David Stern talks…again

DAVID STERN: Good evening. I’m sorry to interfere with your pregame preparations, but we had received so many media requests for responses from me that I thought it was best to do it here and allow as many questions as possible, given the time constraints.
I just want to say that as part of the investigation by the independent investigator, Larry Pedowitz, that every NBA official has been interviewed and asked the question whether they have made any calls other than on the merits of the calls, and that investigation with respect to all of our officials has been completed, although the report itself is not ready to be issued because it was always contemplated that it would be done after Mr. Donaghy was sentenced and against the hope that the request made several months ago from Mr. Donaghy’s lawyer that he meet with Mr. Pedowitz would be responded to in a positive way, and that has been denied.
Second of all, I, in light of that, and the interviews of our officials, and really on behalf of our officials, didn’t think it was fair for them to have to respond or anyone to have to respond for them against the allegations by an admitted felon that somehow all or a large swath of NBA officials had engaged in illegal conduct. But I would just say, in light of the media coverage here, we will go back and prospectively ask the questions of officials in effect again with respect of specific acts, even though they’ve all been interviewed, so that I could sit here in front of you, really on behalf of our officials, who don’t engage with you on a regular basis, to say no, no, a thousand times no, and I don’t know how else to give them, I think, the protection to which they’re entitled.
This is a subject that I’ve been quite interested in for years. It’s the subject of officiating. It’s something that we decided five years ago that we would track literally every call in order to help develop our officials and make them better, and they really effectively are the most measured and metricized group of employees in the world.
That said, they get about 90 percent or so of the calls correct. Given the size of the players, the speed of the game, the position they find themselves, and as a result, there are always games, some of which are refereed, quote, better, with a higher percentage of correct calls than others. But that’s the extent of it.
I think that’s all I have to say, other than that I find it to be less than fair that our officials now have to defend themselves from allegations by one of their fallen brethren. But that seems to be what the media is demanding of me on their behalf, and I think that their attempt to do the best officiating job in the world under the most difficult circumstances, in an arena setting where the cameras are as close as they possibly could be to any action requires no less. I’m happy to answer any of your questions.

Q. Could I ask you a two-part question? First of all, are you saying that most of the attention has been focused on this allegation in Game 6 in the 2002 playoffs between the Lakers and Kings? Are you saying that his allegations in regard to that game, it’s impossible for his allegations to be correct? And secondly, looking back, notwithstanding the fact that it’s very difficult for referees to do a game, I think we all know that, was that a well-refereed match?
DAVID STERN: My memory recalls that that was not one of the best refereed games, so that’s the second part.
What’s the first part?

Q. The first part is are you saying it’s impossible? I know you talked about him being a felon, and obviously we all know he’s a felon. Are you saying that it’s impossible that his allegations regarding that game are correct?
DAVID STERN: I’m saying I don’t know how — I don’t want to argue with you on possible or impossible. I’m saying to you that the allegations about that are incorrect, are not true. I don’t want to even fudge words, okay; they’re not true.

Q. In light of the revelation by a former referee that Dick Bavetta that has been raised by federal investigators in their inquiries, do you have any concerns about Mr. Bavetta or anyone else?
DAVID STERN: I think I should explain that although the FBI and the U.S. Attorney never shared with us what Mr. Donaghy said to them, you know, the letter, the specifics were laid out in that letter. We had some idea about what was happening because we made available and they went out and sought interviews with many officials, present and former, who informed us of those interviews. So we knew that something had been said by Mr. Donaghy and that the FBI was investigating a variety of claims. That’s what happens. Someone comes in, they make a variety of allegations as they seek to demonstrate their cooperativeness with respect to reducing a sentence, and then you identify people.
But guilt by association is not something that we engage in, and so we just allowed all those interviews to be done, and in fact, helped facilitate many interviews with both present officials for sure, but we knew about former officials, as well.

Q. Do you have any concerns about Dick Bavetta at this point?
DAVID STERN: No.

Q. This story has obviously had legs for the last three or four days of this week. How concerned are you that this is beginning to overwhelm this event? And secondly, in light of all the questions, are you considering any measures to make the officials more accountable to reporters for whatever may happen in a particular game?
DAVID STERN: I don’t quite understand the question, really. With respect to overwhelming, I can tell you that we’ve had three games — three games? Yeah, okay, this is Game 4. America is tuning in with great enthusiasm, anticipation. They’re following our series. I think our players deserve the following that’s happening. I’m disconcerted for the players that this is distracting some people, but for the most part, the game is what’s going on.
With respect to our officiating, I don’t think we have any specific plans beyond our current rules about making referees available to a pool of reporters after games with respect to calls, but no other plans beyond that.

