Commissioner David Stern was slow warming to the task, but he's done everything a reasonable man can, and then some, to close the gap between the perception of the officiating in the NBA and the reality.
His game is the toughest to call, yet his refs get the calls right just as often as their football, baseball, hockey and soccer counterparts. And with one notable exception - more on Tim Donaghy in a moment - they are no more distracted or crooked.
No matter how many times that's backed up by fact, a smug segment of the sporting public insists it knows better. If this latest bundle doesn't convince them, Stern needs to remember that some people believe in UFOs, too.
On Thursday, the commissioner stacked another 116 pages of evidence backing up what an FBI investigation and a federal prosecution of Donaghy already concluded: that he acted alone and bet on games, but didn't actually fix them. Everything else in the report by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz - that NBA refs went to the race track or a casino - is no different than what would turn up in any other league.
killing Stern that just about every other sport gets the benefit of the doubt.
Baseball fans obsess over the difference in umpires' strike zones before big games, but they don't question their integrity. A blown call by NFL ref Ed Hochuli is still causing indigestion in some corners two weeks after the fact, but everybody got around to agreeing it was just that - a blown call. Officials in every sport get it wrong plenty of times, but only in the NBA, it seems, does that constitute a conspiracy.
In a conference call several hours after the report was released, Stern was asked why the perception persists: ``Is it just some fans living in Area 51 that keep beating the drum?'' a reporter asked, referring to a top-secret Air Force Base in southern Nevada that is a favorite among UFO aficionados.
Instead of answering right away, the commissioner launched into an obligatory defense of the product. He talked about ``ratings up across the board ... third highest year of attendance ... a great Olympics ... So that's good.''
Then what sounded like weariness crept into his voice, and at the very end of a long explanation, Stern said that once skeptics know how frequently the refs were ``monitored, metricized, rated, reviewed and developed, you get a completely different picture than the one that I think many fans have.''
He's right.
. Several of the recommendations included in the Pedowitz report have already been implemented, the most interesting of which involves putting the names of the refereeing crews working each game on NBA.com every morning. That began last season and was perhaps the most important tidbit of inside information that Donaghy passed along.
But don't just take Stern's word for it, or the independent investigator he hired, or even the FBI agents and the prosecutors who studied the same videotape, game logs and statistical analyses. Would the word of the Las Vegas bookies help?
``At first blush, most fans in most sports think most officials stink. That's the way a fan's mentality works,'' said Alan Feldman, spokesman for the sports books at the MGM Grand and the Mirage. ``Where you start looking for trouble is the moment when fans go from saying a call is silly to questioning whether the refs have integrity.
``So I'll put it this way,'' he added, ``We've seen nothing to give us anything to worry about.''
``That's the case here,'' said John Avello, who runs the sports book at Wynn Las Vegas. ``What you have to remember is that it might make interesting conversation, but out here, it's about action. It's one thing to say it, another to back it with a bet.''
ng about the refs dates back to least the mid-1990s, when Phil Jackson was coaching the Bulls and Pat Riley the Knicks, and they turned attempts to spin the referees into a parlor game. Pretty soon, the players. media and fans joined in
When conspiracy-theorists latched onto each other, Stern laughed it off, incredulous that anyone would believe he'd try to rig a business that was taking in billions. He had a few chances to knock holes in that story before the Donaghy business exploded, but since then, Stern has shoveled enough evidence on top to bury it.
Problem is, there's no convincing some people.
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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