By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NBA officiating has become too strict and is robbing the game of its physicality, helping less skilled players succeed while disrupting the flow of contests, five-time champion Kobe Bryant said on Wednesday.
Rule changes like the outlawing in 2004 of hand checking, where a defender uses his hands to control the movement of the player with the ball, had led to a less exciting game too often interrupted by a referee's whistle, said Bryant.
"It's more enjoyable if there's a certain level of physicality," the 39-year-old Bryant, who retired in 2016 after 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, told reporters.
"It's more competitive, you get to see players go mano-a-mano a little bit as opposed to, 'oh my god, he put a hand on me, it's a foul'. That's got to go," he said.
"I feel like European basketball is more physical than the NBA is right now."
He said he would like to see hand checking and other more physical forms of defense reintroduced so players would have to work harder for open shots.
"It challenges players to improve their skill level because now if you can hand check and things like that, you really must be fundamentally sound," he said.
"You must be able to handle the ball to be able to get past defenders."
The elimination of hand checking empowered smaller players and has led to a shift where the point guard, as opposed to the towering center standing near the basket, is frequently the most important player.
Bryant's comments came on the last day of an NBA regular season where tensions between players and referees have been at an all-time high, with many of the league's top athletes criticizing officials for being too involved.
Bryant said he understood that referees had a difficult job but said the league would improve if it selected and trained good people.
"You have younger officials coming in. Some want to do the work, some don't want to do the work. It's just like anything else," he said.
"When officials are doing their job at the highest level, you never mention their name once in a broadcast," he said.
"That should be every official's goal."
The NBA playoffs tip off on April 14.
(Editing by Ian Ransom)