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After celebrating one reunion with Deandre Ayton Tuesday night, the Phoenix Suns were all set for a less polarizing one on Wednesday, with Chris Paul playing his first game back in the Valley since being traded over the summer.
The video tribute was all set, the fans were ready to show their appreciation for his three unforgettable seasons in Phoenix, and Paul and Devin Booker spent the majority of the first half going at each other, jawing with big smiles on their faces as brothers/cutthroat competitors tend to do.
But that story became secondary with 23 seconds left in the second quarter, and it left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths.
As a journalist, one guiding principle that this writer tries to abide by is avoiding the first person. It’s generally unprofessional, too personal and can even make the story about the writer, rather than the subjects themselves. But because one man whose name we shouldn’t even know hijacked Wednesday’s Suns-Warriors game, I’m going to take a page out of Scott Foster’s book and make it about me for a minute.
Coming off Ayton’s return, Paul’s reunion with the fanbase should’ve been more straightforward. It was his night to enjoy a warm reception and briefly reflect on the memories of an NBA Finals run, a 64-win season and his camaraderie with Devin Booker, Monty Williams, Mikal Bridges and so many others. Even in just three years, he cemented himself as one of the most impactful Suns of all time.
But instead of being able to write another in-depth story reporting on Chris Paul’s return, his thoughts on his time in Phoenix or his reaction to his reception, I have to write about the story of the night, which is Scott Foster’s outrageous and unchecked ego.
Instead of being able to write something more insightful, with comments about Paul’s Suns tenure from Devin Booker, Steve Kerr and Frank Vogel, I’m having to waste my time and yours explaining the obvious to a league that won’t fire its most incompetent referee for God only knows what reason.
Because the sad truth is, as much as I would prefer to write about some happy reunion, or even a fun, competitive game between former teammates, Scott Foster ruined that with two pathetic blows of his whistle.
As soon as he ejected Paul during his first game back in Phoenix, the hopes that anybody would want to read that piece went out the window. The NBA feeds on drama, and Foster provided it when he hit CP3 with back-to-back technicals just before halftime.
The sequence that ended Chris Paul’s night
When Paul was whistled for a foul on Kevin Durant, the Point God argued with Foster about it. The two seemed to be having a heated dialogue, but when Paul wouldn’t back down, he got hit with his first tech.
But six seconds later, after Paul had mostly backed off, one last comment in response to whatever Foster was saying was apparently enough to earn a second tech.
From there, all hell broke loose. It doesn’t take a lip reading expert to see Paul calling Foster a bitch.
“I didn’t think Chris deserved to be ejected,” Kerr said. “The first tech? Absolutely. But I thought the second one was unnecessary. Everybody gets frustrated out there, but that’s up to the official.”
Unfortunately, the official in question has a notoriously short fuse — especially when it comes to a certain player that everyone around the league knows Foster has a history with.
“I had seen one [tech] coming,” Booker said. “I was standing right there. I couldn’t really hear the back and forth, but obviously, there’s a history there, and it escalated quick.”
“I didn’t see it coming, but after I looked up and they was talking for a little bit longer, I kind of felt like it wasn’t a…warm exchange,” Durant smirked. “You know the history that him and Scott has, so it was definitely a weird ending to the half.”
Paul was ejected, Kerr got an additional tech for berating Foster over his inability to read a room, and once again, this particular official had to feed his Napoleon complex.
“If you are going to pop your shit, don’t use a tech to get your point across,” Paul said. “We have these conversations all of the time. There are some officials who will talk back to you, which sometimes it’s healthy. It’s an intense game….But he’s got power because he can call a tech.”
Stephen Curry felt the same way about the power imbalance of that type of exchange.
“I do not like and appreciate – I know there is history and all of that – when both the player and the referee engage in conversation; that has to kind of stay there,” Curry said. “I told Scott that after he ejected him. There are certain situations that I know players overstep, and that happens a lot. There are times where you know you have to back off.
“When both are engaging, I do not like that. That is the part that messed with me the most watching it. Two guys are talking and speaking their truths, let’s just play basketball. You just take it to the next level where you have to win the argument in that situation.”
After the initial adrenaline and shock-value entertainment had passed, the second half just felt like a letdown by comparison.
A personal vendetta had robbed Paul of the ability to finish out his first game back in Phoenix, deprived the fans their opportunity to watch Booker and CP3 continue their smack-talking duel, and ultimately turned what could’ve been a fun game into a very weird, clunky finish.
And make no mistake about it: The bad blood between Paul and Foster is extremely personal, and regardless of one’s opinions on who was in the wrong Wednesday night, it goes well beyond this lone incident.
The history between Chris Paul and Scott Foster
“We had a situation some years ago, and it’s personal,” Paul confirmed after the game. “The league knows, everybody knows, there’s been a meeting and all that. It’s just a situation with my son. I’m okay with a ref talking, saying whatever, just don’t use a tech to get your point across.”
