If you’re an NBA aficionado, you know, of course, that these are top NBA referees – “crew chiefs” and NBA Finals level basketball officials. And in the past 5 years, all of them have left the court or retired for one reason or another.
So, you might ask, what’s the problem with that? People retire or leave jobs all the time. New people come into an organization; employees are promoted from within. The NBA in that sense is no different: new referees are hired and some members of its officiating staff are given more responsibility, promoted to playoff games including to the NBA Finals.
NBA officiating is going through changes, as naturally would any organization if an inordinate amount of its top leadership left within a relatively short period of time. Try to think of a body that would NOT be challenged if 15-20% of its senior staff all left within a 5-year period – in this case taking with them the “organizational memory” of approximately 250 basketball seasons, thousands of games and tens of thousands or more of plays.
To assist with this challenge and to make sure NBA referees maintain their “organizational memory,” a number of these recently retired referees have taken up key positions. This includes McCutchen as Vice President of Referee Development and Training and the recent addition of Phillips to lead the NBA Replay Center.
Organizational memory and referees’ organizations
There is ample literature and research on “organizational memory”. You can read about it, for example, here, here and here. But essentially, “organizational memory” by pretty much all definitions is the accumulated body of data, information, and knowledge created in the course of an organization’s existence.
Organizational memory is basically comprised of 1) the organization’s archives, including it’s data bases; and 2) individuals’ memories. In basketball terms, if the referee organization is effective, it maintains some sort of hopefully accessible data base of video clips from games, tagged by type of play and whether the decision was correct or incorrect.
Referee “muscle memory”
When we speak of “individuals’ memories” with regards to officiating, referees often talk about “muscle memory”, i.e. a correct physiological response to an action that takes place on the court. There are very, very few “unicorn” plays in basketball. Everything that a referees sees on the court related to handchecking, screening, charge/block situations, post play, end of game situations, etc., etc., are plays that should have been experienced on multiple occasions during the referee’s officiating career.
Technology has also been a boon for the referee who is really interested in improving “muscle memory”. YouTube and Twitter as well as the Internet in general provide more than ample discussion and examples of plays for every level of basketball, including youth, NCAA, NBA and international games.
Muscle memory is also why young referees are encouraged to officiate as many games as possible. Listen to NBA retired referee great Joey Crawford and what he has to say on the subject:
When Crawford started out, he already did 13 games – his first weekend! “It’s imperative to work a million of those (kids and lower league) games because handling a million of those situations is fabulous.” In other words, the more games you work, the more muscle memory you build.
BUT, beware: if you don’t have proper training, the help and mentoring of others and you are unable to benefit from hindsight and admit mistakes, you can also build wrong muscle memory, which leads to incorrect decisions and frustrations in your officiating career.