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Van Gundy: Yao's treatment a sticking point
(Houston Chronicle)
Updated: 2004-04-02 08:43

Jeff Van Gundy doesn't know why no one is listening to him. The inequitable officiating experienced by Yao Ming seems so obvious to him.

Minnesota Timberwolves' Wally Szczerbiak (10), of Spain, and Michael Olowokandi, right, of Nigeria, battle Houston Rockets' Yao Ming for a rebound during the fourth quarter Monday, March 29, 2004 in Houston. The Timberwolves beat the Rockets 94-88. [AP]
Van Gundy has talked about it numerous times -- directly to officials and through the media. But nothing is changing.

The problem becomes even more apparent when he watches film of the Lakers and Shaquille O'Neal, whom the Rockets will play tonight in Los Angeles. Van Gundy has also looked at the statistics and monitored how differently Yao and O'Neal are officiated.

In the Rockets' last game, Yao played 38 minutes and never went to the free-throw line. It was the seventh time this season and the 17th in Yao's career that he did not attempt a foul shot. In comparison, there have been only four times in O'Neal's career (801 games) that he has not attempted a free throw, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It's not just bad for Yao; it's bad for our organization," Van Gundy said. "We do not deserve to be penalized because he is 7-6 and has a wonderful attitude and respect toward officials. Again, I'm not begging, but it's impossible. As much as we go to him, it's impossible."

Yao avoids the topic as much as he can and didn't want to talk about it after Wednesday's practice. He usually avoids addressing it after games as well.

But Van Gundy is bringing the topic up more and more, especially since he doesn't see the trend changing.

Houston Rockets' Yao Ming, of China, reacts after being called with a foul against Milwaukee Bucks in the first half of Sunday, March 28, 2004, game in Milwaukee. [AP]
"It's inequity; it really is," he said. "Yao Ming does not get officiated correctly. Plain and simple, Milwaukee (on Sunday), three flops, three offensive fouls. Last game, no free throws. That doesn't spark outrage (from Yao), but if that was another center or another player, he'd be kicking the ball into the stands. It's a joke. It's really a joke."

In 73 games this season, Yao has averaged 5.6 free-throw attempts. O'Neal averages 10.6. While Van Gundy often uses O'Neal as a comparison to Yao as far as officiating, the Rockets' coach said neither player is getting to the line enough.

He has heard it said that O'Neal is the toughest player in the NBA to referee, but Van Gundy doesn't think that should be an excuse for bad calls.

"He's hard to officiate, but I feel it's like saying some team is hard to prepare for as a coach," he said. "We get paid for it. I don't know what that means. If it's so easy, all of us could do it. O'Neal deserves his free throws. Believe me, he deserves his free throws. Probably more. All I'm saying is it's impossible what is happening (to Yao).

"I don't know why it's happening. All I know is I'm right. I don't know the reasons. I don't know know the psychology. I just know I'm watching, he's getting fouled, he should be living on the line, and it's not happening."

Yao won't talk about it, and his teammates would rather avoid any discussions regarding the officials. They are trying to shake the image that they are whiners when it comes to the referees. But they did acknowledge noticing a difference in how calls are made around Yao.

"It's been happening like that for years," Maurice Taylor said. "The big dudes don't get the calls. I mean, they are harder to referee than anyone else in this league -- Yao and Shaq. You could really call a foul for them every time down the floor if you really wanted to. But that's not the way the game is called."

Steve Francis said it might take three or four more seasons before Yao starts getting more calls to go his way. But Van Gundy hopes to see a difference long before then. He wants to see a difference tonight against the Lakers. He wants to see a difference in the team's final nine regular-season games.

Van Gundy said in nearly every game he asks the officials to make "correct" calls. He doesn't badger them about it, and Yao rarely complains. Yao will sometimes throw his arms up in frustration or comment about a certain call. But his discussions with refs are rare and always brief.

"(Yao's) very easy to officiate, because no matter what you do, he's just going to walk to the other end," Van Gundy said. "He's not going to make a stand. He's not going to get a technical foul. He's not going to kick a ball in the stands. And I applaud him for that. But he's also being taken advantage of for his kindness and his respect, and he's not being given the respect back.


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