ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
NBA Commissioner David Stern says the explosive allegations that a league referee bet on games are an isolated case. But he says the accusations against veteran referee Tim Donaghy represent the worst situation of his long tenure. Stern made his first public comments about the betting scandal at a news conference today in New York City.
NPR's Tom Goldman has more.
TOM GOLDMAN: Publicly, David Stern is unflappable to the point of seeming arrogant at times, but today, he appeared nervous. It was evident Stern was confronting an issue he couldn't dismiss with a witty or sarcastic retort.
Mr. DAVID STERN (Commissioner, National Basketball Association): I have been involved with referring and obviously been involved with the NBA for 40 years in some shape or form. I can tell you that this is the most serious and - situation and worst situation that I have ever experienced.
GOLDMAN: Stern outlined in detail all the security precautions the NBA normally takes to insure its referees don't cheat. Then, he talked about the ref who allegedly slipped through the safety net. Because of the league's ongoing cooperation with the FBI investigation, Stern chose his words carefully when he spoke about Tim Donaghy.
Mr. STERN: We understand that he is accused of betting on games in the NBA. I understand that some of those are games specifically that he worked. I understand that it may be that he bet on other games in which he didn't work. I understand that he is accused of or will likely be accused of providing information to others for the purpose of allowing them to profit on betting on NBA games.
GOLDMAN: The alleged incident happened during the last two seasons. Donaghy worked at San Antonio versus Phoenix playoff game this year in which the refs made a number of controversial calls. The calls are catalogued in a video making the rounds on YouTube. Stern said he wanted to wait for the results of the FBI's investigation before saying whether that game was one that was bet on. But it's his understanding that Donaghy is the only referee being investigated for wrongdoing.
Mr. STERN: We think we have here a rogue, isolated criminal.
GOLDMAN: Since the Donaghy story broke last week, there have been reports that the NBA knew bad things about him but still let him work. Today, Stern acknowledged the league investigated Donaghy in 2005, after reports of a dispute Donaghy allegedly had with a neighbor. At that time, the league also investigated an allegation that Donaghy gambled at an Atlantic City hotel, which is prohibited under league rules. That investigation turned up negative. The NBA punished Donaghy for the neighbor dispute by preventing him from working playoff games.
Stern said that was the last time the league dealt with Donaghy until last month when the FBI called to say it was investigating the betting allegations. That was June 20th after the NBA Finals were over. Donaghy resigned as an NBA ref on July 9th.
As to what evidence there was that Donaghy was guilty of betting on games? Stern said this.
Mr. STERN: His lawyer informed us that he's contemplating a plea.
GOLDMAN: While acknowledging the gravity of the Donaghy case, David Stern noted that other sports, college basketball and international soccer in particular, have weathered prominent betting scandals.
Mr. STERN: And it is my hope that the NBA will be similarly accorded the benefit of the doubt based upon what we have done, what we stand for, and what we pledge to continue to do.
GOLDMAN: One probable change, Stern said, is shifting the emphasis in post-game evaluations of referees from how they did to whether they knowingly did something wrong.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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