Bill Spooner vs. The World

Zach Harper —  March 15, 2011 — 4 Comments

NBA referee Bill Spooner is suing AP writer Jon Krawczynski due to a tweet during a January 24th game between our beloved Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets.

Why is a referee suing a writer? Well, apparently Bill Spooner didn’t like a “defamatory accusation of game fixing” that came in tweet form from Krawczynski during the second quarter of the game.

At the time, Anthony Tolliver was whistled for a foul with 10:22 left in the second quarter. Kurt Rambis vehemently disagreed with Bill Spooner, who made the call, and they had a brief verbal exchange. Spooner, being the diligent referee that he is said he would review the call at halftime to see if it was correct or not. Kurt Rambis was curious how he would get those two points back.

According to Krawczynski’s allegedly unfair and damning tweet, “Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d “get it back” after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.”

Scott Schroeder of SB Nation fame did some investigative work and went over the play-by-play to see if there was any evidence to the idea of the makeup call being made. He found that Patrick Patterson was whistled for two fouls within 40 seconds of the alleged makeup promise.

I decided to review the tape of the game, thanks to Synergy sports.

First, here is the original Bill Spooner call that got Rambis upset.

The call is clearly egregious against Anthony Tolliver. He literally stood there while Aaron Brooks tried to use him for a boost in an attempt to change a light bulb or reach something off the top shelf or snag a third fly in Three Flies Up during some summer fun. Whatever Brooks was doing, it wasn’t drawing a foul against Anthony Tolliver.

Patrick Patterson was then called for a moving screen with 9:56 left in the second quarter. However, the call was made by Violet Palmer and not Bill Spooner.

Roughly ten seconds later, Bill Spooner whistled Patrick Patterson for another foul when he bumped Wesley Johnson coming across the lane. Here is video of the call:

This looks like a very legit call by Spooner. Patterson clearly impedes Wes’ progress in an unnatural manner and commits the obvious foul.

A few seconds later, the Wolves get another foul call in their favor. Jonny Flynn takes a bounce pass from Tolliver and drives to the basket. He gets fouled by Aaron Brooks on the play. Take a look at the video:

The two things I took from watching this play, especially with the replay at the end, were that 1) Bill Spooner made the call very far away from the play and 2) the call was correct. Brooks swipes down on Flynn and gets him in the face and on the arms. What’s odd about it is that Spooner makes the call from almost the other side of the court. Normally, the two closer officials would blow the whistle.

It actually shouldn’t matter that Spooner made the call from seemingly out of position since it was the correct call. He didn’t fabricate contact in his mind by any means.

I have no idea if what Krawczynski’s tweet is accurate or not because I wasn’t there. I’m sure Kurt Rambis could be called in as a witness or any of the people sitting in that vicinity to confirm or deny the validity of that statement.

What I know for sure is Spooner made three foul calls in the span of 40 seconds. The first one was a terrible call that hopefully he reviewed and felt embarrassed about. Then he may or may not have promised a makeup call in some way before making two more foul calls almost immediately. However, the ensuing foul calls against Patterson and Brooks seem like obvious and correct calls.

I can’t figure out if I’m on the defense or plaintiff side here (I never really watched a ton of “L.A. Law”), but regardless I rest my case.



Zach Harper

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4 responses to Bill Spooner vs. The World

  1. Make-up calls happen in the NBA, this doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. Either the refs (a) try to keep things fair by always trying to make the right call and let random bad calls even out over time, or (b) they try to even things out on a game-by-game basis by making up a bad call for another bad call against the other team (enraging everyone). Either way, they’re trying to do the right thing. It doesn’t seem like game fixing was going on at all.

    The Tolliver foul seemed more like an anticipation call. It was pretty annoying, but what can you do?

    This isn’t the U.K. and we have the 1st amendment, so the lawsuit seems like a waste of time (and a stupid idea). A journalist tweeted, no matter what was said with almost any exception, you’ll lose in court. This would have probably blown over, but now the “Streisand effect” might come into play.

    Go wolves.

  2. As a person with absolutely no legal training, it appears that in the tweet, the real damaging content is the “get it back…” and “even worse call…” quotes. Those suggest that the referee made calls that were incorrect (that’s bad) and that he made them to remedy previous incorrect calls (even worse?).

    Your evidence suggests that, regardless of Spooner’s motivation, he did make two correct calls immediately after his “get it back” comment. He can argue that “get it back” meant that in the flow of the game you’ll get it back. He could have meant, “I’ll try extra hard to do my job and be fair the rest of the way and that means you’ll get it back.”

    Does Spooner have a case? I don’t think so. The “even worse call…” part of the tweet is just the reporter’s opinion. Even with all the work that went into this post, I’m not certain that a court can decide what a “good call” and an “even worse call” are. That’s the reporter’s job, to report what he sees and hears and draw implications from that.

  3. This is a tough case. On the one hand, since it has to do with employment, Spooner doesn’t have to prove malice or damages- they’re assumed. Libel and slander that deals with employment is generally libel or slander per se, which is much easier to win.

    At the same time, how much damages are really going to be assumed? Even if he wins, how much damage really occurred to him? It was a tweet from a beat-writer. No big deal.

    Further, Krawczynski tweeted what was just an opinion. In his opinion, the ref made an egregious call after the Tolliver foul. Spooner may or may not have told Rambis that “he’d get it back” and he may or may not have meant that it would come in the form of a make-up call. But the fact remains that Krawczynski did nothing more than tweet an opinion. His opinion is protected speech. Spooner has no case.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. The Point Forward » Posts Ref’s defamation suit raises many questions « - March 15, 2011

    […] on Anthony Tolliver — only that Spooner promised to review the call at halftime. Zach Harper, writing at A Wolf Among Wolves, has video of that play, and it’s indeed a stinker of a call. But Harper also has video of […]

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