Quick game update: We lost our first game by 1 and our second by about 20. I did not participate in either. My knee is not progressing as me or anyone had hoped it would, and I should be getting an MRI sometime this week.
On to the story of what happened today in practice. Because I have nothing to do at practice I get to do exciting tasks such as keeping score or tracking fouls. Generally I just stand there bored out of my mind and shoot during breaks. Today was a different story.
As we were starting up our end of practice scrimmages, coach told me to ref due to the fact that our assistant coach was not there to fulfill his usual duty. I knew it was going to be interesting, because if there is one thing our team is good at it is getting unreasonably mad at refs during practice. Insults have been hurled in multiple languages, balls have been kicked and feelings have been hurt.
I initially tried to refuse on the grounds that I could not run around but my coach insisted I give it a try. Not a good idea.
I was missing a lot due to the fact that I was standing in one spot the whole time. Part laziness, part cause I really didn’t want to run around on my leg. Even still, I thought I was doing a halfway decent job.
Yet, the trouble started almost immediately. People were not pleased with my calls, and the yelling, pleading and cold stares began to accumulate.
Most of the players would give me a head shake and a smile, move on to the next play and continue the game. As fate would have it the person who seemed to be most irritated with my refereeing was my old buddy Brian. You might remember him as the guy who stole my internet card. Clearly he was not going to get the benefit of the doubt on the close calls.
Time and again he would put his head down and drive, and time in again I would not call a foul. Granted, if it was an obvious hack I would call it, but in general I was not gonna reward his soft forays to the hoop. This was not even me being unreasonable or acting out against him. If you watched our games it seemed like a good chunk of our possessions would culminate in one of our big guys trying to unsuccessfully draw a foul. He should have thanked me for the preparation.
Instead, he peppered me with comments and glares: “I know you heard that.” “You’re gonna call that?!?” “He’s pushing off!” (Hey Brian, newsflash: I am not gonna catch every goddamn push off when I am one man standing at half court. Sorry I can’t consult video replay and give you 2 shots every time down court.)
The games came down to a rubber match after the teams split their first two contests. Tensions were running high. People were yelling at each other, not just me. The blue team (Brian was on the white team) staked an early lead.
Brian drove left, came back right, and attempted an off balance layup. Were there some people around him who might have made slight contact? Sure. Would any self respecting ref have called a foul, especially at a crucial time in the game? Doubtful. Was there any chance ever in a million bajillion years that I would give him the call? Hellllllll no!
This non-call (or “awesome refereeing,” as I would call it) sent him over the edge. His rage was visceral. He ran by me the next time downcourt. “You’re just going to let him throw his body into me!?” (First off yes. Yes I am. Deal with it. Second, I wish I had this play on video. No one was throwing their body anywhere. It was simply a poorly thought out drive and a tough shot. There was hardly any contact at all.) I returned his question with an expressionless silence. I’m sure this just served to make him more enraged.
About 30 seconds later the Blue team had a fast break opportunity. Now our coach always talks about fouling to prevent fast break layups if we are under the limit, so it was understandable that Brian wanted to take a foul. It was not understandable that he forcefully raised his hands, chased down the ball, and absolutely pummeled the ball handler.
Immediately everyone could see this was no normal foul. There was clearly intent to harm. He put some serious, concentrated force into the hit. And Tal, the recipient of this unnecessary hit, was in no mood to take this lying down. He gave Brian a second to walk away, and then hurled the ball as hard as he could and hit him in the head. Brian swiveled and charged. Our captain tried to step in and stop him, and he was viciously taken by the neck and thrown out of the way.
Brian quickly made his move for Tal, arm raised and fist balled, but some players and our coach were able to grab him before he could unleash a face shattering haymaker. The two fighters went their separate ways, with Brian delivering a final message as if he was some sort of mafia hitman. “Youse a fuckin fag! I owe you! Don’t let me catch you!” Tal just kinda stared at him. Maybe other people have experience this on their teams, but it was bizarre to see one teammate (with whom he is destined to spend countless hours with over the next several months) threaten another with such malice.
I don’t wanna say I am proud for not cow-tailing to Brian’s demands for fouls, thus inciting this outburst, but it is nice that I am now not the only one who has seen his darker side.
It all ended as quickly as it started. Tal had marks from where he was fouled, Brian probably had a sore head, and our captain got the worst of it. He had a cut on his neck stretching from ear to chin that required immediate taking care of. No one really knew what to say. Coach just told everyone to go do shooting drills. Man it just keeps getting worse for this coach.
Two of his americans get injured, he loses his first three games, he has to mediate the epic car heist showdown, and now his best active player has gone on a tirade and basically put a bounty on the head of a teammate. I’m positive this was not the type of early season he was hoping to have.
It all ended with Brian offering up a brief, probably coach-prompted, half-hearted apology. The whole thing was weird and morbidly entertaining. I don’t know if there will be any fallout from it, or if Tal and Brian have made up yet, but it definitely put the team on notice that this is a strange and volatile person.
One thing to complain about to finish up. I know I am a foreigner in someone elses country and should be learning the language, but once you find out I cannot speak Hebrew, please, for the love of god, stop speaking to me in Hebrew. This happens all the time.
Today I was at the grocery store trying to get help figuring out my store card, and the woman would say something in Hebrew, and I would stare or shrug my shoulders. She’d try again. More confusion on my part. Again she’d say something unintelligible, but this time with pointing! Thanks, now that you’ve pointed over there it all makes sense! Why didn’t you pick an arbitrary direction and point there earlier??
Does she think I am purposely not responding to her in Hebrew? Is there not one person in this supermarket who can answer my questions in English!? Thank god the person behind me in line was able to translate, and eventually everything got figured out. I really want to invent a little headset I can wear that translates a language into English when it is spoken to me, and then when I respond it spits out the native language of whatever place I am in. This would be coupled with my special glasses that translate written text into english so I could read the goddamn instructions on my purchases. God that would be so awesome. And lucrative. If these exist somewhere please let me know.