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Sunday, November 23, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Percy Allen / NBA reporter

These stripes are tough to earn

It's a knee-jerk reaction that occurs in living rooms and NBA arenas across the country. Whenever a referee blows a call or misses a call, those sitting on the sideline or in front of the television set repeat the same refrain: "Any idiot could have seen that."

You think it's easy, don't you?

You can accept the fact that you'll never dunk like Vince Carter and play in the NBA, but deep down, you think you could jog up and down the sideline and do the job of the folks in the striped shirts.

We all know that Allen Iverson travels and palms the ball nearly every time he crosses over, right? We all see how Shaquille O'Neal dislodges other players beneath the basket and commits an offensive foul.

And how difficult can it be to "T" up Rasheed Wallace when he goes volcanic?

Yeah, those are the easy calls.

But did you know that if player A-1 is flagrantly fouled before the ball is released on a throw-in at 1:23 of the fourth period, then any player in the game may attempt the two free throws and Team A will inbound at its free-throw line extended?

Betcha didn't know that.

And what if player A-1 releases a three-pointer from the corner, the horn sounds to end the first period and then player B-1 crashes into player A-1 before he returns to the floor. In that situation, a personal foul can be assessed on player B-1 and player A-1 would attempt three free throws with 0:00 on the clock and no lineup of players on the lane line if the shot attempt was unsuccessful.

You might have guessed that one.

On the NBA's officiating media test that presents 15 scenarios followed by true or false choices, I answered the second scenario correctly.

Of course, I had a 50 percent chance of getting the right answer, but that's beside the point. What matters is that, after taking the test, I discovered how little I know about the rules that govern an NBA game.

I've played hoops for what seems like my entire life. I must have watched 150 games in the past year, but when put to the test, I got seven questions wrong.

On a whim, I gave the quiz to a colleague, Larry Stone, who covers baseball and admittedly watched maybe 10 NBA games last season. He answered 10 questions correctly.

So what does that prove?

Well, maybe Larry should do my job.

Or maybe Ronnie Nunn, the director of NBA officials, got it right when he said: "People who watch our games can't begin to know all of the decisions that must be made in a split second. The test is just the starting point, but can you apply the rules under the pressures of the game?"

Few folks — especially Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — are sympathetic to officials. They are never cheered, often booed and rarely appreciated.

Last season, the tension between players and officials and coaches and officials seemed to reach a boiling point, which probably prompted the league to restructure its officiating department in the offseason.

The 53-year-old Nunn, an official for 19 years, retired his whistle and now handles the day-to-day management of the referee staff, including daily instruction on the interpretation and application of rules.

He takes over for Ed T. Rush, the director of officiating programs, who is now responsible for the ongoing recruitment, training and development of officiating staffs.

Together, they've implemented a limited open-door policy.

They encourage the league's 59 referees to engage in discourse with the players, coaches and media, but the NBA will not disclose its internal officiating grading system.

"We want to remove the myths that are out there for people that frankly don't exist," Nunn said. "The gosh darn truth is, it's a hard job. It's an honest job. Everybody tries to do it as best as they humanly can.

"The rewards are not great. ... Do we make mistakes? We certainly do. It's impossible not to."

Regardless of the difficulties, the NBA annually receives roughly 500 applicants vying for the job that pays six figures and requires officials to work between 65 and 75 regular-season games.

"I've been in the NBA circuit for the last six years and the difficulty is getting exposure," said Darren Wilson, a 43-year-old Seattle native. "Being in the right places and going to the right camps so they can see you, that's tough."

Wilson, who works as a King County code-enforcement officer, started officiating for Seattle Parks and Recreation 18 years ago and has since worked AAU games, high schools, Division III, Continental Basketball Association, NBA summer camps and Sonics practices.

"You take the abuse, because that comes with the job," said Wilson, who was a wide receiver at Washington under Don James. "But you do it because you love it.

"I tried to play in the CFL and the NFL, but getting into the NBA as an official is just as hard. No, change that, it's harder."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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