this same rookie referee happens to be female, Lauren Holtkamp, one of only two female refs in the league.
What happened after the game was inevitable -- I knew it was going to happen and I dreaded it.
Paul complained about the refereeing singling out rookie Holtkamp. He said a few things, but here's the money quote that everyone is focusing on:
The tech I got was ridiculous. That's terrible. There's no way that can be a technical.... If that's the case, this might not be for her.
Oh oh. Or in the words of the great Daffy Duck, "pronoun trouble."
If Paul stops before that last sentence, we're probably not talking about this today. But by suggesting that Holtkamp needs to reconsider her career choice, and by the simple fact that he referred specifically to "HER", Paul now has a controversy on his hands.
Never mind that Paul is the president of the player's association, a union with a female executive director, Michele Roberts. Never mind that the Clippers employ one of only two female executives in the league, Gillian Zucker. Never mind that the Clippers have one of the higher ranking females on their basketball staff, video coordinator Natalie Nakase who acted as a bench coach during Summer League.
Never mind all of that, Paul must clearly be sexist because he didn't like getting a technical foul from Lauren Holtkamp. Then again, Paul doesn't like getting technical fouls in general. And he probably likes it even less when it comes from a rookie ref. And while he rarely thinks it's justified, if his story is to be believed than this one in particular does seem a bit of a head scratcher.
Imagine Paul's comments in a different context. Imagine a male rookie ref. Would Paul have complained? Would he have concluded his comments by saying "this might not be for HIM"? We can't ever know for certain, but would anyone have been surprised had Paul reacted exactly the same to a male ref?
And would the NBA have come to the ref's defense immediately? The league never likes players or coaches complaining, and they especially don't like ref's being singled out for criticism. But the NBA's statement seems like an overreaction: "The NBRA deplores the personal and unprofessional comments made by Chris Paul." Deplores? It's deplorable? Really? And were the comments really that personal? I mean, sure, she's a person -- but he didn't call her fat or stupid. He just said she made a terrible call.
Paul will get fined. We'll talk about this a few days. And then it will be over. It will be awkward the next time Holtkamp refs a Clippers game, but it's awkward when Tony Brothers refs the Clippers too.
The important thing to remember here is that Holtkamp can be a bad ref AND a female as opposed to be a bad ref BECAUSE she's a female. I'm not even saying she is a bad ref -- I haven't watched her enough to say that. She pretty obviously overreacted last night, but at the same time she may have thought that her authority was being challenged and felt she had to respond.
It's also worth remembering that Dee Kantner, one of the original pair of female NBA refs along with Violet Palmer, was widely criticized by players -- and eventually fired by the league. Kantner was a terrible ref, and while the original complaints were labeled sexist, it turns out the criticism was completely justified.
If Chris Paul is NOT allowed to make a legitimate complain about a referee because of that ref's gender, that's sexism. If Paul criticizes a female ref without cause, then that's sexism. So we can be pretty sure that some sexism is involved here -- but it seems to me that the reaction is the bigger problem than the original action.
NOTE: Be sure to check out further thoughts on this subject from Clips Nation staffers Jul Jessup and Danielle Greenberg. Apparently I'm sexist for even asking them (as opposed to anyone else on the writing staff) to weigh in on this story. That's my bad. Look to the story stream to your right to find all the relevant links.