In addition to being one of the best comedians of his generation, Bill Burr is also a passionate sports fan. Known for his no-BS attitude, Burr explained the way he believes the referees manipulate the rules to create the outcome the league wants and how fans should adapt their viewing habits accordingly.
“Why does that surprise any NBA fan?”
Burr was on Jimmy Kimmel's show to promote his upcoming historic stand-up gig. The Boston comedian will be the first stand up to perform at Fenway Park. To ease into the conversation, Kimmel asked Burr about the Celtics winning in Game 7 and how he watches a game like that.
Burr explained that since becoming a father, he couldn't watch the entire game anymore. Dad duty is a 24/7 gig but seems like even if he did have time, he wouldn't bother with some parts of the game.
“I also think the NBA is also low-key rigged. Why does that surprise any NBA fan? I don't know how many times you can watch a game, a team goes up by 20, then all of a sudden ticky-tack foul, ticky-tack foul, all of the sudden they're in the penalty. The [ref's] job's to get down to about 5 to 7 at halftime.”
Bill Burr, Jimmy Kimmel Live
Burr threw in a joke about ESPN "analysts" saying something like, ”I'm really concerned about that team that used to be up 20, and is now only up by 5,” trying to drum up excitement for the second half, and then proceeded to breakdown you average NBA game by quarters.
“First half of the third quarter is for the players, and then the referees assess what they need to do to make it come down to the final two minutes. You watch the first quarter, they let the teams play. Second quarter belongs to the refs. [Then you watch] from the half of the third quarter on.”
Bill Burr, Jimmy Kimmel Live
Burr was, of course, referring to Tim Donaghy, the NBA referee who admitted to fixing games. “If you're officiating a game, and I'm shaving points, how many games does it take before you pull me aside, like, 'Hey Bill, what's going on with you?' Sorry, I'm saying there's no Santa Claus.”
The Donaghy story is complicated, with each side pushing its own version of the story - Netflix recently announced a documentary about the topic. We don't have so many suspicious games as we did in the past - most people immediately go to Game 6, Kings vs. Lakers in 2002; I would also draw your attention to Dwyane Wade's 97 free throws in the '06 Finals.
Burr made sure to point out he doesn't think there's a full-blow game-rigging problem in the NBA, "but it's massaged to be exciting.” He then proceeded to point out a very true fact about the NBA and basketball in general.
“The refs have way too much power”
After giving out the recipe for watching an NBA game, Burr pointed out that in no other major sport does the ref have so much power to impact the game by eliminating a team's best player.
”I think a sport in which the official can literally take a star player out of the game by giving him two quick ones in the first quarter, that's an incredible amount of power. You can't take Tom Brady out of the game.”
Yeah, technically, Brady can get ejected from a game. But Burr's point stands. In no other sport does the referee have such a consistent impact on who's on the court by enforcing rules that are largely up to interpretation. The same level of contact on one side is a foul, on the other it's not, and both decisions can technically be right.
Another Boston sports fan, the most famous one, also has a theory on NBA refereeing. Bill Simmons recently introduced The Extender to us. That's his nickname for Scott Foster.
Simmons' theory is simple. The NBA has an interest for playoff series to go as long as possible. More games mean more revenue, so every time there was an elimination game, Simmons expected Foster to be there to give a favorable whistle to the team down in the series. (for older fans, that used to be Dick Bavetta)
When composing music for Nintendo hit games, most notably Super Mario and Zelda, Japanese composer Koji Kondo said the perfect game soundtrack is one that you don't notice - it's there to serve the game, not overpower it. The same goes for NBA referees. The perfect outcome is when you don't even notice they were there.
The fact more and more NBA fans know who Scott Foster, Tony Brothers, James Capers, Mark Davis, and Kane Fitzgerald are is a sign we're moving in the wrong direction. Not all of that is on the refs - the rulebook, the way the reviews are done and the inconsistent points of emphasis coming from the league office are all a part of this.
Let's hope that we have a great Finals series and don't have to talk about the refs a single time. And if you need to go to the bathroom, grab a beverage, or some more snacks, Burr is not wrong - that's what the second quarter is for.