The NBA is dominated by large, freakish athletes. Men like Kevin Durant, at nearly seven feet tall, run and jump and dribble with a level of ease that few can even comprehend.
We can’t really understand this in the real world. I’m 6’5″ and I’m often the tallest person in whatever room I enter. In the NBA, I’m just barely big enough to play the smallest position on the floor.
And for every tall person out there, there’s a guy who hates that man for his height. He’s a man who hasn’t quite hit the six-foot mark. He’s a man who, despite neither person’s ability to control how tall he’s grown, seethes at the larger man’s genetics.
He has what we call the Napoleon complex. And according to a new study, that Napoleon complex exists in the NBA.
Here’s the technical explanation: (Emphasis is mine)
Given the vast number of observations in a transparent environment, the interaction between players and referees in the National Basketball Association (NBA) provides a real-world laboratory that allows for observation and testing of implicit height-based biases (the so-called “Napoleon Complex”). Controlling for a plethora of referee-specific characteristics and including 4,463 regular season games from 2008 to 2012, we find that (i) more personal fouls are called when a relatively shorter three-person officiating crew is working and (ii) no more or fewer fouls are called when games involve relatively taller players. Such biases are probably not large enough to impact game outcomes but could affect gambling markets. Our findings support the conclusion that relatively shorter NBA referees officiate basketball games differently than their taller peers. The analysis spotlights an oft-suggested but rarely studied bias in a workplace where employees are heavily scrutinized and monitored.
The study reveals that shorter NBA referees act as if they had Napoleon Complex. They give considerably more fouls than those who are taller. However, the researchers do not think that such cognitive bias has significant influence on the game results, as it has direct impact on the number of the free throws only. In addition, no specific bias towards higher players was observed. This means, that teams are treated in the same manner, irrespective of their average height.
So basically: A shorter ref will hand out more fouls to taller players. Not because he wants to influence the game, but because he’s a small person and screw those tall jagoffs.
Is this really surprising, though? I can only imagine that NBA officials got into the ref game because they loved basketball but weren’t good… or tall… enough to make it to the big time. I don’t think these are just rules-and-regulations wonks who just like officiating things. These are basketball wonks who found this alternate route to making the NBA.
I wonder if the NBA will respond to this. I also wonder if it will lead to any changes. Will the NBA have to mix up officiating crews based on height? Will Vegas odds shift based on the height of the crews?
I have a hard time believing this will get any real official traction… but I wouldn’t be shocked if people latch onto this as another way to bash refs.
Those tiny, angry, bitter refs.