LAS VEGAS — The group that supplied officials for the Adidas Uprising Summer Championships, in which LaVar Ball successfully petitioned for a female referee to be replaced after she gave him a technical foul on Friday, will terminate its five-year relationship with the sneaker company due to the incident.
“The events that led to the removal of a female official on Friday are something that shall not and will not be accepted within the officiating community,” Court Club Elite, an organization that trains and develops referees at amateur and professional levels, said in its statement to ESPN. “Adidas and their leadership acted in a manner that does not parallel our views on integrity or professionalism, and neither should be compromised as they were in this situation. It was clear that the actions of the official in enforcing and addressing unsporting behavior were defendable and fitting of the behavior displayed; however, the agenda and lack of courage to do the right thing by Adidas leadership sent a clear message that the game and those chosen to protect the integrity were not of priority.”
On Friday morning, LaVar Ball threatened to pull elite recruit LaMelo Ball, his son, and the rest of the Big Baller Brand AAU team from the floor after he was assigned a technical foul by a female official, the same official who gave him a technical foul in a game Wednesday. Ball yelled for Adidas officials to have her removed.
They obliged and replaced her midgame with a male official, though Adidas rep Chris Rivers said the shoe giant made the decision, not Ball. Later, the contest was stopped with five minutes to play after Ball received additional technical fouls.
Earlier, ESPN reported that Adidas had pressured officials from Court Club Elite to “put three officials on the game who will keep [LaVar Ball] in the building” due to his drawing power and its interest in Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, per a source. On Friday, ESPN reported Court Club Elite had sought an all-female crew for Big Baller Brand’s Friday night game in a show of solidarity for the replaced female official, per a source, but a “compromise” for two females and one male on the crew inexplicably switched to one female official on the crew by tipoff.
After the game, Ball claimed that the female official from Friday’s game was “out of shape,” not qualified to officiate and desperate to make a name off him. He also claimed that she had acted as if she had something to prove as one of the few female officials in the tournament.
“This appalling story about the female referee removed during an AAU game warrants serious discussion,” the National Basketball Referees Association, the union representing league officials, tweeted Sunday. “First, the misogynistic comments and intimidation by the coach have no place in basketball or anywhere. The actions by Adidas show what happens when an organization does not support those tasked with protecting the integrity of the game. We support the referee community. This offensive behavior cannot stand [and] hurts all those involved in basketball.”
Ball later said that he had no regrets about his statements and denied that gender played a role in his reaction.
“It’s not about me hating that lady or something like that,” he told reporters on Saturday. “She just got caught in a bad place: messing with me. She’s good. She’s probably a great ref with the women. But this men’s stuff? It’s a difference between women’s basketball and men’s basketball. Just because we go like that and don’t hit the ball don’t mean it’s a foul. But don’t get your feelings personal.”
Ed Rush, the NBA’s former director of officials and founder of Court Club Elite, said the referee Adidas replaced, a woman who has not been identified, had no personal vendetta against Ball.
She is a Division I women’s basketball official. Rush said the woman was selected from hundreds of qualified applicants. Despite what Ball said of her credentials, she is devoted to her craft, as proven by her insistence on learning and developing, sometimes studying film this week until 11 p.m., Rush said.
“As we conclude the 2017 Court Club Elite referee experience, I’m incredibly proud of our members as they responded in a highly professional manner to the challenges of officiating many games in the Adidas Uprising Summer Championships,” Rush said in the statement to ESPN. “This group of officials reflected professionalism and integrity in their decision-making, both on and off the court.”
Rush said members of the officiating community had questioned his organization’s decision to work the Adidas tournament after Friday’s incident. The former NBA official said the tournament is a training experience for officials who travel from around the world to learn and grow, an opportunity he did not want to prematurely terminate.
This week’s tournament featured multiple seminars for officials, led by officials who work in Division I college basketball and the NBA. Rush said that anyone who assumes his organization stayed only for the money should know he donates his personal proceeds to charity. He said he also didn’t want observers to assume his group had cowered to Ball.
“[The officials’] days consisted of several hours of classroom and video breakdown sessions in addition to games worked,” the organization’s statement said. “Forfeiting those opportunities would have allowed one man’s unreasonable request, and the acceptance of that request by those who lack courage, to overshadow the greater purpose for our group in a highly effective learning environment.”
On Saturday, referees independent of Court Club Elite officiated Big Baller Brand’s games at a local high school.
Female officials assigned by Court Club Elite worked every championship game on Sunday at the Cashman Center.