Can I be blunt? We might already be done with this Detroit- Chicago basketball playoff were it not for the referees. In both of the Detroit losses, controversial calls helped decide the finish: in Game 1, an offensive foul on Rick Mahorn with less than a minute to go; in Game 3, an offensive foul on Bill Laimbeer with less than a minute to go.

Not everyone saw those fouls. In fact, very few people that I know — besides the refs themselves — saw those fouls. I think there was a guy from New Jersey, and several Bulls fans, and Brent Musburger, who sees everything, and says “Marvelous. Aren’t these refs marvelous? What a marvelous game.”

Everyone else threw up their hands and said, “Those bleeping refs! What are we gonna do?”

And now we are in Game 6.

What are we gonna do? I’ll tell you what we ought to do. We ought to make sure — before we get all pumped up expecting a Pistons’ victory tonight and an entree to the promised land of the NBA finals — that the refs know the rules.

I propose a simple test.

Nothing hard. Just some basic questions to make sure the officials still operate under the same guidelines as the rest of basketball. For example, a sample question might read: 1. A defensive foul is: A. Physical contact initiated by the defender B. Also a team foul C. Called on Rick Mahorn whenever he breathes

I think that question speaks for itself. If the referee checks (C), we know something’s up.

Here is my suggestion: Tonight, before the game, we get all those refs in a little room, Earl Strom, Darrel Garretson, that guy, Jack, whatever his last name is, and the bald guy, and the guy with the big jaw, and the guy who looks like the lead actor on “F Troop” and the guy with the mustache.

Give ’em all pencils. Twenty minutes. Then blow the whistle. We’d find out once and for all if there was any underlying prejudice against the Pistons and their Bad Boys image. It’s easy. Just throw in a few trick questions. Like: 2. Define Offensive Foul A. When the player runs into the defender B. When the defender has position C. Bill Laimbeer scratching his nose

3. Michael Jordan is A. A guard for the Chicago Bulls B. God C. Never to be ejected from a game. Under penalty of death. (signed) Mr. Big at CBS

4. For a foul to be called on a Detroit Piston defender, a good referee must A. Use the same standards as other teams B. At least wait until the ball is in bounds C. Simply blow his whistle, anytime, anywhere

5. Chicago-Los Angeles is A. A common route for United Air Lines B. Headquarters for many major corporations C. The ideal ratings matchup. Do anything you can. Big bonus if successful.
(signed) Mr. Big at CBS.

6. Chuck Daly A. Is coach of the Detroit Pistons B. Screams an awful lot, doesn’t he? C. Really makes me mad, and I’m gonna get him

7. John Salley and Dennis Rodman are A. Players for the Detroit franchise B. A scream. C. Guilty. No matter what. Guilty.

8. A ratings point is A. A phrase in television B. Not pertinent to basketball C. Your paycheck, pal. Don’t you forget it. (signed) Mr. Big at CBS.

9. A referee’s sweetest reward is A. A well-called game B. Praise from his peers C. “TECHNICAL FOUL, NO. 40, DETROIT!”

10. Those Chicago Bulls satin jackets you were given before this series. . . . A. What jackets? B. Are very nice, thank you C. Should not be worn in public, at least until the season is over

11. The difference between a charge and a block is: A. Very slight B. A judgment call C. Depends on the score, doesn’t it?

12. When a player protests a foul, a good referee A. Listens, but sticks by his decision B. Warns the player to lower his voice C. Checks to see if it is Bill Laimbeer, then smiles and says to himself,
“What a jerk!”

13. A referee is paid A. Weekly B. With Chicago Bulls season tickets C. According to how many fouls he calls on Rick Mahorn. Go Bulls! (signed) Mr. Big at CBS.

There you have it. That ought to catch any bad ones. We, the public, have a right to know where these refs are coming from.

Of course, they are likely very fair, and would answer all the questions correctly. Then again, Chicago’s Michael Jordan, the league’s hottest attraction, is on the verge of elimination tonight. And if the game is decided by controversial foul calls, the fans in Detroit may want to administer the test to the refs once again. With one additional question:

What hotel are you staying at?

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