Paul wouldn’t elaborate on the situation with his son, aside from saying it happened during his time with the LA Clippers, and that he had a meeting with his father, Foster and former Clippers coach Doc Rivers. Paul also met with the league about Foster back in 2018 as a member of the Houston Rockets.
Chris Paul isn’t lying about everyone knowing their history either. Josh Okogie said that after he saw Foster’s first tech, he knew a second one was coming. Booker gave a simple “yeah” before laughing when asked whether he could sense the extra tension between the two.
“Yeah, ’cause I’ve seen it closely too,” Booker explained. “This was long before Chris was in Phoenix, so that’s some history that they might have to settle between themselves one day, when they’re both retired.”
The fact that a sentence like that is even being uttered about a prominent player in the league — one of the greatest to ever do it, no less — and an official who’s supposed to be objective is unconscionable. It simply shouldn’t happen.
How on earth can a referee be viewed as unbiased when all the evidence and history points to him having a massive problem with a particular player?
The league will undoubtedly point to Foster’s track record (not made available to the public) and his extensive resume, which included 29 seasons, 226 playoff games and 23 NBA Finals before last year’s postseason.
But allowing that to overshadow his broad-daylight beef with Chris Paul is downright shameful. Before the Suns beat the Clippers in Game 2 of their first-round matchup in last year’s playoffs, Paul’s teams had lost 13 consecutive postseason games that were officiated by Scott Foster. According to ESPN, dating back to 2008, his teams went 3-17 in playoff games that Foster officiated.
And that’s ignoring the many, many times Paul has publicly complained about Foster’s personal umbrage with him. Aside from the two meetings mentioned above, Paul has had numerous incidents where he’s vocalized his problems with Foster.
In 2018, he used “Scott Foster at his finest” to describe how he got a technical foul, ribbing that “he’s the man they pay to see.” His former teammate James Harden went to say that Foster shouldn’t officiate Rockets games because of his clear bias against Paul.
In 2020, after a Game 7 loss with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul blasted Foster again. And the following postseason, after a Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, this time as a member of the Phoenix Suns, all he had to repeat was “11 in a row” to denote his playoff losing streak in games where Foster was officiating.
The NBA needs to address its Scott Foster problem
Even if Foster’s obvious disdain for Chris Paul wasn’t problematic enough, his friendship with Tim Donaghy remains deeply troubling.
He isn’t well-liked or well-respected by the league’s players either, since 25.4 percent of 108 players polled in an anonymous survey by The Athletic named him as the NBA’s worst official. For reference, the next three closest officials listed in that poll didn’t combine for a percentage that high.
For some inexplicable reason, the NBA continues to protect a prima donna ref who makes games about him, openly feuds with long-tenured, star players, and bogs down games like Wednesday, which featured 81 free throws, four technical fouls, an ejection and a two-hour and 45-minute runtime.
Is that a product the NBA can truly be proud of?
The fact that we even know Scott Foster’s name at all is a failure on the part of the league and their officials. In a perfect world, the best referees would be virtually invisible, so good at their jobs and unbiased in their judgment calls that even the most irrational fans couldn’t complain too much.
That’s obviously unrealistic, but there’s a reason Booker and Durant both try to avoid getting into it with officials when they can help it.
“I respect their job, first off,” Durant said. “I know how tough it is. I know that it’s a high-intensity game for us players, and a lot of times, they could call techs and they tell us to calm down a bit. So I respect that, but I try to stay out their way, to be honest.”
“As much as you can keep the refs out of the game, the better,” Booker agreed. “People are here to see the highest competitors at the highest level, and they’re obviously doing their job, but — I’m saying it like I’m a master at it, but I get caught up in it too. It’s an emotional game, and things happen.”
That’s exactly the point. Things inevitably happen when you take ultra-competitive, uber-athletic players, pit them against each other in high-stakes games, and expect a third party to make the right calls. Refs aren’t perfect, nor is that a fair expectation.
But in the heat of the moment, there needs to be some leeway between the players that people are paying to see and the officials trying to keep things under control. Players are publicly fined for criticizing NBA officiating and punished for bad behavior on or off the court. Officials are apparently held to some sort of accountability, but it’s all private and never subject to public scrutiny.
To that end, an egomaniac with a grudge like Scott Foster has no place officiating professional basketball. It’s a clear conflict of interest, a stain on the integrity of the game itself and a major bummer on nights like Wednesday, when the Thanksgiving article you could have been reading this morning was supposed to be about Chris Paul rather than the guy who ejected him.
And until the NBA pulls its head out of its ass, Scott Foster will continue to be a persistent, pervading center of attention.
“I’ve got to do a better job at staying there for my teammates, but it is what it is,” Paul lamented. “I’ll probably see [Foster] in a Game 7 sometime soon.”
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