Q. For years and years the teams have been calling the league, going back to days when the GMs would just call up and then they would send videotapes, and these days you guys have all the video. All they have to do is sit there at a game, all they have to do is type it into a Blackberry. By letting them engage in this process, this is a process of monitoring your referees. Aren’t you setting yourself up to be criticized if you send out a directive, somebody will then say they complained and the league did this and this is what happened?
DAVID STERN: Actually, I don’t think we can win on this one, but I would really rather err on the side of when a team calls up and says, “we saw the worst thing happen last night,” our response has become much more open to say, “send us a tape, we’d like to see it.” Because there are times when the multitude of calls that officials are supposed to make, certain habits creep in, certain things may not be subject to the same points of emphasis, so we’ve tried to be as open as we could possibly be, on behalf of the officials, who want nothing more than to make the correct call, okay? Let me say that again. Our officials want nothing more than to be at the top of their professional game and make the correct call. That’s what they do; that’s their living, that’s their pride, that’s their joy. They don’t achieve that because they happen to be human. But we openly say to our teams, if you think there’s an issue with the way we’re calling a particular player, then send us the tape.
So to say to them, no, don’t, that to me is an issue, as well. This has been an important issue over the years, obviously — intractable is probably a good word because there was a point in my early years as commissioner that certain of our teams thought that they should have the right to disqualify officials because they didn’t feel they were getting a fair shake, et cetera, and I learned very early to say, no, no, no, that can’t be, because that would be to give certain teams too much control. So the best way for us to deal with our officials is for them to be solely accountable to the league and to me to be responsible for anything that goes wrong.

Q. Well, it’s obvious that you want and need to monitor them. Why should the teams be part of it, because they’re not acting in the best interest of the game. We go through this from the moment we walk into the losing dressing room, everybody is upset. They’re calling you when they lose, period, and then they’re going to show you three or four or five films.
DAVID STERN: In fairness to the teams, I’ve actually gotten calls from the winning and the losing team with respect to the same game. We wrestle with this, and we have over the years, where some of our supervision favored the referees not even talking to the players or the coaches, and we said, you know, that’s not the right way to do that. Don’t accept every complaint, but be available to them during the game, respond to requests and questions and the like.
And the teams are the ones that are being impacted, and I think it’s fair for them, as long as it comes to us in the League office, I think it’s fair for the teams to have an opinion and for us to listen because it many cases what we tell them, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, maybe, wrong. And we analyze the tapes and we give them a response. Otherwise it builds up. We’ve tried to deal with it that way. Maybe the dictatorship that you suggest is more appealing, but I don’t think it’s the right way to go.

Q. Just so I can be clear on something, can you release the Pedowitz findings whenever you want or are you being told not to?
DAVID STERN: We think it would be wiser to await the completion of the sentencing of Mr. Donaghy before it gets released.

Q. Can I just ask why? It seems he’s not going to talk to you. You’ve asked a couple times and he keeps saying no, and we have stuff — people aren’t believing — people want to know. You have the stuff –
DAVID STERN: There’s nothing profound, I’m sure, but we’re not — we believe — that’s all I want to say, that we believe, and in light of the pendency of the case until it is disposed of by the sentencing of Mr. Donaghy, it’s prudent for us not to have the report released, and that’s really unrelated in some way to whether Mr. Donaghy comes in to speak to us.
It was originally that he was going to be sentenced, I think, in April or whenever it was. It moved to May, June, July, and hopefully by July 14th the report will be released.

