- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Tim Donaghy is possibly the least of the NBA’s credibility problem with the sports public.

Predictably enough, David Stern has dismissed Donaghy as a “rogue referee” who plied his dirty work with those outside the NBA’s circle of trust.

And that could be so, at least as far as betting on basketball is concerned.

But the stench that emanates from the NBA’s pool of referees is as strong as ever.

Too many calls that decide the outcome of a game do not pass the smell test. Too many calls go in favor of the home team. Too many calls go in the favor of the few and the celebrated, the cash cows who sell merchandise and put fannies in the seats.

If LeBron James collides into a role player near the basket, James is going to receive that call most of the time, even if he has gone out of his way to initiate contact against a stationary object.

That is not right, nor fair to those who have the temerity to make a good play on James.

Yet that is the star system of the NBA, and it perpetuates the negativity that afflicts it.

It feeds into the conspiracy theories. It feeds into the notion that Stern is standing behind a curtain in Manhattan and manipulating the outcome of just enough games to increase interest and revenue. It feeds into the sense that something just does not seem right with the officiating in all too many NBA games.

And none of these persistent suspicions have anything to do with Donaghy, the crooked ex-referee who received a 15-month prison term this week.

They were there long before Donaghy was pulled out from under his rock last summer. And they remain there still in the post-Donaghy NBA.

Donaghy sang some of that material to investigators, as he inevitably will do again in a tell-all book, which will be slammed by Stern and the NBA brass as the unreliable work of a convicted felon.

You cannot trust what is said or written by a convicted felon, which goes against America’s inclination to grant the fallen a second chance and ignores the possibility that what Donaghy has charged is accurate.

Donaghy revealed in a court filing during the NBA Finals in June that the league routinely encourages referees to call bogus fouls in order to manipulate results and discourages them from policing the star players with vigor.

Donaghy also charged that referees were ordered to call a Game 6 in a way that necessitated a Game 7 in 2002, a thinly veiled reference to the infamous Lakers-Kings series, the only one to go seven games in the playoffs that year.

Stern, to his credit, is attempting to address the credibility issues that plague the referees. He has revamped the system that oversees the referees, plus hired a former Army general to be the vice president of referee operations. But that is not enough.

Stern should make public the evaluations of all the referees. Or he should push for that. In the initial fallout of the Donaghy scandal last summer, Stern promised the NBA would be more open about its referees.

That has not happened yet, which is baffling on some level.

Players and coaches are forever held under a microscope, their tiniest flaws discussed in great detail. Yet referees, whose calls and non-calls impact a game as much as the coaches and players themselves, are seemingly above this process.

They undoubtedly endure an excruciating vetting process and undergo countless performance evaluations.

But the NBA does not release its findings to the media and public.

This allows the conspiracy theorists to make their fanciful claims and stokes the thinking that the NBA referees are less than noble.

Until Stern and the NBA put the referees before the media and public, the credibility gap will persist, and deservedly so.

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