The virus outbreak hasn’t just sent NBA teams looking for help from the G League. The NBA refereeing corps has had to do the same.
A trio of G League officials — Tyler Mirkovich, Clare Aubry and Pat O’Connell — were assigned games on Friday, the NBA debuts for all three. It was the first time that the NBA had to call up G League officials to work games this season.
Mirkovich was assigned Phoenix at Boston, Aubry got Atlanta at Cleveland and O’Connell was picked for New York at Oklahoma City.
“I think the whole league is in a concerned place,” said Monty McCutchen, the former official who is now an NBA executive overseeing all referee matters. “We want our league to be healthy and we want the players to feel safe and healthy. We want coaches and staffs to feel health and safety is a priority and the same is true for referees.”
None of the three G League refs called up Friday has even worked an NBA preseason game. But with about one-third of the league’s referees unable to work right now, mostly because of coronavirus-related reasons and a few because of injury, the NBA had no choice but to seek help.
“We have some people out with health and safety protocols. That’s no secret,” McCutchen said. “And we’re using some people from the G League that we have a lot of confidence in that can give us this temporary coverage that we’re in need of.”
The NBA began Friday with about 120 players in various stages of the protocols. Also sidelined: seven head coaches — Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue entered protocols Friday in Toronto, while Lakers coach Frank Vogel cleared protocols and rejoined his team — along with dozens of other staffers, including assistant coaches, athletic trainers, media relations staff and more.
Clippers assistant Brian Shaw was leading the team in Toronto, where the arena was almost entirely empty in accordance with rules put into place by officials in Ontario earlier this week with hopes of stopping rising numbers there.
“I don't think anything's weird anymore," Shaw said.
The league has a 97% vaccination rate among players, 100% among coaches, and at least two-thirds of the league has received a booster shot. The NBA has postponed 11 games in recent weeks, while often changing its protocols with hopes of getting players who test positive back on the floor more quickly than has been the case.
The latest of those moves came Friday, when the league told teams that players who test positive — provided they return appropriate test results — can leave isolation after five days.
About 100 players from the G League have been signed to NBA deals in recent weeks as teams have needed to fill rosters because of all the virus-related problems. Players and coaches around the league have applauded those players getting their chances.
“It’s hard to get here. This is hard,” Washington guard Bradley Beal said. “I think a lot of people have it kind of misconstrued. They think a lot of stuff that we do is easy, they think getting to the league is easy. It is not, man. And then you have so many guys in the G who are deserving of being up here. These guys actually deserve spots and a lot of them just don’t have that opportunity. A lot of guys are fortunate to be able to have opportunities and a lot of them are taking advantage of it.”
It’s unclear if the G League officiating help will continue after Friday. There were 10 games scheduled for Friday, meaning 30 referees needed to be slotted for those games — excluding the four others picked to work in the NBA’s replay center.
The daily schedule gets a bit lighter over the next couple days: Six games are scheduled for Saturday, seven on Sunday. There isn’t a 10-game slate again until Monday, and it is possible that some in the protocols may be able to work again by then.
“I do think it’s a short-term need,” McCutchen said. “We, like everyone else, are living in real time and making real-time decisions that serve the league. Referees’ job is to serve the league and as a management team our job is to serve the league at the highest level that we can at any given moment given the circumstances.”
McCutchen said he had no doubt that the G League callup referees were ready. Over the last four years, the NBA has started training all referees — NBA, G League, WNBA and now the Basketball Africa League — the same way, to the same standards.
“I have the belief that if we need to lean on them, they will perform well,” McCutchen said.
Aubry is now the 14th female referee assigned to work an NBA regular-season game. The league has six full-time women’s referees this season and four others designated as non-staff.
Aubry is a men’s basketball official in the Atlantic Coast Conference as well, making what was believed to be history in mid-November as the first woman to officiate a Georgia Tech men’s basketball game when the Yellow Jackets played Lamar.
“I thought she did a great job,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said after that game. “She’s a big-time official. She’s officiates in the G League and she’s going to be in the NBA. We’re lucky that the ACC’s able to have big-time officials and she’s one of them. She’s a high-level official.”
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