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It may come down to three rather anonymous men - who even combined make a fraction of the salaries of the NBA's greatest stars - to determine who wins what has been a terrific Western Conference final. How those three men, who toot the whistles to rule what is and isn't a foul, see the game will either benefit the behemoth Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers or the ever-chagrined Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings. The beneficiary of the referees' calls will likely win this evening's seventh and deciding game.
Doug Smith, Toronto Star, June 2, 2002
Thanks to Tim Donaghy, old wounds have been reopened.
Already game six of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, the one where the Lakers shot 20 free throws in the fourth and barely won, had been looked back upon as one of the most poorly officiated games in recent memory.
But now, as Donaghy keeps dropping more bombs then Reggie Miller in the mid 90s, the NBA is facing a major image problem. Did the NBA conspire to rig a series, to get a higher market team into the NBA Finals? Remember, this is a league where people joke about how the lottery is fixed.
For years, the popular perception -- primarily motivated by what fans have seen with their own eyes -- has been that the NBA manipulates its drama through its on-court vessel, the referees. It makes sense: The refs absolutely control a game's outcome. Just look at, say, Game 6 of the 2002 West finals between the Lakers and Kings, which has long been a target for conspiracy theorists... Down 3-2, the Lakers won Game 6 after scoring 16 of their last 18 points from the line, then dramatically went on to win Game 7.
Dan Shanoff, The Sporting News, Jun 11, 2008
NBA Commissoner David Stern called it the desperate act of a convicted felon. And he’s got a point – Donaghy is a convicted felon now, and anything he says should be taken with more then a grain of salt. He added that the NBA has talked to the US Congress about the Donaghy investigation.
That's not good enough. It needs to be addressed now. Stern needs to empower an independent panel to investigate referees and their relationship with the league in much the same way Major League Baseball conducted an independent investigation into steroid use. Stern told us the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI had thoroughly investigated all of Donaghy's claims. Yet, Bob Delaney, one of the three officials who worked the infamous Lakers-Kings Game 6 in 2002, told ESPN he had not been questioned. So, how thorough could the investigation have been?
Michael Wilbon, The Washington Post, June 12, 2008
His timing on this couldn’t have been a mistake. Game three of a hotly anticipated NBA Finals where the officiating has been, at times, less then stellar. Where nothing much otherwise is happening in the sports world, so the NBA gets it’s moment in the spotlight.
In many ways, it began Friday night when the Lakers managed to shoot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter and hold on. Afterward, the Kings were furious at the officiating crew, tiptoeing on the N.B.A. etiquette line for fines. Much of the complaining, admittedly, was to plant a seed for Game 7. But they were genuinely angry at several calls. We've played, what, six games? Vlade Divac said. We've lost one because they were better. We won this one. It's just not on paper.
Mike Wise, New York Times, June 2, 2002
"My reaction to Donaghy's lawyer are that clearly as the date of sentencing gets closer, and the things that he's thrown against the wall haven't stuck, he's rehashing a variety of things that have been given to the U.S. Attorney and the FBI, fully investigated, and are baseless," said Stern in a story on ESPN.com.
"We said it in July," Stern continued, "and we'll say it again on the first anniversary: There's one criminal here." Sorry. The reality is that the NBA's credibility issues aren't going away even if Stern's proclamations all are true. Not after another postseason that has only swelled the ranks of the conspiracy theorists.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com, June 11, 2008
Donaghy also alleged that a playoff series in 2005, likely to be the first-round matchup between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks, had some tampering – that an NBA executive complained a player from “team 4” was getting away with illegal screens and influenced the way the series was called.
"This is not the first time a known or convicted criminal has lied about me before the judicial system,” said Bob Delaney to ESPN’s Outside The Lines First Report. He was one of the three referees in that 2002 game.
“I have an extensive law enforcement background and still train police officers. I have dealt with criminals and informants, and I know full well they are capable of doing and saying anything.”
Short of a sudden confession from all of the people who refereed the series in question, it’s likely that both of those series, and especially game six, will remain controversial.
Since absence of proof is not necessarily the same as lack of guilt, I think it’s time for the NBA to investigate these matters fully. For transparency. To get the conspiracy nuts out of the woodwork.
And maybe to see if there is a kernel of truth to Donaghy’s allegations.