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A Taxonomy of NBA Foul Call Reactions

From The Martyr to The Sarcastic Supporter, breaking down the most entertaining ways that NBA players respond to a referee’s whistle

Marcian Gortat yelling at a referee Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Whenever my youngest son, a 4-year-old hurricane of knives and dirt, asks me for something, I know that telling him “no” is going to elicit one of four responses. I know he’s either going to:

A. Accept the answer. This one is the rarest of the responses. It probably happens, say, once every 10,000 tries. It happens so infrequently that if I say no and he just says, “OK,” and then walks away, I assume that he has some sort of amnesia.

B. Protest the answer silently. This mostly just involves him staring at me for a moment, silently calculating to himself whether it’d be worth his time to stab me in the neck with a fork. (I am happy to tell you that thus far I have remained stab-wound-free, but there was a time that he responded by throwing a bouncy ball at the back of my head while I sat on the couch, which was an especially unpleasant way to find out that he was upset.)

C. Protest the answer vocally. This one happens the most. He’ll ask a thing, I’ll say no, and then he’ll just start talking shit. He tells me that I’m not his best friend, and that he loves only his mama, and that nobody will ever be nice to me. My favorite one was when he asked me for 10 Oreos, I countered with two Oreos, and his response was, “I don’t want two, I want 10, and guess what? Your head is your butt and your butt is your head.” It’s a funny thing to read now, and I definitely don’t hate telling that story, but I was really shook at the time when he said it.

D. Protest the answer with some sort of gesture. He has three go-to moves. His first one is slicing a big X in the air with his index finger. (This is basically his way of saying, “Fuck you.”) His second one is making a tiny gun out of his tiny hand and aiming it at whoever he’s mad at (though he’s yet to figure out how to pretend shoot it, which I think is hilarious). And then his third one—and this one is my favorite of the bunch—is he super-quick shoots a middle finger at you. (This is everyone’s way of saying, “Fuck you.”) You know how you flick a thing with your index finger? It’s like that, except he’s using his middle finger. And the best part is that he makes sure that you see it. (He usually says your name, and then when you look at him he fires away.) I should probably not like this one, but, I mean, it’s funny to me literally every time he does it, so I just don’t even bother with telling him not to.

The reason that I’m thinking about this stuff is because the reactions that happen after someone says something or does something that you disagree with or don’t like are entertaining. If we flip it into a basketball item, probably the best version of it is when someone gets called for a foul or a technical foul and we all get just a few seconds of the person reacting without thinking about the reaction that’s coming out of them. Skipping past the two most commonly utilized versions of the reaction (The Disbeliever, which is when a player simply C-A-N-N-O-T believe he was called for a foul; The Intimidating Starer, which nobody has ever done as well as Rasheed Wallace), the five most enjoyable categories are:

The Martyr. This is the one when the person gets called for the foul and rather than argue it, he just raises his hand into the air so as to signal to everyone that, “Yes, I am the one who committed this egregious error.” Two things here: First, I really like when a player does this after an especially hard foul, like when Kendrick Perkins tried to take Joakim Noah’s head off his shoulders in the GIF above. It’s like a serial killer marking his victim. Second, probably my most entertaining thought is thinking about NBA players doing it in non-basketball situations where they’ve messed up, like maybe if the player is a new dad and his baby accidentally slips out of his hands and he slowly raises his hand in the air, or maybe he’s cheating on his girl and she walks in and catches him in the act and he climbs out of bed and puts his hand in the air.

The Sprinter. You get called for a foul. You can’t believe you got called for a foul. And so rather than stick around, you just sprint the fuck away from the scene. Kyle Lowry is the current league champion, mostly on account of the time he got called for a (very bad) offensive foul near the end of a Raptors-Kings game and then, in response, got up and sprinted all the way to the locker room.

The Tattletale. A good example of this one happened during a Grizzlies-Warriors game in 2014. Mike Conley took about 35 steps from half court to the rim for a big late-game layup, no travel was called, and so some of the Warriors started making a fuss about it (as they should have). For one reason or another, perhaps because he has great arms or maybe because he is so good at making the You Gotta Be Fucking Kidding Me face, Andre Iguodala got called for a technical foul for showing up the ref. He was astonished and, same as in the movies when they threaten to charge someone who’s innocent, he just started telling on everyone.

First he tries to tell on the ref, then he tries to tell on Mike Conley, then he tries to tell on the ref again, and all of that happened in just a few seconds. It was a very high Tattletales Per Second Rating (TPSR is easily one of my favorite advanced analytics).

The Comedian. The one in the GIF here happened when Kevin Garnett, frustrated with what he felt were an unfair number of non-calls going against the Celtics, started letting the referees know about it after Jermaine O’Neal, who was also a Celtic because basically everyone has been a Celtic at some point, was called for a ticky-tack foul. Garnett got hit with a technical foul, then got hit with a second technical shortly thereafter, earning an automatic ejection. (It was a preseason game, which is an especially Kevin Garnett–y thing.) The Comedian is a top-level move to pull because it is so, so, so infuriating when you’re trying to be serious and the other person in the conversation is just laughing at you. It’s legitimately worse than when the other person is just yelling back at you. (Kevin Garnett is obviously great at this move. Were we forced to choose a Best At It, though, I think I might go with Kevin Love, who one time smiled so thoroughly following a missed call that I thought his entire skull was going to slip right out of his mouth.) (Also: Tim Duncan was so good at The Comedian that one time he got kicked out of a game WHILE HE WAS ON THE BENCH for doing it so well.)

The Sarcastic Supporter. This is the one when a player gets called for a foul (or, in the case of the example I’m going to list, a technical foul), and rather than accept blame or run away or tell on other people or laugh at you, he very sarcastically agrees with you. More often than not, it comes in the form of a player simply clapping and smiling after he’s been called for a foul, but every few years we see a truly special, truly outstanding, truly all-caps SARCASTIC Sarcastic Supporter, like the time that Larry Sanders went on a sarcasm killing spree after getting ejected from a Bucks-Wizards game. Watch him here:

He goes ref by ref, delivering each of them a big and beautiful thumbs-up, and I want you to notice how he uses both his left and his right hand while doing so, because elite sarcasm is ambidextrous. Also, notice how he performs an entire 360, which should not go unappreciated. (There are times when I won’t even up look up from my phone when someone is talking to me, and Larry is for real twirling around and around just to make sure that everyone gets what he’s trying to send them, which, namely, is a big LOL FUCK YOU.) And then also notice that, as a final piece, he tees up the referees as he’s walking away from them, which is just so great and so much fun. The whole scene was a master class in this particular subgenre, really.

I miss basketball so much.