Making sense of the latest news involving NBA refs
Posted: Friday October 26, 2007 1:35PM; Updated: Friday October 26, 2007 1:41PM
All this striped-shirt news is rather confusing, isn't it?
Tim Donaghy is supposed to learn what his penalty is for the gambling charges on Nov. 9, but the sentencing hearing was moved back to January.
Then we find out this week that just about every current referee has broken rules related to gambling and/or casino visitation.
We assume that commissioner David Stern will take harsh action, given the Donaghy backdrop, but instead he proclaims that, "Our ban on gambling ... is too absolute, too harsh and was not particularly well-enforced over the years," and declines to punish any of the refs.
Then he emerges from a meeting of the board of governors and says that the NBA will continue its flirtation with putting a team in Las Vegas.
What in the name of Mendy Rudolph and Earl Strom is going on?
Herewith, an attempt to straighten out some of what will be ongoing story lines throughout the season:
The movement of the Donaghy sentencing hearing has gotten little attention (and no direct response from the NBA), possibly for this reason: What puny minds among us can really figure out what's going on in federal court? It might be a normal calendar delay. It once took me 11 months to get a disputed parking ticket straightened out.
On the other hand, it might be a significant delay. "The most obvious reason that sentencing hearings are delayed is that the defendant is trying to negotiate his sentencing down," one lawyer who desired anonymity told Sports Illustrated. "And the most obvious way he does that is to implicate others."
Now, does that tie in to the revelation that practically all 56 refs have violated gambling/casino rules? Quite possibly. That announcement, remember, was made by the league itself, after an internal review conducted by an attorney named Lawrence Pedowitz, who interviewed every NBA official. What Pedowitz found was that some refs placed bets at casino gaming tables, some bought lottery tickets, some participated in $5 Nassaus on the golf course, some took good ol' State U in the NCAA office pool. All are violations.
By going public with the info, and revealing the seemingly minor nature of the violations, Stern was, in fact, defusing possible revelations that Donaghy might make about other refs. No ref copped to making a bet with a sports book or a bookie. Stern is trying to get out the message that the headline "Other Refs Broke Rules!" is far more sensational than the reality of "Some Of These Rules Are Silly."
However, if it turns out that any other ref made even one single bet on an NBA game, it will be a mortal blow for the commissioner's legacy and the credibility of the league. Stern has staked his considerable rep on Donaghy's being a "rogue criminal" and his felonious behavior (predicated, evidently, by a gambling jones) being an isolated incident. And to this point, no one -- no inquiring journalist, no source "close to the investigation," no one from the Donaghy legal side -- has indicated anything else.
What continues to baffle me, though, is that Stern has not squelched the idea of putting a team in Vegas. I have nothing against Sin City (besides the inside-of-a-pizza-oven weather, the emphysema-inducing ambience of the casinos, the whole Roman-Empire-just-before-the-fall feel of the place, and Wayne Newton), but, in the current charged atmosphere, backing away from Vegas seems logical, particularly given Stern's initial disapproval of planting a flag in Nevada.
But when I asked Stern about Vegas in an interview in September he said, "We're not backing away from Vegas because gambling is not illegal. There are lotteries, video poker, Native American casinos, regular casinos, office pools. You cannot exist in the world we live in and somehow retreat from gambling. The world is crazed about gambling."
I happened to be doing the interview on Stern's 65th birthday -- journalistic confession: I ate a piece of office birthday cake -- which hammered home the man's indefatigable energy. If it were me, I'd get a migraine every time I heard "Donaghy" or "point spread" or "casino," and table the notion of Vegas so it became the next commissioner's problem. The way Stern is going, however, that might be 2015. Unless, of course, darker revelations emerge in the coming months.