Stern addresses issues that affect league

LONDON -- NBA commissioner David Stern stressed Wednesday that he has not ruled out the possibility of taking punitive action against the New York Knicks or coach Isiah Thomas in the wake of the civil action that reached its conclusion last week.

Stern also revealed that the league will not be firing any more of its referees after interviewing all 60 on staff in an attempt to unearth further conduct violations following the Tim Donaghy betting scandal.

Speaking in London before the Boston Celtics played the Minnesota Timberwolves at the O2 Arena as part of the NBA's Europe Live tour, Stern reacted angrily to media reports that he is planning no action against the Knicks, team owner James Dolan or Thomas himself.

"Unfortunately, once again the New York Times headline writer said something that didn't appear in the text of my remarks, and the remarks themselves were badly mangled," Stern said.

"… What I said then was it was still under consideration, that there were many issues having to do with understanding the transcripts, understanding what exactly the jury did and what role a further appeal should play in considering this. And further, I said that I wanted to discuss this with the [NBA] board of governors.

"The headline said 'Stern not taking any action,' but the article will be searched in vain to find me saying that. Now that has been picked up as a fact because it appeared in a New York Times headline."

The three-week civil trial ended last week, with a jury finding that former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders endured crude insults and unwanted advances from Thomas and ordering the Knicks to pay her $11.6 million.

The jury, though, determined that only MSG chairman James Dolan should pay for harassing and firing Browne Sanders from her $260,000 a year job out of spite. Stern was widely criticized in the immediate aftermath of the decision for not taking swifter action.

The Knicks' case came at the end of a difficult summer for Stern and his league. Much of the negativity stemmed from Donaghy's admission in federal court that he committed felonies when the veteran referee allegedly placed bets on games and sold inside information on games to professional gamblers.

"You are always going to have bumps on the road and you have to be judged ultimately on how you respond to them, not by the fact you had them," Stern said. "We try to be as open as possible in first dealing with it. Mr. Donaghy hasn't been sentenced yet, the investigation isn't yet completed, but we are talking. We will be dealing with our referees in a fair way, listening to their concerns, how we can continue to have the best officiating in the world."

Stern added that changes to the league's officiating program in the aftermath of the Donaghy affair are underway.

"We're analyzing interviews with 60 officials and I'll have something more to say before the regular season begins, which was my [original] schedule," he said. "We remain, based upon all the information we have, of the strong view that Donaghy was an isolated instance of criminal activity.

"With respect to the officiating program itself, we continue to improve it. We have hired an assistant director of officials to work with our crew chiefs, to help make them better teachers, to deal with some of the concerns our officiating staff had expressed privately to me, and we think that we will be in pretty good shape.

"I told the officials in the meeting, we won't be terminating any officials for violation of league rules. There were some violations, but they are not hanging crimes."

Stern, however, has ruled out the possibility of making referees' internally graded performances public, despite widespread calls for greater transparency in the way the league handles its officials.

"I won't be doing that," Stern said. "I think what we will be doing is we have got to be quicker in admitting when mistakes have been made by officials rather than waiting for the public to come to us. I don't think any more than they make reporters' personnel files public that we should be having referees' human-resources files made public."

But the NBA will take steps to ensure that the Donaghy situation doesn't happen again.

"I think it is fair to say that we will probably be doing more background checks and the like and working very hard with our officials because there has been a conflation here that is not really fair to our staff. I've got a bunch of hard-working, law-abiding referees and because one of their number has confessed to being a felon by betting on his own games and by giving information to draw into question the integrity of the other officials [is unfair].

Ian Whittell covers the NBA for The London Times.