Why Do Basketball Players Argue with the Referees?

When you watch professional basketball on television, do you ever notice that some of your favorite stars get frustrated when they don’t receive an assist or call from the referees for something minor like traveling in violation?

Or, maybe there’s one player who is always arguing while playing against another team’s star player.

You may even see them arguing over calls involving other players as well.

And it doesn’t matter if both teams have similar records because these arguments can happen between two losing teams too.

Why does this keep happening?

Is this just part of the competitive spirit of sport?

The answer lies within each individual athlete’s personality, how he/she reacts emotionally to any given situation, and what type of person he/she would be naturally drawn towards being — whether a leader, follower, or someone somewhere in-between.

The latter could also refer to those who sometimes follow leaders but will take direction better than others.

These types often find themselves having more trouble communicating effectively with people such as coaches or managers.

Therefore, when it comes to the aspect of basketball players arguing with referees, the following assessment can be made.

Basketball players typically argue with referees as a result of being frustrated at the match official’s on-court decision, which could have gone against them and their team. In other cases, basketball players argue because they’re passionate and want to win, and they may say a word or two to try and influence future refereeing calls during the game.

Reasons why basketball players argue with referees during games

Let’s now explore the four main reasons why NBA greats argue with officials during games in granular detail.

1. They want to voice their frustration at a refereeing decision

why basketball players argue with the referee - voicing their frustrations

Some athletes feel anger after receiving negative rulings from the refs.

If this happens frequently enough, the player might start getting angry at the official(s) regardless of the actual ruling itself.

This kind of behavior stems from the fact that players tend to put excessive pressure on referees based on their perception alone.

As a result, they’re inclined to believe that the outcome was predetermined, unfair, and unjust.

Their natural reaction is to shout out loud and express their dissatisfaction to whoever is closest to them (coaches, trainers, opposing players).

Whether the argument actually had anything to do with the issue, it still creates negative energy in the locker room.

If athletes continue yelling throughout the match despite knowing that nothing changes, it shows disrespect towards the authority figures present.

Also, shouting at the referees affects the rest of the players, who now feel compelled to join in on the verbal sparring.

No wonder athletes resort to screaming at referees, even though it wastes time and disrupts concentration.

After watching several basketball games, I’ve noticed that when a player gets called for a foul, he immediately starts yelling at the referee and complaining loudly.

At times, he seems unable to accept the call gracefully or calmly return to the court.

My advice to him is to simply acknowledge the call politely and go back to the defensive end without reacting.

When this approach fails, he can choose to yell louder and complain further until the referee finally relents and corrects his or her mistake.

But remember, no one likes being yelled at.

A calm response is preferable here.

Other examples include LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, etc., whose signature moves involve trash talking the opponent.

Of course, they try to turn up the heat whenever possible and throw subtle jabs at the opposition just to provoke a strong response.

Unfortunately, this strategy works only occasionally since the audience enjoys seeing celebrities engage in petty bickering.

Athletes shouldn’t stoop to this low level of theatrics and drama.

Instead, they should stick to constructive criticism and give credit to their opponents.

Even if we disagree with the referee’s call, expressing ourselves respectfully and professionally will earn respect from others around us.

2. They are passionate and want to win the game

Sometimes, a player wants to show support toward his teammates or coach by verbally confronting the referee.

Others choose to confront the official because they think they’ve been wronged in anyway.

Regardless of the reason, the athlete feels strongly about winning the game and thinks the referee is hindering their progress.

Since the player believes they deserve compensation for their efforts, he decides to speak out even if he knows little about the rules involved.

Most players aren’t sure precisely what constitutes a technical foul, travel violation, offensive foul, personal misconduct, flagrant foul, etc., therefore they feel helpless and confused.

This leads to unnecessary friction and wasted energy.

Instead, they need to ask questions and seek clarification from the referee.

A common misconception among today’s youth is that calling the referee names is acceptable behavior.

While this attitude is prevalent due to social media exposure, it’s harmful to develop an unhealthy relationship with officials.

Many players mistakenly assume that using profanity or vulgar language will motivate them to achieve success.

That’s not true either.

People who swear excessively are usually insecure and lack self-confidence, resulting in poor performances.

