Sunday, November 26, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Stand-In Refs Make NBA Scary Place

Times Staff Columnist

Stepping out of the training room after Friday's loss to Seattle, San Antonio's veteran guard Doc Rivers expressed the feelings of every player in the league.

"We want the refs back. We want the refs back. We want the refs back," Rivers chanted to his teammates, waving his fist.

It's getting dangerous out there. The two-man replacement referee teams are missing too many calls. Tempers are short- tening. Veterans are getting away with stinging elbows and stealthy shoves. Hand checks are going unchecked. There is too much grabbing and pushing and pawing.

The angry congestion in the paint looks like the Bon Marche the day after Thanksgiving.

Anarchy is reigning in the NBA. While the lockout of the league's officials continues, the game is unraveling.

As the season progresses, the respect between the players and replacement refs is disappearing. The game is getting out of control.

The NBA needs its regular officials. Hue Hollins never looked so good.

"This is what's going to happen," Rivers said. "The calls are going to get so bad, guys are going to get upset. There's going to be a bad fight. Or somebody's going to get mad and undercut somebody else.

"They're going to be injured, career-wise, and then the league's going to get sued. That's what's going to happen if this continues."

It's getting ugly in the NBA. Everything Commissioner David Stern has worked so hard to control is getting out of control. The NBA's early season looks like the NHL before helmets and masks.

"How dangerous is it?" Spurs' guard Avery Johnson asked. "Right now they've given out about $190,000 worth of fines during the first three weeks of this season, compared to $10,000 last year. So you tell me. Of course it's getting dangerous.

"It's hard enough when you've got the regular refs. They're still human and they still make mistakes. Now we've got guys from I-don't-know-where. It's not necessarily these guys' faults. We just need the NBA to step up now. This is tarnishing our image."

The 54 regular officials have been locked out since Oct. 1. The NBA says it is prepared to go through the season with replacement refs. It will add a third official to each crew if the lockout isn't settled by Dec. 4.

Terry Durham never looked so good.

On Friday, Spurs' center David Robinson was tossed from the game for punching Frank Brickowski. Ben Crenshaw is more likely to throw a punch at the Masters than Robinson is in the NBA. That's how crazy it's getting.

And during the third-quarter chaos, Seattle Coach George Karl and San Antonio's Bob Hill got into a brief bumping match.

"We were a couple of 2-year-olds," Hill said.

NBA basketball: It's infant-astic.

"This is making the game look like thug basketball," Rivers said. " . . . This is not what the fans want to watch.

"These interim refs are at a disadvantage because there are only two of them, but three's not going to make a difference because they're not used to this game. They've never seen a game like this. The athleticism is overwhelming them."

A billion-dollar business is using dime-store officials. At times on Friday night, it seemed as if the players were making their own calls.

It was almost playground hoops. Shirts and skins. No harm, no foul.

"It's getting physical out there," Sonic forward Shawn Kemp said. "It's way more physical than what it has been the last two years.

"I'll be the first to admit, you try things out there. There are only two officials and you're going to see what you can get away with. There's certain times when you can hold a guy. That's the way you have to play the game."

A five-year deal that included an 18.6 percent wage increase was turned down by union president Mike Mathis, but several referees have asked that the proposal be brought to a vote of the entire union.

Every game with replacement refs, however, seems to strengthen the position of the locked-out regulars. In Friday's third quarter, replacements Mike Lauerman and Gary Zielinski looked intimidated.

Steve Javie never looked so good.

"Dangerous? Absolutely," Hill said. "It's a joke. It's really sad. We've got a wonderful league and we've got to put up with this."

The money the officials are demanding is pocket change for Glenn Robinson. Dennis Rodman probably spends more on hair dye.

The lockout is ridiculous. It is hurting the league and it could injure a superstar.

Get this dispute settled. Unlock the doors. Turn the spotlight back on the players.

Want to comment or pass on an idea? You can contact Steve Kelley by voice mail at 464-2176.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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