Cade Cunningham ejection shows big problem with NBA refs

Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons walks to the locker room after receiving his second technical foul of the game (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons walks to the locker room after receiving his second technical foul of the game (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images) /

Fans who pay money to watch refereeing were in for a treat last night, as they got to see Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons thrown out of the game.

I mean, who doesn’t love watching refs? Forget big dunks or exciting plays, I am there to see whistles and pedantic enforcement of subjective rules!

Cade was thrown out after getting his second technical with about 4:30 left in the 3rd quarter after throwing down a big reverse dunk, then pointing to his friends behind the Pistons’ bench.

The referee, the real star of this game, didn’t see it that way and hit Cade with a technical for taunting even though none of the Suns even saw what he did and just played on, as any rational human would.

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Look, Cade Cunningham had been jawing at the refs all night and it was clear this particular hero had enough and decided to hit him with a technical that he knew would result in Cade being ejected.

Although technically defensible (as was patronizingly pointed out to me by some snitches on Twitter), it shows a big problem with how NBA games are officiated.

Cade Cunningham’s ejection shows how subjective the rules are in the NBA

I grew up watching the Bad Boys, and saw things happen in games that broke actual laws, forget about basketball rules. So the idea that this was anything more than a guy briefly celebrating a big dunk is completely laughable to me.

I don’t usually use toxic words like “soft” but if ever it applied to a call in an NBA game, this was it.

But I’ll give the ref the benefit of the doubt and assume he thought Cade Cunningham was taunting the back of Jalen Smith’s head and not pointing to his own bench, which he clearly was. I do understand how this could have been seen as taunting, but the problem is that players do far worse all of the time without getting a technical for it.

I could pull up a million clips of players doing actual taunting that was not called, and the one commonality with all of them is that it was star players doing the taunting.

You could pull up highlights from this very game, where Devin Booker was running his mouth constantly, flexing after dunks, yelling in people’s faces, none of which was called a technical.

Here’s a nice picture of a Suns player pointing to the bench after a dunk, the exact thing Cade Cunningham got a technical for. I don’t think this should have been a “T” either, but it just shows that these calls are completely subjective and often come down to how the ref personally feels about the player.

We all know that there are certain guys who get away with taunting all of the time. I’ve seen everyone from LeBron James to Stephen Curry do FAR worse and the plays end up on their highlight reels, not with them getting ejected.

I get that the NBA doesn’t want another Malice in the Palace and thinks policing their players against having fun is the way to achieve that, but they have also taken some of the joy out of the game and left referees with too much power to enforce extremely subjective rules where stars are allowed to taunt all night but rookies can’t even celebrate a dunk.

The funny thing is that I’ve never heard players complain about taunting, as all of them grew up playing hoops on playgrounds where taunting is an art form and just about everyone does it.

The Pistons were going to get blown out anyway, but I am sure the fans who paid for tickets would have liked to see Cade Cunningham going for his career high instead of watching him get sent off for being excited about one of the best plays of his young career.

I really don’t know how to solve this, as any interpretation of this rule is going to be subjective, but the league needs to do something, as fans don’t go to games to watch refs, or to see nit-picky enforcement of rules that no one cares about anyway.

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