HoopsHype.com Columns

NBA to pick up the pieces
by Marc Narducci / July 21, 2007

The NBA has been rocked by the news that former official Tim Donaghy is under investigation by officials in the FBI’s New York office in connection with his role in allegedly shaving points in league games he officiated in the last few years.

We will spare the readers the old credo that Donaghy is innocent until proven guilty. In this instance, the only question is how deep he got himself into this mess.

By all accounts, Donaghy was in this by himself, but one person can do plenty of damage, especially when the actions attack the integrity of the game.

The first question is – could this have been avoided? As reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer and other outlets, the NBA had enough concern about Donaghy to allegedly call him into the league office in New York to discuss his gambling. Apparently Donaghy convinced the NBA that any gambling that he did wouldn’t affect his regular job. He was wrong and now he and the NBA are paying dearly for that.

One thing that all professional leagues should do is to ban its officials, coaches and players from gambling on sports or other activities. While this would be a difficult task to enforce, it would possibly prevent situations such the current one.

A source said Donaghy had lost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” gambling. Now it doesn’t matter if those losses were on NFL game, Major League Baseball, hockey, or any other endeavor.

If a person gets too deep into a hole he becomes desperate and in debt to an unsavory crowd. This is the picture being painted about Donaghy. If he actually bet on games he officiated, that is even a worse betrayer of trust.

Still, if the rule prohibiting gambling were in place, Donaghy would have been fired when he was allegedly called into the league office to talk about his gambling habits.

It just doesn’t make sense to allow individuals who can have a direct outcome to a game to be able to gamble.

That said, the NBA will now unveil a full-court press, attempting to reshape its image and assure the fans that those given the responsibility to officiate the games are men and women of the utmost character.

Simply put, the NBA now has to win back the trust of many fans.

That’s because every call by an official that may be considered questionable – and there are plenty in each NBA game – will now be looked at skeptically by at least some segment of the public.

And that isn’t fair, especially to the officials. Anybody who has known officials in any sport, realize how deeply committed they are to their profession. With every game televised, a referee’s good or bad call can be replayed time and time again. And of the officials and umpires that this reporter has come in contact with, one can’t believe how much they agonize over a blown call. Despite all the games they do, it’s not easy to shake off a glaring mistake that is made. It really means that much to them.

And now they have to work in an environment where the public will be skeptical, simply because one of their own betrayed them.

Refereeing any professional sport is among the most difficult jobs around. In the NBA, the officials have to be quick on their feet and with their mind. They have to have good reflexes and, better yet, great instincts.

And they have to be hard of hearing, because of the constant verbal abuse they receive from players, coaches and fans.

It’s a thankless, pressure-packed job, but there is no shortage of candidates who would welcome making their living blowing a whistle.

There will be press conferences next week, with NBA commissioner David Stern no doubt assuring fans of the integrity of his officials. Stern and the league have no other choice but to get this point of view across.

The NBA will survive this incident, just as it has others, but there is only one way that the public will be totally won over and that’s if something like this never occurs again.

For now, the damage has been done and the damage control may take longer than anybody at the NBA may want to admit.

Marc Narducci covers the NBA for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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