Before a female referee was replaced on Friday, officials with Adidas had pressured referees at their Summer Championships event in Las Vegas to avoid calling technical fouls against LaVar Ball because of his drawing power and their potential courtship of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, a source told ESPN.
The source said event officals, supplied by ex-NBA ref Ed Rush’s Court Club Elite group, were told to “put three officials on the game who will keep him in the building” whenever LaVar’s Big Baller Brand team played this week.
Ball was given a technical by the referee working Friday’s game and, after Ball threatened to pull his team off the court — as he had done in a different tournament last week — she was removed from the game.
Adidas representatives said it was their decision to replace the referee, who is a Division I women’s basketball official, though neither she nor Adidas would provide her name.
“There was some miscommunication,” said Chris Rivers, Adidas director of global basketball sports marketing. “The NBA don’t put certain people with certain guys, either. If there’s a history or miscommunication, that happens.”
During Big Baller Brand’s win over Play Hard Play Smart on Thursday, Ball told a referee “You’re the worst f—ing ref who ever lived,” per the source. But the referee did not call a technical foul on Ball because of the strong suggestions from Adidas.
“Under normal circumstances, the sideline behavior, including profanity and sideline antics, would have demanded a technical foul under the category of disrespecting the game,” the source said. “However, due to strong messaging [from Adidas] to extend those guidelines in an effort to keep [Ball] in the gym, the officiating crew felt uncomfortable enforcing the technical foul rule for actions that clearly warranted [action].”
Ball’s scolding of the female official who was ultimately replaced after calling a technical foul against him Friday morning constituted “continual and prolonged derogatory comments toward the crew and, in particular, her,” according to the source.
The female official was “standing up for the integrity of the game” before she was replaced, the source said.
Ball went on a postgame tirade about the referee, saying, “She’s trying to make a name for herself, so she’s walking around like, ‘You know I’m the only woman in here.’ Yeah, we get it. I don’t care if you’re a woman or a man or whatever — just be good at what you do.”
His team was scheduled to play again later Friday night, but tournament officials did not know whether he and the team would show up.