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David Stern’s Sour Grapes . . .

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N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern has a marquee matchup in the 2008 finals. Whether or not the series between the Celtics and Lakers will go seven games, at least in the public’s mind, won’t depend on the players, but how the game is officiated based on what the league wants.

John Lauro, the lawyer for Tim Donaghy (the referee who pleaded guilty to conspiring with gamblers) claimed that a 2002 and 2005 playoff series were manipulated to go seven games. He further alleges that according to his client this was done at the behest of the league.

There is no evidence to corroborate Mr. Donaghy’s claims, but in a letter filed in federal court, his lawyer also asserts that N.B.A. executives generally encourages referees to ring up bogus fouls and discouraged them from calling technical fouls on star players.

This disparaging blight on a league that prided itself for being far from the reach of organized gambling can’t be so easily washed away.

On Tuesday, the same day John Lauro made his claims, Stern met with reporters in an attempt to discredit Donaghy’s allegations.

“He picks his spots, figures the N.B.A. finals game in L.A., he’ll file it today,” Stern said. “And then all you guys will come running in breathlessly to see whether there’s something new that the N.B.A. should respond to from a convicted felon who really violated probably the most sacred trust in sports.

“He’s a desperate man,” Stern continued, “and he’ll make whatever allegation he can at the most propitious time, somehow, I think, to manipulate the process.”

He labeled Donaghy as a “singing, cooperating witness,” who will do just about anything to save his neck.

The commissioner does have a valid point, but the perception that N.B.A. series are scripted have been building for years. One only has to look back at the Charles D. Smith incident. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were swiping at the ball for what seem like an eternity. Contact was made as Smith missed four consecutive shots, yet no foul had been called.

What basketball aficionado never suspected or at least entertained the thought that the league had a different set of officiating rules for Jordan?

These allegations are the most serious that have been leveled at the N.B.A. during David Stern’s tenure. He would like nothing better than for this stain to go away.

But the public—wary from Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Floyd Landis, Roger Clemens, and what may or may not have happen with the New England Patriots . . . simply have had enough. Their confidence shaken by other sports participants’ misdeeds, are willing to breathe life into the reality that the N.B.A. encourages its officiating staff to manipulate the game in order to boost ratings.

David Stern’s blustery dismissal that all these allegations are sour grapes from an admitted felon has not done anything to restore the public’s confidence.

The more he denies them, the more impetus it gives the populace to believe that their credible.

Commissioner Stern should take note here.

“Most lies have some basis of truth, although distorted by the speaker to a desirable end.”

If these allegations are indeed sour grapes as David Stern purports, he should crush them by having an independent investigation of the entire officiating process. In doing so, he will have taken the first step in removing this blot and restoring the public’s confidence in the N.B.A.

Bradley Booth/Freelance Commercial Writer/Author



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