NBA referee Bob Delaney, one of three referees to work Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, told Bob Ley in an interview for ESPN's "Outside The Lines First Report" that he has never been contacted by NBA or federal investigators concerning allegations by former referee Tim Donaghy that two referees in that game intended to assure that series went seven games.
Delaney, a highly decorated former New Jersey State trooper, said: "This is not the first time a known or convicted criminal has lied about me before the judicial system. I have an extensive law enforcement background and still train police officers. I have dealt with criminals and informants, and I know full well they are capable of doing and saying anything. I cannot comment any further without permission from the NBA."
The allegations, which came to light Tuesday in a court filing by Donaghy's attorney, continued to be the topic du jour at the NBA Finals in Los Angeles. Up the road in Sacramento, the allegations received prominent play on page A1 of the Sacramento Bee under the headline: "Ex-Ref: Kings Were Robbed."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson reiterated his call for creating a separate, non-NBA entity to oversee referees, and former Kings center Vlade Divac told ESPN.com's Marc Stein: "I am in shock. I hope this is not the truth. As an athlete, that's the last thing you want to believe."
NBA commissioner David Stern said the Justice Department had fully investigated the most recent of Donaghy's claims, which he labeled as "baseless."
In the letter, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Donaghy claimed that Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Kings and Lakers was impacted by the actions of two of the three referees who worked it.
Donaghy did not identify the referees in his letter. But Delaney, Dick Bavetta and Ted Bernhardt worked that game, which the Lakers won 106-102 to force a seventh game in the series. The Lakers shot 27 free throws in the final quarter and scored 16 of their last 18 points at the line.
The NBA does not allow its referees to speak to the media without being given prior permission, and the league did not immediately respond to a request by ESPN.com to permit Bavetta to be interviewed. Bernhardt, who is no longer an NBA ref, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Stern has questioned Donaghy's credibility in the matter, noting that Donaghy is a convicted felon who is trying to avoid a prison sentence.
"He turned on basically all of his colleagues in an attempt to demonstrate that he is not the only one who engaged in criminal activity," Stern said Tuesday. "The U.S. Attorney's office, the FBI, have fully investigated it, and Mr. Donaghy is the only one who is guilty of a crime. And he's going to be sentenced for that crime, regardless of these desperate attempts to implicate as many people as he can."
An attorney for Donaghy filed the letter with a federal judge on Tuesday as part of a plea for a lesser sentence. Donaghy has pleaded guilty to charges he took payments from a pair of professional gamblers in return for inside information about NBA games. The letter apparently came in response to the NBA's demand that Donaghy pay $1 million in restitution to cover the cost of the league's private investigation into his activities.
In the letter, the following "manipulation" during the Lakers-Kings series is alleged:
"Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be 'company men,' always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA's interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees' favoring of Team 6 led to that team's victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series."
Although no teams are specifically named, it is not hard to deduce the game in question. The Lakers-Kings series was the only one that postseason that went seven games, and the officiating in Game 6 was so questionable that consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader called for a formal investigation.
The Lakers attempted 40 free throws to the Kings' 25 in that game, and Los Angeles was 21-of-27 from the line while Sacramento converted 7 of 9 free throws in the fourth quarter alone.
In addition, a foul was called against Mike Bibby of the Kings after he was shoved and elbowed by Kobe Bryant, denying the Kings an opportunity to try for a tying basket. Also in that game, Divac and Scot Pollard fouled out, and Kings coach Rick Adelman was highly critical of the officiating afterward.
"My first thought [upon hearing Donaghy's allegation] was: I knew it," Pollard said Tuesday night. "I'm not going to say there was a conspiracy. I just think something wasn't right. It was unfair. We didn't have a chance to win that game."
On Wednesday, Pollard dismissed the idea of a conspiracy among referees because it's too big a secret to keep for this long. And he portrayed Donaghy as a criminal willing to say anything to save himself.
"For a guy that wasn't at that game, didn't ref that game, to come out and say that, and in the situation he's in, I guess you could kind of say you could equate that to Charles Manson saying something about the Boston Strangler," Pollard said. "He's in the business, but he doesn't really have a lot of credibility. He wasn't there."
Lamell McMorris, head of the NBA referees' union, also questioned Donaghy's motivation and credibility.
"Tim Donaghy has had honesty and credibility issues from the get-go," McMorris said in a prepared statement. "He is a convicted felon who has not yet been sentenced for the criminal conduct he has already admitted to. He may be willing to say anything to help his cause and he may believe these most recent allegations will help his agenda. I'm not aware of any improper conduct by any current NBA referee in the playoffs six years ago or any conspiracy by the NBA to affect the outcome of any game then or now. Frankly we're tired of Tim Donaghy's cat and mouse games."
Still, the allegations have taken a toll.
"It's a tough time to be an NBA referee," official Ron Garretson told ESPN.com's J.A. Adande.
Jackson said there has been discussion among coaches over the years regarding whether it might be a good idea to create a separate, non-NBA entity to oversee referees.
"I think once you took it out of the league's hands, or once the league took it out of their own hands, it would give them less of an oversight or overwhelming presence over the top. They wouldn't be so defensive about our refereeing all the time. Our refereeing has become sort of a sacred cow. On the outside they can criticize it, and on the inside they say do the best you can with what you've got," Jackson said.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he did not have an opinion on what the proper fix might be.
"First of all, I have zero concern about the integrity. That doesn't mean I don't cry with every other call, but I don't have any thought, and I never have, about the integrity of our officials. It's the toughest game in sports to officiate, and every call -- I learned that as a broadcaster -- every arena I went in during the playoffs the fan base thought the refs were against them.
"The whole Donaghy thing makes me sick, if you want to be honest. Paul Pierce got injured and we questioned him, but we believe Donaghy? When you think of the logic of that crap, it really -- I'm not going to go any further, but our league is a great league, and that stuff bothers me a lot. It really does," Rivers said.
Players' association director Billy Hunter said no players have asked the union to investigate charges of referee corruption.
"To raise the issue of whether or not the games are set up and the outcome has already been dictated, I haven't heard anybody raise that alarm or question," he said.
Hunter added that he felt bad for the league, knowing that Donaghy's accusations, though lacking specifics, will be accepted as the truth by some skeptics.
"Clearly it feeds to that whole psyche, folks believe that there's a series of conspiracies and the outcome is dictated and that it's almost a show," Hunter said. "The last thing you want to do is to take on the aura of worldwide wrestling.
"I think people want to believe that the winner is based on merit and the best team wins in a given circumstance and that there are no prerequisites. It's not being staged. So what it does is it impacts the integrity of the game. So to that extent, yeah, I would be concerned, not just for the players, for the entire operation."
Information from ESPN Insider Chris Sheridan and The Associated Press was used in this report.