LAS VEGAS – The nightmare forever has lurked in the reaches of commissioner David Stern's mind because NBA officials can control a basketball game with calls made and unmade with the subtlest of touches. These referees are human and flawed and can get deep into gambling debt, get addicted, like everyone else in this culture.
And, of course, what the NBA official wields is the most dangerous weapon of all: a twisted whistle.
As the sun rose on the Vegas Strip this morning, where the best players in the world had gathered for a Team USA mini-camp, the doomsday scenario of fixed games hung over the league like an anvil. The FBI has been conducting an investigation into Tim Donaghy, a 13-year veteran, betting on games that he officiated and, perhaps, making calls to control the point spread.
"We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again," Stern said in a statement Friday afternoon.
Donaghy had a gambling problem, a law enforcement source told the Associated Press, and had been approached by lower level mob associates to work on a gambling scheme. Apparently, there were tens of thousands of dollars in bets on games during the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons.
It's bad enough that this official allegedly could've controlled games in the regular season, but did point spreads and playoff games get decided by a dirty official?
Did a degenerate ref and mobsters play a part in determining a champion?
All Stern can do is bite his lip and take those charges because everything about the NBA has been thrown into question. For now, uncomfortable questions hang over the league, and each promises to erode its credibility. Until the official is brought on charges, which could happen within the next week, the AP reported, every suspect call a league official has made over the past two seasons comes under scrutiny.
Ten years ago, several NBA officials were indicted for tax evasion over a travel scheme involving airplane tickets. Some of those officials were let back into the NBA, but this is different. This cuts to the core of the NBA's credibility, and perhaps no league has had to spend more time convincing people that conspiracy theories on officiating were unfounded. For the longest time, there was a belief that referees colluded to protect superstars and glamour teams, that they somehow carried out orders and agendas from beyond the court.
Now the league can't just haughtily dismiss those charges because there could be something worse than anyone ever imagined: mob-controlled referees. Sooner than later, the charges will start to trickle out, possibly with the unseemly details of a referee caught up in the commissioner's worst nightmare. There have been some scandals through the years in the league, but nothing like this. Nothing close. Sooner than later, all hell is going to break loose. The NBA never will be the same again.