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Donaghy's claims are met with doubts

Banished referee's allegations that games were manipulated anger some in the league, but controversy may have little effect.

June 12, 2008|Lance Pugmire and Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writers

Doubts and ambivalence greeted the claims of banished NBA referee Tim Donaghy on Wednesday, a day removed from his court-filed allegations that league referees affected the outcomes of two playoff series this decade for the sake of boosting revenue and television ratings.

"I detest someone taking something that we worked hard to accomplish and to achieve and trying to tarnish it," said Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, a player for the 2002 Lakers, who Donaghy says benefited from an alleged league agenda to extend the Western Conference finals that year to seven games. "Unless he has some dead-eye proof and has a memo saying something from the league, then, well, you know. . . . "

Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, predicted that with the exception of conspiracy theorists, the controversy swirling around Donaghy will have "little impact" on the NBA's future growth.

"For the mainstream fan, the integrity of the game is probably less important than the entertainment value," Swangard said. "It's a issue that they are aware of, but don't care about. Similar to the steroids controversy in baseball."

Yet, if Donaghy's claims were somehow affirmed, sports ethicist and 15-year Lakers season-ticket holder Michael Josephson said the ramifications for the NBA are "potentially devastating."

"On so many levels, you count on the integrity of the game. It's one thing to say that a ref made a bad call . . . but if you do some things to increase the benefits to the underdog, it's dead wrong and close to criminal."

Having referees influence games in the manner Donaghy alleged "would destroy everything. It would become professional wrestling," Josephson added.

As the disgraced referee awaits July 14 sentencing after pleading guilty last August to federal crimes of assisting professional gamblers and betting on NBA games himself, Donaghy, 41, revealed in a letter written by his attorney that he had knowledge of referees he classified as "company men," "manipulating" the outcomes of the 2002 Western Conference finals won by the Lakers over Sacramento, and Dallas' 2005 playoff series comeback triumph over Houston.

The Lakers survived to win Game 6 of their series, shooting a staggering 27 fourth-quarter free throws as Kings' big men Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard fouled out guarding Shaquille O'Neal (41 points). The Lakers then won the clinching Game 7 in Sacramento, later claiming their third straight NBA title.

"I'm sorry to be Belichick-y, but we don't think about it too much," Lakers' NBA MVP Kobe Bryant said of the possibility of "fixed" games. "It's not something we focus on as players. . . . It's more talked about outside of our circles than it is inside."

Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers decried any credibility given to Donaghy, bemoaning how some doubted the severity of Paul Pierce's injury in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

"The whole Donaghy thing makes me sick, if you want me to be honest," Rivers said. " . . . We believe Donaghy? . . . Our league is a great league, and that stuff bothers me a lot. It really does."

Donaghy also claims referees -- including himself as a then-alternate -- were instructed to more aggressively enforce illegal screens by a player believed to be Houston center Yao Ming in the 2005 playoffs against Dallas, a change in policy that came after the Rockets were leading the series, 2-0, and Dallas owner Mark Cuban complained to a referee supervisor. Houston lost the series.

Star players also received preferential treatment, Donaghy claimed in the court filing.

An NBA spokesman said the league will release details after Donaghy's scheduled sentencing in New York of an independent investigation of its referees' practices supervised by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz. The league has previously said it found some referees had violated rules by gambling socially and in casinos.

In a Donaghy case court filing Wednesday, league attorneys said the NBA "has received no information that any referee other than the defendant bet on NBA games or engaged in criminal activity with respect to NBA games."

On Wednesday, NBA referee Bob Delaney, who worked Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals with Dick Bavetta and Ted Bernhardt, told ESPN that he has not been contacted by the league or federal investigators about Donaghy's allegations that two referees in that Lakers-Kings game intended to assure the series went seven games.

Said Delaney, a former New Jersey State trooper: "This is not the first time a known or convicted criminal has lied about me before the judicial system. I have an extensive law enforcement background, and still train police officers. I have dealt with criminals and informants, and I know full well they are capable of doing and saying anything."

Attempts to reach Bavetta and Bernhardt through the NBA referees union were unsuccessful. Union head Lamell McMorris did not return messages left at his office.

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Times Staff Writers Mike Bresnahan and Sam Farmer contributed to this report.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

greg.johnson@latimes.com

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