LOS ANGELES (AP) -Not perfect, but not crooked. NBA referees are honest guys, and so are their mistakes.
And just to prove it, the league will go back and re-interview every single official about Tim Donaghy's latest allegations of rigged playoff series in 2002 and 2005.
That was the message from NBA commissioner David Stern, who came to the defense of his beleaguered referees again Thursday, saying they don't manipulate games or engage in other criminal activity.
``Our officials try very hard with complete integrity and honesty to referee perfect games,'' Stern said. ``That they fail in, that makes them human, but not objects of the kind of ridicule and scorn to which they have been unfairly subjected for the last three days.''
Speaking to the media at an NBA finals that has been increasingly overshadowed by the Donaghy scandal, the commissioner said Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals might have been officiated poorly, but honestly and not illegally.
``On behalf of my officials, I'd like to tell you that they don't engage in the criminal conduct of which Mr. Donaghy has accused them of,'' Stern said.
Donaghy claimed this week in a court filing that two ``company men'' worked that game, in which the Los Angeles Lakers used a huge free-throw advantage in the fourth quarter to avoid elimination against Sacramento.
``The allegations about that are incorrect,'' Stern said. ``Not true.''
He said he felt ``disconcerted'' for Boston and Los Angeles players in the finals, and especially the officials - usually prevented from speaking on their own behalf because of league rules - who have to ``defend themselves against allegations by one of their fallen brethren.''
So Stern took up the defense for them, calling a press conference that began a half hour before Game 4. He has spoken to the media before the last three games - the last two specifically to respond to Donaghy's allegations.
Stern acknowledged the FBI investigation into Donaghy's claims did include questions about Dick Bavetta, one of the officials who worked the '02 Game 6, but reiterated the message he has repeated for a year, saying, ``the only person now being sentenced for a crime is Mr. Donaghy.''
The 41-year-old Donaghy has admitted to betting on games he officiated, taking cash payments from associates and providing them information to win their bets.
Scheduled to be sentenced next month, Donaghy's making the league very uncomfortable in the meantime.
His latest accusations - that the league gave special treatment to star players and sought to extend series for better ratings, and that some officials enjoyed special relationships with players - have reignited suspicions of league conspiracies.
Because of that, Stern said referees, already interviewed as part of a separate investigation Stern had conducted by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz, will be talked to again so their defense can be clear.
``In light of the media coverage here, we will go back and prospectively ask the questions of officials in effect again with respect to specific acts,'' Stern said, ``even though they've all been interviewed, so that I could sit here in front of you, really on behalf of our officials, who don't engage with you on a regular basis, to say, 'No, no, no, a thousand times no.'''
Though the Pedowitz interviews were completed months ago, the league won't release the report until Donaghy is sentenced, with hopes he would agree to meet with the investigators.
Besides the 2002 game, Donaghy raised allegations of a 2005 series between Dallas and Houston, when then-Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said he heard referees were instructed to closely watch his center, Yao Ming, after the Rockets had won the first two games. The Mavericks rebounded to win the series.
This postseason has included its own share of controversial moments. The league acknowledged a foul should have been called on the final play of Game 4 of the West finals, which would have given San Antonio two free throws and a chance to tie the game, and perhaps the series, with the Lakers.
In Game 2 of the finals, the Celtics enjoyed a 38-10 advantage in free throw attempts. Lakers coach Phil Jackson later pushed the idea that a separate entity, rather than the league office, oversee the referees.
Stern rejected that idea, saying officials in all major leagues report to their commissioner. He said referees get about 90 percent of the calls right - and none of the ones that are missed are done for any illegal reason.
``I think it's important to sit here and say to you that the accusations that we manipulate games that then get reported on ... the facts underlying those, they're false,'' Stern said. ``We don't. And if you'd like me to repeat it again, I will tell you that we don't.''

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