Crime and Punishment in the National Basketball Association
This chapter investigates the overlap between National Basketball Association (NBA) referees, the league’s on-court rule enforcers, and the impact of player violence and aggression on individual salary, team wins, and team revenue. The authors’ meta-analysis highlights emerging research on the role of referees in regulating the sport and describes systematic referee bias in connection with race, league profits, and social pressure in the literature. More narrowly, and in contrast to several high-profile media reports, the authors unearth little to no evidence of NBA referees being biased against specific players, coaches, or team owners. With personal fouls as a proxy for player-level aggression, the analysis finds that players who commit more fouls earn lower salaries and hurt their respective team’s chances of winning. Using the high-profile example of Shaquille O’Neal, the authors also demonstrate how O’Neal’s inability to make free throws had a detrimental impact on how many wins he helped produce for his team and a negative effect on his team’s revenue. Such results reveal the overlapping tension between the NBA’s player discipline protocol, efforts toward referee consistency, and certain marketing and public relation goals the league may have.