- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES | Commissioner David Stern defended the referees with increasing vigor Thursday night in a press conference before the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics met in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center.

The league’s referees have been subjected to a series of troubling headlines after disgraced former ref Tim Donaghy’s claims surfaced in a letter dispatched to the sentencing court and his legal team went on the attack earlier this week.

Donaghy says the NBA manipulated Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Sacramento Kings. The Lakers defeated the Kings 106-102 with the help of 27 free throws in the fourth quarter. Donaghy also accused the referees of altering the 2005 playoff series between the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets.

“No, no, a thousand times no,” Stern said of his referees possibly committing illegal acts.

That Stern acted to employ damage control about 45 minutes before the tipoff of Game 4 proved noteworthy in itself. The last thing Stern wanted to do was distract from the NBA’s showcase event featuring two tradition-steeped antagonists. Yet he felt compelled to come to the aid of his referees and the NBA after Donaghy’s allegations showed staying power.

Stern said the league decided five years ago to record all the calls of the referees in every game in order to improve performance.

“They really are the most measured group of employees in the world,” he said. “That said, they get about 90 percent or so of the calls correct. Given the size of the players, the speed of the game, the position they find themselves, there are always games that have a higher percentage of correct calls than others.”

Stern said the 2002 Game 6 was not one of the finest for NBA referees.

“My memory recalls that was not one of the best refereed games,” he said.

Later he added, “We could go back and look at it. My guess is it won’t be pretty, but it won’t be dishonest, and it won’t be illegal. Of that, I assure you.”

Stern dismissed Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s idea to have the referees become an entity distinct from the NBA.

“I think that would not be a wise management decision,” he said. “I think it’s important to sit here and say to you that the accusations that we manipulate games, they’re false. We don’t. And if you’d like me to repeat it again, I will tell you that we don’t. And on behalf of my officials, I’d like to tell you that they don’t engage in the criminal conduct of which Mr. Donaghy has accused them.”

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