Any long-time fan who has watched even one National Basketball Association game this year can't help but notice the difference in the way the sport is being officiated. With all 29 regular NBA referees on strike for higher wages and more benefits, the substitute officials have caused problems for most veteran players by going strictly by the book. Maybe that's the way it should be in the NBA, only it has never been that way in the past.
The fact is the game's regular referees, with the encouragement of their superiors, have always made slight allowances for star players and their idiosyncracies. Management has permitted this because, in its opinion, that flexibility makes for a better game. For example, those players with established offensive reputations are frequently allowed to shuffle their feet or push off just a little when they are shooting against the man who is guarding them. And those with equally large defensive reputations are sometimes allowed to hand-check or hold opponents if the infraction isn't too obvious.
What has made things especially tough for substitute officials are the judgment situations that are not covered in the NBA rule book. That is why so many stars are complaining that they can't play their normal game, and why technical fouls have increased alarmingly. It also explains why there have been so many fights between opponents; many of whom have been trying to get away with a lot of illegal physical hammering inside that veteran referees would spot quickly and stop immediately.
Although the stormy weather generated by most labor-management disputes can sometimes change overnight, the general forecast for a settlement between the NBA and its referees is for a long period of turbulence. To give you an idea of the problem, one veteran NBA official made $76,922 last season - the combined total of his base salary ($65,000) and his playoff compensation ($11,922). For the 1983-84 season, the NBA is willing to boost the comparable figure close to $ 89,000. However, the referees' union thinks that figure should be closer to $112 ,000, and that is where things stand at the moment. If The Moon Comes Over the Mountain
The National Football League is probably going to have a new superstar next season, courtesy of the Canadian Football League. That would be quarterback Warren Moon of the Edmonton Eskimos who becomes a free agent when his contract expires on March 1. Moon, who played his college football at the University of Washington and was the Most Valuable Player in the 1978 Rose Bowl, is a highly skilled passer who can throw from the pocket or on the run. Warren, who is perhaps the chief reason that the Eskimos have won five consecutive Gray Cup championships (the equivalent of our Super Bowl) is still only 26 years old. Last year Moon threw for an even 5,000 yards in 16 games, including 36 touchdowns. And while the Canadian field is wider and the defenses not nearly as sophisticated as those in the NFL, figures like that are still hard to ignore. Since most American franchises are in a financial position where they can pay almost anything they want to get a proven quarterback, it isn't likely that Warren will remain in Canada. But Moon reportedly has told friends that he'll sign only with a team he thinks has a chance for a title. That would seem to eliminate the Houston Oilers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both of whom have been scouting him all season.
* Cornerback Ken Riley of the Cincinnati Bengals, a fifth-round pick out of Florida A&M in 1969, has raised his career total of interceptions to 61 this season - the most among active NFL players and fourth highest in league history. The only players ahead of Riley in the NFL record book are: Paul Krause (81); Emlen Tunnell (70); and Dick (Night Train) Lane (68). Ken says the toughest receiver he had to defend against was Paul Warfield, who starred for many years for the Cleveland Browns and the Miami Dolphins. ''When Warfield reached for the football, he always had perfect timing.''
* This year, including 1982 rookies who never played a down because of injuries, plus Canadian imports, the National Football League started the season with 266 so-called first-year players. Probably the three most impressive to date have been running backs Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams and Curt Warner of the Seattle Seahawks, and quarterback Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins , although not necessarily in that order. Series shares set record; Rose to Angels?
If at $30 apiece you think you paid too much for 1983 World Series tickets, you probably did, but your generosity helped the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies set a record for a World Series payoff. Twenty-nine members of the winning Orioles received $65,487.70 each for their trouble, or about 20 percent more than the 1982 world champion St. Louis Cardinals. The same number of Phillies got checks for $44,473.31 - just another case of whatever today's sports traffic will bear. . . The California Angels reportedly are willing to give free agent Pete Rose a two-year contract for close to million a season provided the final third of his salary each season is determined by incentive clauses. Where would the Angels play Rose, who has been primarily a first baseman in Philadelphia during the last five years? Why, in right field, where he did spend some time for the Phillies last season. And of course in the American League with its designated hitter rule he could also be in the batting order at least some of the time without playing anywhere in the field. . . Unless the National Hockey League Montreal Canadiens, who are off to their worst start in more than 20 years, improve quickly, head coach Bob Berry may be asked to take a walk. Berry already survived one crisis last summer when, within a period of three weeks, he was fired and then rehired by Montreal as though nothing had happened. . . .
Phillip Nadoo of the Kenyan Olympic Association says his country will hold its Olympic marathon trial in Los Angeles on Feb. 19. Mexico has the same idea but hasn't made a decision yet. . . Ron Meyer, who enjoyed great success as a college coach at Southern Methodist University and now has the New England Patriots on the right side of the ledger, on the difference between the college game and the NFL: ''I've always considered myself an excellent college recruiter but I doubt if I could have gotten many kids to play in Foxboro (assuming Foxboro had a college) because of the cold weather. That's the beauty of a pro coaching job - almost everybody has to play with the team that drafted them. You win in college because you recruit the best athletes. Then you coach. But in the pros you have to coach first because that's the way the league is set up.''