NBA takes step forward

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

The can of worms rogue referee Tim Donaghy opened slowly drew to a close yesterday when a much-awaited report on NBA officiating went public.

In a nutshell, no evidence of any illegal activity was found linking any official, save for Donaghy, who remains behind bars in a federal pen after pleading guilty to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce.

When Donaghy was charged last year for betting on games he officiated and for providing gamblers with inside information, the NBA found itself in full crisis mode.

On the eve of his sentencing, Donaghy basically hijacked the league's marquee final by naming names, by claiming past post-season games were altered to ensure the higher-profiled team would prevail.

No one will ever forget the look of despair affixed to commissioner David Stern when he had to answer questions of integrity, credibility and perception.

No matter what measures the NBA took to improve its officiating program, it required an independent and thorough review to help restore the confidence among its fans.

It arrived yesterday when former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz released his 133-page report, which took 14 months to compile, which interviewed hundreds of individuals and which, on the surface, appeared to leave no stone unturned.

As much as Pedowitz's report vindicated the NBA, it called for the creation of a "culture of compliance" and a closer monitoring of games for suspicious activity.

He made what many believe are three critical recommendations: The creation of a hotline to anonymously raise questions about gambling and game integrity issues; make available any complaints the league receives about its officials -- beginning with next spring's playoffs -- to both teams to avoid suspicions of bias; provide more access to referees for both fans and media.

In other words, become more transparent in an ever increasing world of cynicism, suspicion and vulnerability.

In addition, the league should mandate that its players be educated on matters relating to gambling.

"We believe,'' the report reads, "that gambling can expose the players and the league to significant risks, and therefore it is important that players be educated regarding those risks."

Players in the past, and no doubt the practice continues today, would bet whether a half-court shot would drop during a pre-game warmup.

Charles Oakley, essentially, mugged Tyrone Hill prior to a pre-season game over an alleged payment that went unpaid following a card game.

Ray Allen concurred that the whole gambling issue must, in some way, be addressed.

"Throughout the years, we have a number of different meetings,'' the shooting guard told reporters at the Boston Celtics' training camp in Newport, R.I. "A gambling meeting wouldn't hurt.

"The education would definitely help."

When he took questions during a conference call with reporters, Pedowitz said he wouldn't even want his players involved in card games, if he happened to own a team.

But when you're young and filthy rich and have so much idle time on your hands, trouble is inevitable.

Players are informed, especially at this time of the year, of the many perils that exist, of the temptations associated with a lifestyle many can only dream of attaining.

Back in the day, when the NBA was about to get hatched, gambling threatened to undermine the very existence of pro basketball.

The game survived, much like the NBA will be better prepared to handle issues in the wake of the Donaghy debacle.

Steps have been taken, but more safeguards and better education among its players will only help the NBA move forward.

Yesterday was one such step in moving forward.


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