NEW YORK (AP) – David Stern blamed a “rogue, isolated criminal” Tuesday for a betting scandal that has devastated the league and threatened the credibility of every referee.
A subdued Stern said he felt betrayed by former referee Tim Donaghy, the target of an FBI investigation for allegedly betting on games, including some he officiated, over the last two seasons.
Stern said he believed no other officials or players would be implicated in the betting scandal.
Pausing often and carefully choosing his words during the packed, 1-hour, 10-minute news conference, Stern compared Donaghy to someone who’s committed treason.
“I feel betrayed by what happened on behalf of the sport, regardless of how protective I’ve been,” he said. “This is not something that is anything other than an act of betrayal of what we know in sports as a sacred trust.”
Besides allegedly placing his own wagers, investigators also are examining whether Donaghy provided inside information to others, including the referee’s schedules, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
“Not only aren’t they permitted to either gamble or provide information to people,” Stern said, “they may not even provide other than to their immediate family the details of their travel schedules or the games they are going to work.”
The FBI first contacted the NBA on June 20 to talk about a referee alleged to be gambling on games, and the two sides met on June 21, Stern said. Donaghy resigned July 9, though Stern said he would have fired him sooner but was told it might affect the investigation.
Although Donaghy has not yet been charged with a crime, Stern said the referee’s lawyer told the league his client is contemplating a plea.
But as far as Stern is concerned, “If you bet on a game, you lose the benefit of the doubt.”
Donaghy’s attorney, John Lauro, declined comment when reached by telephone. Donaghy is expected to surrender late this week or early next week.
Stern said he believes the NBA will recover from the damage, noting college basketball and German soccer had overcome their own point-shaving scandals. But he wouldn’t deny the league is in trouble.
“I can tell you that this is the most serious situation and worst situation that I have ever experienced either as a fan of the NBA, a lawyer for the NBA or a commissioner of the NBA,” said Stern, who has held the top post for 23 years.
Stern said there was nothing suspicious about the frequency of Donaghy’s foul calls, the size of his bank account or anything else that would have tipped off the league. And though the NBA stresses its system of monitoring referees gives it the best officials in sports, Stern said he wasn’t shocked Donaghy slipped through the cracks.
“I’ll only invoke the earlier reference to the CIA, the FBI and people who get away with doing dastardly things,” he said. “If you’re intent upon engaging in criminal activity, and if you are acting alone in many cases without the knowledge of even your family, it’s possible. Our history is replete with examples of that. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that you could go undetected.”
Donaghy was an NBA referee for 13 years, and Stern said he was rated in the top tier of officials. But this wasn’t the first time he was in trouble with the league.
In January 2005, Stern said, the NBA investigated a dispute between Donaghy and a West Chester, Pa., neighbor.
The neighbors, Pete and Lisa Mansueto, sued Donaghy for harassment and invasion of privacy, and accused him of vandalizing their property and stalking Lisa Mansueto. In their lawsuit, the Mansuetos also alleged that Donaghy set fire to a tractor they owned and crashed their golf cart from Radley Run Country Club into a ravine.
During the NBA investigation, there were allegations that Donaghy was gambling – not on sports – in Atlantic City. Stern said the league contacted every casino in Atlantic City and Las Vegas and found no evidence of gambling by Donaghy.
NBA referees aren’t even allowed in casinos. Stern said the only betting they can do is at the racetrack in the summer.
Donaghy wasn’t allowed to officiate the second round of the 2005 playoffs because of the incident with the neighbors, Stern said. But after Donaghy moved to Florida, Stern said there were no other complaints or allegations that turned up in any of the NBA’s background checks.
Tuesday, Stern vowed to review the league’s procedures to make sure this wouldn’t happen again, and asked fans to give the NBA the “benefit of the doubt based upon what we have done, what we stand for and what we pledge to continue to do.
“This is something that is the worst that could happen to a professional sports league,” Stern said. “And I want to say on the other hand that we are going to make good on the covenant that we believe we have with our fans, and I pledge that my involvement will be as intense and complete as it can possibly be.”
Associated Press writers Pat Milton in New York and Bob Lentz in Philadelphia contributed to this report.