- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2009

David Stern is playing tough with the NBA referees. You could argue it is long past time.

The lack of consistent officiating in the NBA is the dynamic that never goes away.

It is the dynamic that drives coaches, players and fans ballistic.

Maybe now, finally, Stern wants to drive a stake through the heart of a union that let him and the NBA down in the Tim Donaghy scandal.

It comes with a risk.

As maddening as the officiating can be - and maddening is too soft a description whenever LeBron James is allowed to “crab-dribble” his way to the basket - it promises to become even more infuriating with the replacement referees.

These are the backups who ply their craft in the WNBA and NBA Development League, in venues where being out of position goes with the program.

It is one thing to use replacement referees in the preseason. It will be another to dump them on a public that pays big dollars to attend an NBA game.

That will cheapen a product that already has taken a hit in a struggling economy. That will cheapen a product that routinely fights the charge that its 82-game regular season lacks intensity and drama.

Despite the risk, Stern seems prepared to remain in stare-down mode with the referees, to leave them on the outside over what amounts to a pittance.

That pittance is a pretext for Stern to make corrections to a union that apparently is tone deaf to all the conspiracy theories that feed on the inconsistent officiating.

The NBA is the only professional sports entity that plays amid suspicion, that sometimes is seen as only incrementally more genuine than the staged antics of professional wrestling.

The Donaghy mess was the big gotcha moment for conspiracy theorists.

See, they said, we told you all along.

Yet if Stern truly was the master manipulator of events, as the conspiracy theorists like to insist, the NBA Finals would have featured the LeBron-Kobe Bryant showdown that so many believed was a done deal at the start of the playoffs.

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