Man, I love NPR. I really do. But sometimes - sometimes, its dry, left of center bent really gets under my skin. This morning was one of those times. And I'm not even a big basketball fan. But Inskeep was two for two this week, considering his awful interview of General Petraeus.
Steve Inskeep on NPR with David Stern:
Inskeep: Two researchers analyzed hundreds of thousands of NBA foul calls. They say white referees were tougher on black players. And they also found black refs somewhat tougher on white players. Yesterday, NPR listeners heard a New York Times reporter [Remember that Times story about that soldier who was suffering severe mental problems after serving in Iraq, who actually never served in Iraq?] who broke that story. This morning, we'll hear from the NBA Commissioner, David Stern.
Stern: They dealt from the box score, which doesn't identify which referee makes the call.
This is critical, absolutely critical! But Inskeep brushes it aside.
Inskeep: Although they say that they had an idea of how many white or black referees were on the floor at any time, and allowed for the control on that.
Stern: Right - and so, if there were 3 officials and two of them were white, they ascribed a white crew to that, and if there were sixty calls in the game, they imputed 20 to each of the officials. We actually have the data of individual officials, and individual calls for the last two and a half years, and so we ran the data and came up with something that says quite starkly that there is no bias amongst NBA officials.
But Inskeep presses, continuing to diminish the Commissioner's point that the 'Academics' who conducted the study did not have the data to assign the calls to individual refs. Inskeep actually gives the 'Academics' a nod:
Inskeep: And is that the sole difference as you can see it between your study, other than that they studied for more years, that you've got the specific identities of the officals at hand as you run these numbers.
Stern: No, not that they studied it for more years, they don't have the individual calls. That's quite a difference. But even beyond that, you can't account for a player that leans in, that has a certain style, it's very hard.
Inskeep: What are some of the factors that you think really may affect whether a particular player may commit fouls more often or a little less often?
Stern: Whether he commits fouls a little more often, a little less often. We track every... single... foul. And we track whether the referee is correct or incorrect.
Inskeep: Based on...
Stern: Based upon a review by an official employed by us, who we call Observers, and based upon a review of the Observers, by someone called the Group Supervisor, and then based upon an additional review of some people who are not on our staff so that we can be satisfied.
Inskeep does not seem impressed.
Inskeep: You know that people will say, for example, that stars can get away with a little more.
Stern: We've uh... now you're lapsing into 'people say', and the reality is, if you do the statistical analysis, which we have done, based upon the stars, there is no statistical variation between the calls they get. Our referees are the most reviewed, most ranked, and most rated. And that's why we take exception to what the Times did here, and take exception to - your acceptance of that.
Inskeep: I'm here asking questions, I'm here trying to learn a little bit.
Stern: You're with the bias - but it's okay. Most people are; no one likes officials. The fans complain about them, the players complain about them, and the media assumes that we don't hold them to the standard that we do.
This is where things get even more interesting.
Inskeep: You're assuming that I'm assuming things, is that correct?
Inskeep: What are you assuming that I assume?
Stern: I'm assuming when you said to me "come ooon, you mean they don't favor stars?" Unless I misheard.
Inskeep: I'm just curious if there is some subtle factor, like you - you yourself earlier in the interview said it may depend on the style of the player, whether he leans in a little bit more.
Stern: That means - the style means he draws more fouls - because he actually commits more fouls.
Inskeep: And when sports fans say things as they have in the past, like 'Oh, Michael Jordan always got an extra step compared to everybody else out there' you found that to be wrong.
Inskeep [Incredulous]: He didn't get an extra step.
Inskeep: Then of course basketball purists could say that everybody in the NBA gets an extra step.
Stern: That may be - that referees do adjust into habits of individual players - I think that's probably a fair assertion.
That was magic. Like magic, magic, not Magic Johnson.