Are NBA Refs Refusing To Call Fouls On LeBron?

It’s a an accepted part of the NBA that star players are officiated differently than everyone else. Guys like LeBron, Wade, and Kobe just lower their shoulder and head to the bucket and 95% of the time a whistle’s going to bail them out whether they get fouled or not. But one thing that most don’t consider is that stars also get the benefit of the doubt on defense too.

LeBron James

(guess who the foul’s on?)

BULLS.COM’s Sam Smith has some startling numbers on how many fouls LeBron has been whistled for this year. James is a candidate for the NBA’s all-defensive team, which Smith says is largely because James is only being called for 1.72 fouls per game this year — shockingly low for a guy who is so active defensively. In fact, LeBron went through a five game stretch in March in which he was called for zero fouls. Not a single one in more than 180 minutes on the floor.

As you might expect, some think this is a tad bit shady. Although, should we really be that surprised considering the general quality of NBA officiating?

Smith notes in his story that Michael Jordan only averaged under two fouls per game twice — his last two years in the league with the Wizards. This year, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are both averaging well over two fouls per game. At a time when perimeter contact is as tightly called as ever, can it be possible that LeBron somehow fouls less then everyone else?

“It’s impossible,” said one team executive.

Well, there you go. Smith gets a little contradictory with himself, maintaining that the NBA officials are the best in sports (really?) but also admitting that LeBron might be getting a free pass:

We always joke about stars getting all the calls, and we heard plenty of this in Chicago in Michael Jordan’s era. Now, I’m not saying there’s some sort of conspiracy. But James may well be the most protected star we’ve ever seen.

Do the referees consciously protect James knowing he is perhaps the league’s top marketing figure and he is featured more than any player on the nightly sports highlights? I always doubt that knowing the integrity of the refereeing corps as a group and believe NBA officiating is the best in sports.

Still, we’ve never seen anything like this. Especially at a time when it is generally agreed with rules changes it is the most difficult time to defend on the perimeter without committing fouls.

Perhaps Smith is speaking of plays like this:

Sure, Richardson’s 360 attempt was dumb, but it’s obvious that LeBron got away with a major hack.

James hasn’t had more than four fouls called on him in a single game this year. Meanwhile, the league’s highest-profile rookie, Greg Oden, gets called for a foul every time he looks at an opposing player. It’s the NBA way.