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Rodman Tattooed for a Cool $228,000

Pro basketball: O'Donnell calls the penalty an insult to NBA officials.

March 19, 1996|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

Jake O'Donnell, someone who should know, called Monday's six-game suspension and $20,000 fine of Dennis Rodman an insult to the integrity of NBA officials.

"The officials are part of the product of your game," said O'Donnell, reached Monday at his home in Jupiter, Fla. "And when someone is messing around with your product and gets off that light, well, it makes you wonder where the NBA is coming from."

O'Donnell is coming from a position of experience and knowledge, as well as some anger over the NBA's treatment of officials. He retired as an NBA referee just before the start of this season, ending a 28-year career in which he was top-rated in the league for 15 seasons.

He retired in the wake of an incident in last year's playoffs, in which he ejected Clyde Drexler of the Houston Rockets. Drexler was initially fined, but that fine was rescinded and O'Donnell, who admitted Monday that the league had suspended him, never worked another NBA game.

"I retired because it was time for me to retire," O'Donnell said. "The Drexler thing didn't make me retire."

Nor, in the light of the Rodman incident, did it make him any more confident about the NBA's backing of its referees.

"This is kind of typical," he said. "I get suspended for throwing a player out--a player who is screaming and hollering and spewing all sorts of things--and then they say he's not suspended and rescind his fine and I don't work any more games. It makes you ask, 'Where can you go?' "

In a game Saturday night at New Jersey, the Chicago Bulls' Rodman, who had just been ejected, head-butted referee Ted Bernhardt. Rodman, the leading rebounder in the NBA, who has a long rap sheet of fines and suspensions, also knocked over a water cooler, stripped off his shirt and yelled obscenities on his way off the floor.

"This is a guy you're going to see fall off a big building some day," said O'Donnell, who added that he had had no more than the normal problems with Rodman over the years.

"He's what we call an easy T [technical foul]," O'Donnell said. "The stuff he does is so crazy that nobody even questions what he has coming. It isn't just the referees. He thinks everybody is out to get him."

O'Donnell said televised film clips of the incident showed him nothing accidental.

"There was intent to hurt the official. Definitely intent," O'Donnell said. "It looked to me like he grazed him at first, then pulled his head back and did it again."

O'Donnell said he had seen something like that only once before, in the playoffs of 1993, when the New York Knicks' John Starks, enraged by the combination of a hot hand and a quick mouth on the part of the Indiana Pacers' Reggie Miller, head-butted Miller. Miller ended up with a playoff career-high 36 points and Starks was suspended for three games.

"I worked that game," O'Donnell said. "That's the only head-butting I ever saw."

O'Donnell was critical of NBA vice president Rod Thorn, who is in charge of fines and suspensions.

"I think he is inconsistent," he said.

He also was critical of the league's gag rule on active officials.

"That's not right," he said. "Bernhardt ought to be able to say what he feels about this."

And, considering that Rodman's suspension was four games shorter than the one imposed last year on the Houston Rockets' Vernon Maxwell, who went into the stands after a fan, O'Donnell implied that public relations might be much more important to the NBA than the care and backing of its own officials.

"I would think officials are not too happy about this," he said. "There's a lot of talking going on among them. Even 10 games is not enough for this guy's shenanigans."

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