Kings Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

July 29, 2008
Hello? Referees' union? Anyone home?

Another bruising day for the NBA and its referees. Tim Donaghy finally got sentenced, following delay after delay as the league thought and hoped it would have been past this moment months ago, and the whole mess returned to the tip of the news cycle. Only the Green Bay Packers are happy.

Donaghy, facing the possibility of 33 months in prison, just got 15 from a judge in New York. The lawyer types will break down the tape and offer the legal analysis.

The basketball analysis:

*At least Donaghy knows his stretch. The NBA is still looking at the possibility of life in public-perception jail.

*Today is a welcome development for the league at least in that it allows another healing step. Top execs had decided to wait for sentencing to release the internal investigation by a former member of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's office, hoping that self-described "comprehensive review of the league's rules, policies, and procedures relating to gambling and its officiating program" might gather new information until the very end. This is that end, with a measure of closure on this important portion.

*And, the National Basketball Referees Assn. has been quiet through all this.

Strangely, uncomfortably, noticeably quiet.

For all the fine-print legalese and intentionally vague moments (Donaghy accuses two of the three refs that worked Game 6 of Kings-Lakers in 2002 of throwing the outcome and doesn't say which two -- classic), little of this fiasco is as confusing as union leaders refusing to stand up for its membership.

A couple of respected refs (Dick Bavetta and Bob Delaney) are getting pilloried, the NBRA is offering little response, and the rank-and-file is noticing. Some game officials are wondering why their voice isn't being heard, aware that the union has to be its voice since they are prohibited from public comment without permission and the league won't give out permission slips on this one to sneeze. So they quietly wonder about the perception that the union doesn't have their back, agreeing it doesn't feel right.

There is no mutiny at hand -- comments about NBRA leader Lamell McMorris are overwhelmingly positive, and understandably so. McMorris has previously done great work in addressing the crisis with openness. Over the course of our many conversations, I have been struck by an honesty and a willingness to confront a bad situation rather than try to spin it.

But there is disappointment and wonder. As soon as Donaghy shoved Bavetta and Delaney into the cyclone, and then later when records showed a strange number of brief phone calls between Donaghy and Scott Foster, the union has gone quiet. No one has been speaking out on behalf of the indirectly accused, especially Bavetta and Delaney and their lengthy and successful careers.

McMorris is either over-deferring to David Stern or figuring the sooner the talking stops the sooner all this goes away.

On Point 2: Bad plan. This is a perception game and the refs are getting trounced. It's not going away.

On Point 1: More understandable. The union and the league have been coordinating signals since the crisis broke last summer and Stern does have the booming voice for the defense. The NBA has a public-relations machine. The people in that department are very good and very experienced, and PR has always been a Stern priority.

But just maybe this isn't such a good time for the refs to be riding the Stern coattails. Besides, his role has become to rescue the perception of the league. If anyone is going to stand up for Delaney and Bavetta, the union would seem a logical place to start.

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