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The Suns got Fostered, even if the referee assignment did not impact Finals Game 3

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Where there’s so much smoke there’s usually some fire.

2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Before anything else, let me make one thing very clear: The point of this article is not to blame Scott Foster, Eric Lewis, or James Williams for the Phoenix Suns’ loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Did they impact the game? Sure. But so did all of the players on the court. Place blame where you want, but let’s talk about a bigger picture.

That bigger picture is why Scott Foster is even an option to be a referee in the NBA Finals.

The history of Foster’s performance and the controversies involving him raise a multitude of red flags that indicate he has absolutely zero business serving as an official in any basketball game, let alone an NBA basketball game… let alone an NBA Finals game.

First, Scott Foster is simply not good at his job. In 2016, the LA Times asked “nearly three dozen” NBA players and coaches who they felt were the best and the worst referees in the NBA. At that time, the NBA employed 64 referees. Taking the honors in the “worst” category was Foster, who received 24 votes. The next closest competition for him was 10 votes behind. More-recently, James Harden has described Foster as “rude and arrogant.”

Second, and to that point, above, I mentioned Eric Lewis and James Williams. Perhaps some readers had heard of them before last night’s game, perhaps not. But one thing I can guarantee you is that those guys have never been trending on Twitter ahead of their games. Scott Foster, on the other hand:

Third, we all know Tim Donaghy, right? The disgraced former NBA referee who served prison time arising out of an FBI investigation that he bet on games that he officiated? Something that he subsequently admitted to? Yeah, that guy.

As this article from CBS Boston indicates, during the time that Donaghy was betting on NBA games, he made more phone calls to Foster than most people make to their own family. In particular, Donaghy made 134 telephone calls to Foster. In addition, “Donaghy’s calls to Foster took place immediately before and after games Donaghy was officiating 54 times” (i.e., of the 134 calls, 108 of them occurred immediately before or after a Donaghy game). Significantly, during that timeframe, Foster “didn’t call any other official more than 13 times.”

In fact, Donaghy called Foster nearly as many times as he called the “middleman” to whom he provided betting picks:

I’m sure the NBA “investigated” this and I, for one, would love to hear an explanation as to why it concluded – and continues to conclude – that this is not an issue. Maybe Donaghy just wanted some “pointers,” but in the very least, this is yet another red flag tied to Foster.

Fourth, Foster has an obvious vendetta against Chris Paul. Addressing every detail of their history could be an entire article on its own (hmm….), but I would like to point out just how long this vendetta has existed. In 2020, Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells interviewed Donaghy and, during that interview, Wells made the following comment:

Earlier [this] year…Scott allegedly came up to Chris and mentioned Game 7 in the 2008 playoffs when the New Orleans Hornets were playing the San Antonio Spurs. I was actually on that team — my last NBA game was Game 7 and Chris Paul fouled out. We were killing San Antonio. We were actually supposed to win that series and they fouled Chris Paul out.

Obviously, Wells hedged by saying that this discussion was “alleged,” but to raise such a specific instance that is so far removed from present time certainly carries weight of credibility in this author’s book.

Fifth, let’s consider this comment by the aforementioned Donaghy about Foster and his vendetta against Chris Paul (full interview here):

Sure, you can say that Donaghy had a vested interest in making a comment like this. But, at the same time, can you say that the evidence suggests he is wrong?

Finally, as Donaghy noted in the above clip, “[i]t’s OK because the league allows it to continue to happen.” So, who is it that allows it to continue to happen?

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that the person who allows it to continue to happen is Byron Spruell, President of League Operations. Now, credit where credit is due. By all accounts, Spruell was the mastermind behind the Bubble, so we have him to thank for that.

But, according to his NBA profile, Spruell is also “principally responsible for the processes regarding the management of rule changes, the development, evaluation, and training of game officials, the enforcement of conduct standards and discipline.” Readers can form their own opinion as to whether Spruell is meeting expectation in that role, but everything outlined above suggests that, at least with respect to Scott Foster, he is not.

As an aside, if you are wondering who assists Spruell in his duties, one of those individuals is Malik Rose. Rose reports directly to Spruell and is “responsible for interfacing directly with teams and players regarding league programs, rules, new initiatives and competitive elements.” This is the same Malik Rose who, on his Twitter profile, proudly displays a photo of himself in a Spurs uniform holding two Larry O’Brien Trophies.

Which is odd considering that even media personnel who cover games are not allowed to wear team-related gear when performing their duties.

At its core, basketball is a game. But the NBA is a business. Players and coaches put the product on the floor and the fans are its consumer. Players, coaches, and fans all deserve NBA officials who protect the integrity of the game and are held accountable. That expectation, as I see it, is no different than the expectation anyone would have when helping to provide a product or when consuming any product.

When it comes to Scott Foster, it is clear that players, coaches, and fans believe that the NBA is failing them. Maybe there’s an explanation. But I do not know anyone who has seen or heard it. At the end of the day, the most-logical conclusion may be the answer, and that is that the NBA simply does not care.

(Although, I see a scenario where it is not so much that the NBA does not care as much as it cannot care, but I’ll save that conspiracy theory for another day…)