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Kevin Durant: “Players and refs want to have a great relationship, but somebody’s in the way.”

The reigning Finals MVP suggested that the NBA is interfering with the relationship between the players and referees.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest, and most unfortunate storylines of the NBA season, has been the polarizing relationship between players and referees. The league has introduced a collection of new refs, and the trust and synergy between them and players has all but vanished.

Players have voiced frustration with inconsistent officiating, and with an inability to open a dialogue when upset about a call. Referees have expressed that they’re doing their job to the best of their ability, and players need to understand that no one’s perfect.

From constant technical fouls, to frequent grievances aired through the media, to a meeting over All-Star weekend between the two parties, the fragile relationship between the two groups has, at times, dominated the season’s narrative.

Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors has been one of those impacted the most. Durant is third in the league with 11 technical fouls, as well as a handful of ejections. He has spent the bulk of the season overtly frustrated with what he is, and isn’t allowed to do, and with the inconsistency accompanying it.

It was surprising to learn, then, that Durant doesn’t blame those in striped shirts for the tension. Instead, Durant seems to believe that the NBA is meddling with the player-ref relationship. At Saturday’s All-Star Media Day, Durant alluded to what he believes the problem is.

“For some reason it feels like they’re a little bit more on edge,” Durant said. “I don’t know what’s going on when they go back and watch film, or go back and get evaluated, but something is a little different. I don’t think it’s the players, I don’t think it’s the refs, it’s somebody else that’s probably in the middle of the relationship that’s kind of making it worse. Y’all can figure that out on your own. But I think the players and the refs want to have a great relationship but somebody’s in the way.”

Likely seeking to avoid a fine, Durant only alluded to the cause of the issue; when asked if he has a theory on who or what that is, he simply replied, “You pretty much know.”

Just a few hours later, NBA commissioner Adam Silver met with the media. A group of players and referees had met that morning, and while Silver had not yet heard how the meeting unfolded, he seemed optimistic about the direction of the relationship, while admitting that there’s work to be done.

“I think the league, of course, should be playing a very active role in bridging that gap between players and officials,” the commissioner said. “We’ve put in place several new initiatives, including a new management team overseeing our officiating program. . . We’re sending groups of officials out to meet directly with our teams so they can have open forums to talk about issues like respect and empathy, and create a better understanding with the players in terms of what the officials’ roles are, and officials may better understand how players may misperceive things they’re doing. . . I’ve never thought this was just about ratcheting up fines. I think that there’s a larger issue in play here, and almost one that’s a little societal in we owe it to young fans who are watching, we owe it to young people who get enormous satisfaction out of sports to see that we truly can get along and be respectful and empathetic.”

Durant’s point about the league interfering suggested that the NBA instructs the referees to call the game in a specific manner that stifles the players and their competitive spirits and emotions. Silver acknowledged this, as well as the reason for it, saying, “I think it was roughly eight years ago or so we adopted these respect for the game rules precisely because everyone said at that point things were a little bit out of control and there was a lot of frustration. We adopted those rules. I think after we did it, some people felt it was a little bit of an overreaction; that we were turning the players almost into robots.”

Whether Silver and the NBA have the answers, or whether Durant is correct that they’re standing in the way of a potential relationship remains to be seen. Only time will tell if resolution will be found, and how that occurs.

Only one thing is certain: The league, the players, the refs, and the fans all benefit from a strong union between those who play the game, and those who officiate it.

Oh, and one other thing is certain as well: Draymond Green, who is just two technical fouls away from a suspension, doesn’t want to talk about it.

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