Advanced Tips from Joe Crawford – Difficult Situations



Basketball is a game filled with emotions. It happens just too often that some participants go beyond the line and show signs of frustration. The referees are indeed part of the game and should act as an intermediary. However, there are times when the officials need to exhibit certain strengths so that the game does not get out of control.

This week, we turn to our conflict-management topic with Joe Crawford. It is safe to say that after 40 years in the league, he had his fair share of conflicts.

To take control successfully, you have to understand why that player or coach is angry.

he begins. “This can root from a multitude of things. It may have been an uncalled foul or the player just having a bad night. It can be because of their quick-trigger personality.”

The reason why a coach is frustrated is not always your last call only. Take a look at the scoreboard, take a look at the performance of their team in the last 5 minutes. That coach might be uptight because if the team loses, he is about to get fired.

Their reason to be upset might be an imaginary problem, but to keep on top of what’s happening, you’ll have to find it out.

To improve as a conflict manager is not easy. After a game, try to imagine what you could have done better to prevent that dirty situation.

“During the game, look for early signs. Try to see it if there’s anger: it can be a player hiding his clenched fist, or another player committing a hard foul for no reason.”


Joe Crawford at Game 2 of The NBA Finals 2013

Joe Crawford at Game 2 of The NBA Finals 2013

There have been times in Joe’s career when opponents were seeming to mock each other. But, their conflict was not always needed to be solved as the players said: “We’re friends!”

“It’s a difficult, antsy situation.” explains Joe. Obviously, as a ref, you don’t want to solve nonexistent conflicts, let alone creating a new one. “I always said to them: OK guys, but I don’t know who are friends and who are not!”

In this case, be alert and speak the players’ language. That’s all you can do.


To successfully resolve a conflict, you will have to identify the initiators or aggressors. The conflict-management can happen with words, or with sanctions/actions.

Joe Crawford believes that it is OK to have interaction with players, but after a limit is reached, he encourages you to finish the conversation. According to his experience, if you keep on talking, everybody is going to talk to you. As a result, you will lose concentration and the game dissolves. He admits, however, that this is not a universally accepted theory and some referees do disagree.

The key is drawing the line.

Joe – who was known for this quickly assessed technical fouls – changed his vision toward the end of his career. Even he says that drawing the line should not always happen by giving Ts.

Tell them it’s over. No more!

“Once you have drawn this line and somebody comes at you, you might still need to assess him with a T. However, now there is a tendency to warn them. I believe it is a great tool.”

However, there is one drawback to warnings: once you say it, everybody needs to know it.  Afterwards, you shouldn’t go on talking & chatting with players without sanctioning them.

Some cases, it is difficult to decide when to warn because the chatter of the players is not too insulting.

Players are not allowed to talk constantly according to the rulebook.

You will have to figure out at each different game when to warn. “Run the game your way: but when you have 3, 4, 5 consecutive times of complaining – tell them it’s over!”

Joe says veteran referee Jake O’Donnell had a look when everybody knew to stop. Crawford shares he also liked the effect when he said: “guys, everybody’s warned!”

However, there is no best way in dealing with conflicts. Even Joe can’t even give you the magic wand.


“During our preparation, we analyze video from the teams’ previous games. We try to prepare as much as we can. Sometimes, however, we need to talk it over during the first time-out when the outlook of the game is not what we expected.”

Consistency is what we are looking for. Doing it the same way, every night.

In the NBA, the crew usually meets at 11 AM in the hotel, going over the training tape, mechanics. It is important that the crew gets on the same page and work the same way. Regardless of all the amount of preparation, Joe has a funny quote to share:

You know what’s the beauty of officiating?
That some days it just doesn’t work!

He also says that inventing situations and case studies about a game is a great way to improve and prepare for the game.

“There’s physical preparation, too. And the nightly match-ups, understanding a little more in-depth the tactics of the teams. Study how they run their offence and what type of defence they are using.”


Joe says he always tries to prepare for crazy situations, while constant studying of rules.

Confidence comes from preparation and knowing that you can handle all situations.

Did you like this article? Please share the wisdom and come back to the final part of the interview, where you can find answers to some of the funnier stories of the NBA’s most famous referee!


About David

David Szots is an aspiring young basketball official who is passionate about studying the world’s top referees and is looking for quality content all over the web to help others and share information


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