Not Even Near The Bottom Of The Barrel

If David Stern had his way, the sentencing of referee Tim Donaghy to 15 months in prison today would be the end of the talk surrounding suspicion of every NBA official for damn near the better part of the regular season and all of the playoffs.

Trouble is, that ain’t happening.

From the calls Donaghy admitted making to another referee to the discussion that everyone assumed was about the fifth game of the Lakers-Kings series from 2002, there has been more grist boiling under the surface than Stern (or anyone at ESPN or any other telecast partner) would particularly care to acknowledge. It doesn’t solve the problem of a lack of faith in fair officiating in the NBA — especially after the Spurs-Lakers series. And while that had nothing to with Donaghy, it has everything to do with the lack of public transparency the NBA has regarding its officiating.

It has to do with officiating form the likes of Joe Crawford — someone who got in a tiff with Spurs forward Tim Duncan for what appeared to be no apparent reason, and tossed him out the game, got suspended, and was then allowed to come back and officiate that Lakers-Spurs game. (I actually defended that crucial no-call on the shot Brent Barry took, or at least said that if a foul was called on Derek Fisher, it should have been a two-shot foul, not a three-shot one.)

Donaghy’s sentencing doesn’t solve those problems. Maybe he is a rogue actor, ast he league claims, but even if he is, it doesn’t mean the Associations officiating image is clean. If people are evaluating how refs call games for home and away teams regularly to see how that tips the scales, it’s a major issue.

Donaghy may be out of jail in a year. The NBA’s zebra issues will last long after he’s out of the clink and faded out of the public eye.

Photo: AP/Louis Lanzano

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Tim Donaghy Is Back Again

The former referee that David Stern would prefer be labeled a “rogue official” is back once again, and this time slinging a few accusations that the NBA was playing favorites in playoff series over the years, lending even more credence to every conspiracy theory and belief in home cooking-style officiating.

As deduced by ESPN, the series in question would be the 2002 Kings-Lakers conference finals (the Game 6 that had Kings fans up in arms) and a 2006 playoff series between the Rockets and the Mavs (the one where Jeff Van Gundy got out of sorts over targeting of Yao Ming.) Thankfully, the Four Letter links to the PDF files of the letter written by Donaghy’s lawyer as well as the NBA’s claim for $1 million dollars in restitution, which I presume is what spurred this letter.

Stern ought to, no, HAS to reveal every single bit of the NBA’s investigation into this matter right now. This is paramount to the sanctity of the league. Any and all accusations of coordination between the league and officials would be the equivalent of 10,000 Malices at the Palace if discovered to have a grain of truth to them. This perception becomes ten times as dangerous if it is actually rooted in reality, and that’s not something we ought to have in one of the big professional sports leagues.

As for the implications regarding Donaghy’s credibility: I understand and acknowledge them freely, but what always gets me in these situations of “singing” witnesses is the basic question of why someone would risk further punishment of perjury if what he or she tells federal authorities turns out to be complete bunk. Donaghy may well be slinging mud, but the NBA needs to be able to answer forcefully with proof that it does not manipulate outcomes.

So, regardless of whether Donaghy’s legal team wins its request to open the NBA’s investigation into the rogue official, it ought to release all of it — freely, on its own, to the media, and for all to judge.

There is really no other choice that can save face.