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Order on the court

The NBA owes it to fans to find out the truth about accusations of cheating in a 2002 Lakers game.

June 13, 2008

Allegations by crooked former referee Tim Donaghy that referees threw Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference finals to the Lakers are, at this point, unconvincing. In a letter written by his attorney, Donaghy maintains that referees in the Los Angeles Lakers-Sacramento Kings debacle conspired to help the Lakers win in order to extend the series to a seventh game.

As National Basketball Assn. Commissioner David Stern rightly notes, the guy is a convicted felon who waited six years to come forward about this episode and has every reason to drag others down into the mud with him. After all, he has pleaded guilty to aiding professional gamblers and betting on NBA games, and he'll be sentenced next month. There is nothing more natural than a soon-to-be jailbird singing like a canary. So it makes sense that Donaghy might hope to save his own neck by supposedly telling the court all he knows. And if he implicates former colleagues and smears the NBA at the precise moment when basketball fans are riveted on the Lakers-Boston Celtics finals, then so much the better.

It would all be laughable but for one small hitch: that infamous Game 6 of 2002. It sure seemed like the referees favored the Lakers. We all saw Kobe Bryant elbow Mike Bibby in the nose, drawing blood but not a foul. And we saw the refs give a foul to Vlade Divac for simply standing behind Shaquille O'Neal. We saw fouls bountifully bestowed on the Kings while the Lakers rampaged up and down the court, almost immune to penalty.

There's no getting away from the memory -- and the video -- of that game.

We didn't need Donaghy to tell us whether it was badly called. Why the refs came down with a collective case of Lakerphilia is the question. And it warrants answers regardless of Donaghy's shady past. After all, baseball dismissed Jose Canseco's homage to steroids as the work of a self-serving snitch out to make a buck, then it turned out that Canseco was a self-serving snitch who was partly telling the truth.

Honesty in sports is no small matter; it supplies us with metaphors for fairness -- the level playing field and all. So although it is all too easy to dismiss the claims of a liar and a cheat -- and Donaghy is both -- the NBA owes us a thorough vetting of his charges.

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