Courtney Kirkland nearly went full Mutombo on Wednesday night. (Melissa Majchrzak/NBA/Getty Images)
Here's how Courtney Kirkland described the love of game and craft that has inspired him throughout his 13-year career as an NBA referee during a July 2011 interview with his hometown newspaper, the Flint, Mich., Journal: "This business is so different than any other business that I can think of, and I just have a passion for it. Just like an actor has a passion for what they do, or like an artist has for how they paint and the strokes they use, I have a passion for this."
Here, thanks to our friends at the Yahoo! Sports Minute, is Kirkland displaying that passion using one of the more, shall we say, interesting strokes in his artistic repertoire — racing in from the baseline, jumping in front of Kris Humphries and trying to block the Brooklyn Nets forward's free-throw attempt during the fourth quarter of the Nets' Wednesday night matchup with the Toronto Raptors:
OK: There is an explanation for this, albeit not a great one.
According to Nets blogger Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game, substitutes were about to check into the game following Humphries' first free throw, which gave the Nets an 81-68 lead with 7:41 left in the fourth quarter, and Kirkland wanted Humphries to hold off on firing until everybody was on the court and settled in their proper positions; the horn-triggered between-shots substitution period is a stoppage in play, and the refs had to officially call "game on" before Hump could continue. (This, of course, makes sense; without this rule, if Humphries had missed the second free throw, it could result in, say, the Raptors grabbing the rebound and hustling a lead pass off to just-checked-in guard Jose Calderon, who'd have a breakaway after essentially streaking out of the penalty box. Which could be neat, but also sounds chaotic and kind of cheap. Who needs more cherry picking?)
So, in theory, yes: Kirkland's desire to slow things down makes some sense. A quick re-read of the section on free throws in the NBA rule book doesn't seem to contain anything on "soaring in to swat any mid-substitution freebies," though; if anything, Kirkland or one his esteemed associates could have just waived off Humphries' second shot and called for him to retake it after everyone was set. This leaves us with three potential, possibly related explanations:
1. Kirkland's self-described passion for his art got the best of him in the moment and boiled over on the floor;
2. In that moment of unbridled passion, he forgot that he and all other referees are outfitted with loud whistles for just such an occasion;
Hey, referees read blogs, too. (Probably.)
Humphries proved a good sport in the incident, laughing off the attempted swat and making his second free throw. He finished 9 for 10 from the line on the night, contributing 11 points and two rebounds in nearly 18 minutes off the Brooklyn bench in the Nets' 94-88 road win over the struggling Raptors. Joe Johnson (23 points on 7-for-14 shooting and four assists) led the way for the Nets, who got 23 points and 20 rebounds from the now-starting combo of Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans to break a five-game losing streak.
The Raptors only dressed eight players on Wednesday night, with forward Amir Johnson serving a one-game suspension for his Monday night mouthguard toss, former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani out indefinitely after falling awkwardly on his wrist and elbow on Monday and several other players — starting point guard Kyle Lowry, forward Linas Kleiza, wings Landry Fields and Alan Anderson — all on the shelf with injuries.
Despite being shorthanded, though, Toronto led by 10 late in the first quarter and took an eight-point lead into halftime, but an 18-4 mid-third-quarter run sparked by some hot Brooklyn 3-point shooting turned the game in the Nets' favor. Third-year man Ed Davis was a bright spot for Toronto faithful, leading the way with 24 points on 11-for-13 shooting with 12 rebounds, three steals and an assist in nearly 45 minutes of playing time, but it wasn't enough to keep Toronto from falling to 4-19.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out Kirkland's hard work to contest elsewhere, thanks to hart4basketball.