Gambling Scandals Cause NBA to Name Officiating Czar
No more nonsense will be acceptable to the NBA in the wake of recent officiating scandals; today the basketball league named retired two-star General Ronald Johnson to the post of Senior Vice President in charge of Referee Operations.
Following first the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal, which has yet to reach a finish, and then Donaghy's assertion under oath that certain other officials are "company men" who call games based on league desires for television and marketing appeal, the NBA is seeking to assure fans of an evenly called and efficiently officiated game.
Hiring Johnson may be a step in that direction, but it seems more public relations than true change of course. Johnson, while a man of great military and educational background, admittedly is not extremely knowledgeable about basketball; he does say he has been "a fan."
Further, he will still report to Commissioner David Stern, whose iron hold on the game has brought it great popularity but also the whispers of conspiracy. While Stern is clearly distraught over Donaghy and the idea of refs being influenced by gamblers, the theory that certain big-market teams are favored by the league to help pull in casual fans has been circulated for years.
Indeed, the game most cited by Donaghy, a playoff match between Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers several years ago, had horrible calls all biased in favor of the Lakers. Even after the rumors blew wide open in public, this year's playoff featured a blown call at the end of a San Antonio- Laker game that would have given the Spurs a chance for victory; the call was so obvious even league apologists had to admit the ref blew it, and the league office confirmed the call was missed several days later, after San Antonio had been eliminated.
What the NBA really needs is an investigative office, run by perhaps an ex-FBI official, separate and distinct from Stern's office, to maintain transparency and avoid all appearances of conflict or confusion. Until then, fans will continue to whisper when L.A. New York, or Boston get calls over smaller markets.
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