Furthermore, swearing can alienate you from your fellow teammates and hinder your ability to work together harmoniously.

Therefore, cursing and name-calling won’t help improve your overall skill and speed.

It can cause serious distractions and interruptions during competitions, leading to lower productivity.

Also, athletes who constantly criticize officials tend to lose trust in their teammates and ultimately damage teamwork.

One way to deal with this challenge is to remain respectful and non-confrontational with officiating errors.

Focus on performing your job duties efficiently instead of blaming others for mistakes.

Good sportsmanship involves accepting positive outcomes as long as appropriate actions were taken.

3. To influence future refereeing decisions

why basketball players argue with the referees - influencing future referee calls

During breaks in action, players can strategize ahead of upcoming contests and discuss potential scenarios with coaching staff members.

During free throws or extra sessions following practice, players talk to reporters, broadcasters, or analysts about what went wrong during the last game and how they plan to prevent mistakes next time.

Sometimes, players say things like, “I’m going to contest that shot” or “That guy made a bad pass!”

By voicing complaints directly to the referees, they hope to influence their judgment moving forward.

The logic behind this is that if a referee didn’t make a favorable call on the previous play, a basketball athlete can argue their case in that moment so as to set the tone for the next decision that comes along, where the official is likely to be more lenient and award the arguer with a positive outcome.

Apparently, Lebron James has mastered this so-called technique of talking with referees to make sure that they consider a call in his team’s favor on future plays.

That’s also probably one of the reasons why people like watching basketball so much, because the action is so intense and exciting.

However, players should realize that the referee is unlikely to change their mind unless they receive new evidence to prove otherwise.

They cannot alter past events that happened prior.

So, avoid complaining unnecessarily and stay focused on producing results.

Don’t waste energy discussing issues beyond your control.

Your goal should be to compete successfully without controversy.

4. Players are egocentric and want the best

There are certainly situations in basketball that occur unexpectedly.

Perhaps the ball slips away from teammate, or there’s an injury preventing them from finishing the season.

There are countless factors affecting the final score of a particular contest.

Players can’t predict everything that goes wrong and blame others for failures.

Emotions run high and tempers flare up when unexpected setbacks occur.

Hence, they begin to question the validity of the outcome and feel cheated.

When faced with this dilemma, athletes often react irrationally and vociferously, partly due to the fact that they think highly of themselves and demand what is best for them as individuals.

Referees can find themselves in the crossfire as some players that play this game are rarely humble and think that they deserve things handed to them on a silver platter.

However, it’s crucial to recognize that ego isn’t necessarily linked to athletic talent.

Greatness comes from hard work and discipline.

Successful athletes understand that winning means overcoming obstacles and challenges along the way.

They refuse to dwell on defeat and move onto the next opportunity.

Coaches should encourage humility and patience and remind players of their achievements, thus helping them maintain perspective.

Examples of basketball players arguing with officials

There have been quite a number of players who have been happy to start a quarrel with the referee on the court.

From the greats like Lebron James to lesser known players like Rajon Rondo.

You can take a look at the footage below and see for yourself, as the video clip provides a compilation of basketball players in the NBA arguing with referees over the last couple of seasons:

Closing thoughts

Players’ personalities vary widely and not everyone responds positively to conflict, especially when emotions run high.

Some players thrive on competition and enjoy engaging in heated battles with opponents.

On the other hand, many athletes prefer avoiding confrontation by keeping their heads down, focusing solely on their jobs without making waves or drawing attention to themselves.

This second group tends to avoid emotional responses and instead rely heavily on strategic thinking and planning during every play.

However, most top performers in all fields need to learn how to handle conflicts in order to perform at peak levels consistently.

It’s important to understand why players respond negatively to perceived injustices rather than becoming overly upset about them.

In doing so, we’ll gain valuable insight into which types of traits make athletes behave in undesirable ways during matches.

We can then use our observations to help us become better teammates, competitors, leaders, and friends.

So, next time you watch your favorite NBA superstar get mad at a referee, remember that it probably wasn’t really worth it.

He was trying to protect himself from embarrassment and didn’t mean to offend anyone.

Just ignore him and carry on watching the game.

And remember that we should never place unreasonable demands upon referees or expect perfection from them.

Because after all, they’re human beings too!

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.