David Stern made it clear during Tuesday’s press conference that he understands the gravity of the Tim Donaghy situation. He said he knows that the allegations against Donaghy violate the “sacred trust” between fans and the league.

But does the NBA commissioner really understand just how eroded his league’s credibility and overall standing had been before this news broke? How seriously did he take the questions that popped up any time a bad call was made at a key point in an NBA game? Didn’t he know that behind those questions were some very legitimate concerns that fans had, concerns that have now been validated?

We all heard the jokes. A lot of us made them. Anytime a bad call was made, anytime there was an overwhelming discrepancy in team fouls, anytime a ref had a quick trigger while throwing a player or coach out of a game, it inevitably came up. “How much does this ref have on this game?”

No one but the most ardent conspiracy theorists thought the refs were actually on the take. But there was persistent speculation that they were getting their marching orders to favor this team or that superstar in order to make a playoff series last longer or improve ratings. At the very least, many fans wondered if officials had personal agendas with players or teams that were influencing the way they called the game. The bottom line was, on the credibility scale of officials, the NBA’s ranked only slightly ahead of the WWE’s.

Stern scoffed at all these suspicions. He could make a good case against some of them. He’d ask, smugly more often than not, why teams such as the Lakers or Celtics or superstars such as Kobe Bryant weren’t in the Finals every year if, in fact, the NBA was so concerned about keeping marquee players or big markets in the playoffs? He’d defiantly argue that the NBA held its referees accountable more than any other league by monitoring them closely.

Retired NBA referee Mike Mathis tore the latter argument to shreds yesterday, saying that Stern had hired unqualified people, such as a former college trainer and an NBA scorekeeper, to evaluate the officials.

It was just par for the course for Stern, Mathis said. He was having unqualified graders evaluate underqualified officials.

“There were red flags up all around with different officials, and yet they were hired,” Mathis said on ESPN’s First Take Tuesday.

Stern finally acknowledged the system was seriously flawed Tuesday. So the question now is, what took him so long?

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