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NBA makes points of emphasis memos to refs public

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NEW YORK >> LeBron James powers toward the rim, 260 pounds of speed and strength that’s nearly impossible to stop.

Roy Hibbert tries anyway.

The Indiana Pacers center jumps straight up to meet James in the air, and their bodies collide in front of the basket as the shot is missed.

Foul or not? And if so, on whom?

“It’s a hard play. It’s a bang-bang play. There’s a lot of force involved when these two bodies meet,” said Mike Bantom, the NBA’s executive vice president of referee operations.

But the league knows how it should be called by its officials, and now it’s providing more information for fans and media, too.

The league sent a memo about verticality plays to referees and team personnel on Monday, and for the first time also posted it online at along with the five other points of emphasis memos that were previously distributed this season.

“We’ve seen some stuff that wasn’t exactly right that’s been printed about certain things, so our feeling was that by sending it out to the media that maybe we’ll help educate in some cases, but also so everybody can see exactly what we’re doing,” president of basketball operations Rod Thorn said.

“We don’t want anybody to think, ‘What the heck are these guys doing, or what are they telling people to do’ like it’s some secret society up here. It isn’t.”

It’s become even less secret since Adam Silver took over as commissioner on Feb. 1, vowing to make the league more transparent in its operations.

Team executives and owners began receiving the literature this season that had only been sent to referees, an initiative that drew praise from Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who was long critical of the league’s officiating policies. Previous memos this season included areas such as delay of game, illegal screens, and contact on the perimeter, and featured video examples to help explain what was allowable and what would lead to a foul.

The verticality reminder was timely, since it came up again last week when Indiana beat Miami.

Hibbert is perhaps the best in the league at jumping straight up and holding his space when he steps in to help, which is legal. James seemed intent on testing him, as he was in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

But many other players jump a little sideways, or bring an arm downward in an attempt to block the shot rather than holding them upward, so the league felt the need to clarify that those would lead to a foul on the defender.

“Players are smart and as things begin to get called one way, they’ll start to tweak it another way,” Bantom said.

“Players and teams started doing more of this and we decided we had to come up with a process to how we were going to officiate it.”

The league evaluates every play in every game, and allows teams to send tape of questionable calls for review, and all of those help to create the instructional videos. Bantom said he believes new memos could be sent every few weeks.

The NBA began trying to educate fans further a few years ago with a video rulebook on, and believes posting the points of emphasis memos is another useful step. The rise of social media comes with a rise of questioning calls, and perhaps there will be less of that with more awareness of the league’s view.

“If people understand a little bit more about what these guys are trying to do, what we’re telling them to do,” Thorn said, “then to us it can only help.”

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