The popular adage “perception is reality” has been recycled in many forms over the years and attributed to many. Author Anais Nin may have stated the “perception philosophy” the best when she said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” This may be very true when the whole philosophy is applied to basketball officiating.

A valued mentor of mine has for years told his crew mates just before taking the floor, “Let’s call them like they occur, not as we see them.” For a long time I didn’t understand exactly what he meant by this statement. Then, taking the floor one cold Saturday night it finally dawned on me. He was saying that our perception of a play is our reality of the play. So, his point was to encourage us to make sure we have the right perception, and if our perception of the play is valid, our reality (our call) will be valid or authentic, true and correct.

Since that day I have been thinking a great deal about what goes into or makes up our perception. I have come to the conclusion that our perception is made up of three areas; understanding of the rules, philosophy, and our “look” or view or angle on the play. If our rules base for a particular play situation, say block-charge, is faulty, then our perception will be faulty. If we don’t understand that a defender may move to “maintain” legal guarding position, our perception will be flawed or invalid and we will have a greater probability of jacking up the call.

Additionally, if our philosophy of calling this play is not solid, then our perception will be at least somewhat flawed. It behooves us then to make sure that whatever philosophies, guidelines or acronyms we use to help us sort out a particular play have a solid foundation. One such philosophy may pertain to how we call a “bang-bang” or “50-50” block charge play. My friend Doran Gotschall calls these tough plays “tweeners.” They are so close they are “in between” legal and a foul. Many experienced officials have a philosophy or default setting for calling “tweeners.” My default setting on a block-charge “tweener” is that if the ball handler is not airborne, the default setting is a charge. If the ball handler is airborne, then the setting changes to a “block” due to the safety concerns for the airborne player. These default settings are for extremely tough, close, bang- bang plays. Not all plays are tough to call and many can be easily sorted out, but for tough “tweeners” it may be good to have a default setting to fall back on. These default settings color my perception of any tough block-charge play I see, so I hope they are grounded in sound basketball philosophy.

Maybe the biggest factor affecting “perception” and ultimately our reality is our view of the play. We always strive to have an “open” look. An open look is a 90 degree or “cross cut” look. It is wide open, seeing “through” the two players involved in the lay. A closed or invalid look is one where we are looking through bodies to see the action. It is a 180 or “stacked” look. Often we find ourselves in a “closed look” viewing numbers on backs of jerseys and looking at butts. Open looks, I believe, help us have a more valid perception and ultimately an authentic “reality” of the play at hand. Closed looks are more apt to give us a misperception and in the end a false reality resulting in a missed call.

We should strive to have the most valid perception possible of all the plays we officiate. If we are well grounded in the rules, have solid philosophies, and continually move to find the open look, we will have a much greater chance of having an authentic reality of the play. And that’s what we work for.

ray lutz

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