David Stern Sheds Some Light on the Tim Donaghy InvestigationNBA Commissioner David Stern held a press conference today that differed from any other that he has previously held. Usually, Stern presents an image of being entirely in control--in control of the league, in control of himself and in control of how the league's image is presented. When he suspended Ron Artest for an entire season due to the "Malice in the Palace," Stern was asked if a vote was taken to decide the appropriate punishment and he replied, "It was unanimous, one to nothing."
Today we saw a different side of David Stern, who frankly admitted that he had to "walk this difficult line" of what he could and could not say due to the FBI's ongoing investigation of disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy. There were some questions that he simply is not permitted to answer and others that led him to pause and state that he has to very carefully choose his words. Contrary to any suggestions otherwise, Stern emphatically declared that the NBA did not know about this matter until the FBI contacted the league on June 20. He indicated that the NBA would have liked to have fired Donaghy at that time but could not do so because this could have potentially impaired the FBI investigation. Ultimately, Donaghy resigned on July 9. Stern said, "This is the most serious and worst situation that I have ever experienced" in 40 years of involvement with the NBA as a fan, a lawyer for the league and as its commissioner for more than two decades.
Before answering questions, Stern made a brief statement. He outlined the security procedures that the NBA currently has in place, managed by a security department that is stocked with former FBI agents, state police investigators and local police officers. Stern also said that the NBA has a Las Vegas consultant who monitors betting lines to make sure that there is no suspicious activity regarding gambling on NBA games. He said that background checks are made of all NBA referees to the fullest extent of the law. In terms of evaluating referees' on court performance, Stern explained that since the 2003-04 season the NBA has had a system that places an observer at every game. This person monitors every call and every non-call "that is deemed by our observers to be incorrect." The observers chart the games and review them on tape as well. Their work is "audited" by group supervisors; this year, the NBA "audited the auditors" by hiring additional experts to oversee this entire process. Stern said that the primary purpose of this system is to "increase call accuracy" and that it is "not predominantly developed as a screen for criminal activity."
Stern gave the following timeline regarding the Donaghy case. In January 2005, the NBA found out that Donaghy was involved in a dispute with his neighbors. The neighbors claimed that he was harassing them but he asserted that they were harassing him. The NBA deployed its own investigators to look into the matter and in the course of their investigation an allegation was made that Donaghy gambled in Atlantic City (not on sports, because there is not a sports book there). Donaghy denied this and Stern said that the investigation of that aspect of the case came up "negative." Nevertheless, the NBA was not pleased that Donaghy was involved in this contentious dispute with his neighbors and informed him that such problems could cause him to be terminated. Donaghy was disciplined by not being allowed to work the second round of the 2005 playoffs; he had worked the second round in 2004. Stern added that Donaghy ranks in the "top tier of accuracy" among NBA referees.
Then came the June 20 call from the FBI, followed by a meeting between NBA executives and FBI investigators the next day. Stern said that he is "unable to comment on the continuing investigation." He added that what he knows now, subject to change, is that Donaghy is accused of betting both on games that he officiated and games that he did not officiate and that he also is accused of providing information to others to enable them to profit from betting on games, all of which took place in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. Stern took pains to stress that at this point Donaghy is the only referee known to be involved, referring repeatedly to this matter as an "isolated case." At the FBI's request, Stern informed very few people within the league about the investigation. As a consequence of that, the NBA has not yet been able to involve the number of people it would take to do an adequate film review of the 150 or so games that Donaghy officiated during this time. Stern said that he does not know how many games are potentially involved nor which specific games might have been affected--and that he will likely be in the dark about this until Donaghy is indicted or makes a plea, which Stern indicated may happen. It must be a very strange feeling for someone who usually exercises such total control of things to be so completely in the dark about a matter that could affect the very future of the NBA, as well as his own legacy as commissioner.
Asked about his initial feelings in the wake of the FBI's June 20 phone call, Stern said simply that he thought, "I can't believe it's happening to us." He added that although he is surprised he is no more surprised than the FBI or CIA are when they discover rogue agents who have turned against their country. Stern said that when one person who is acting alone is determined to do illegal activities that it can be very difficult to detect. He pledged to do everything in his power to restore the "sacred trust" that fans have in the NBA and to rebuild the "covenant" between the league and its fans that has been damaged by Donaghy's conduct.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:53 PM