Q. Is it disconcerting that so much of America seems to believe — I haven’t certified the poll numbers, but anecdotally we all have an uncle who follows sports, and they don’t say it about the NFL they don’t say it about baseball. Can you explain why it seems it’s so much more of a problem for basketball?
DAVID STERN: It’s an interesting archaeological problem. We’ll probably have it in a time capsule how the 60 years of the NBA were dealt with. I would say the referees have the toughest game to call. I would say that there’s a lot of officiating done by announcers, local announcers. Sometimes you should listen to a game from both feeds and you’d think you were listening to completely different games.
Sometimes the coaches are not constructive with respect to the way they think that they can use the officiating to monitor — to motivate their teams. And sometimes people see calls that are flat-out incorrect, closeup, and form opinions with respect to that because we simply do not have — we’re not there yet to make the games four hours long rather than two hours and 12 minutes by stopping on every play to make sure that it’s perfect.
And I think in its collectivity, a certain impression gets left. Aside from the polls, I think we get to 90 million people who tune into our games in the course of a year, and I think they understand that our referees are giving it their best, honest effort, and I do believe that.

Q. I have a question for you about kind of an alternative theory that, okay, Donaghy was an isolated incident, but as you said, the referees are so measured, and this isn’t my theory necessarily, but kind of a conspiracy thing. The referee assignments, they’re so measured. You know someone might perhaps call more offensive fouls on a big man, Shaquille O’Neal, so in a game the assignments might get him in foul trouble. The idea that maybe the series gets extended, how do you just respond to that kind of thought? I mean, it’s –
DAVID STERN: I can’t respond to thoughts, but I will tell you that we match our officials to be the most efficient in their trios, and there is no consideration given to the outcome of the game. In fact, our goal in the way we measure our refs and develop them is the — the goal is to get the same game called no matter which three referees do it. And I think that we’re getting much closer to that goal over a period of time with respect to positioning, with respect to reviews.
Remember, there’s an observer at every game who then goes home and reviews the tape. That is then looked at by a group supervisor, some number, not every game; it is then looked at by what we call the super observer who are independent, retired, not affiliated either with us or either of the teams, just to make sure that it’s properly done so we can have a benchmark to make sure that we’re judging people against the norm as we try to do it.
So it’s the most intense system. Perhaps, if anything, I’m at fault for not publicizing and doing more for it PR-wise on behalf of our officials. But it’s there. Whether it’s 8 percent or 7 percent or 9 percent, in retrospect with the benefit of slow-mo and precise positioning, you demonstrate they’re incorrect, and that gets people thinking or saying or talking or whatever. But you know, that’s where we are.

Q. In the interviews that took place between federal investigators and your referees, how much Dick Bavetta- oriented questioning was taking place?
DAVID STERN: I don’t know, but I do know there were questions about him. Whatever it is that Mr. Donaghy directed the federal authorities to, they followed up and they asked questions, and as I said earlier, the only person now being sentenced for a crime is Mr. Donaghy.

Q. Your thoughts on Phil Jackson’s idea about having the referees a separate entity from the NBA?
DAVID STERN: I think that would not be a wise management decision. I think that, not to follow the herd, but to say that all of the major leagues make it an issue of making sure that they report to the Commissioner, and I think that it’s important to sit here and say to you that the accusations that we manipulate games that then get reported on are those accusations, the facts underlying those, they’re false; we don’t. And if you’d like me to repeat it again, I will tell you that we don’t. And on behalf of my officials I’d like to tell you that they don’t engage in the criminal conduct of which Mr. Donaghy has accused them. And if I need to say it again to an audience that might be tuned in or through the soundbyte, our officials try very hard with complete integrity and honesty to referee perfect games. That they fail in that makes them human but not objects of the kind of ridicule and scorn to which they have been unfairly subjected for the last three days.

Q. A year ago you talked about how surprised you were that this guy was even doing these things. What have you done in the last year to change the system? I mean, you’ve been doing this call-by-call review for more than a year. It was going on when Donaghy was doing this behavior. So what have you done in the last year –

DAVID STERN: I can tell you that what we’ve done is things that relate to how referees might have access to information in arenas and sort of sequestered them against the kind of claims that when Mr. Donaghy claimed that when he heard something about an injury, he made a phone call. But I must say as honestly and as directly as I can, that if you have a criminal in your midst who’s prepared to engage in criminal activity, whether it’s the NBA, the CIA, the FBI, the armed forces, police departments or whatever, you’ve got a problem and you will probably be burned by it.
But there are a series of recommendations that we’ve implemented that try to contain the situation as best we can, but there’s no foolproof guarantee here that’s available.

Q. For the sake of transparency why not release the report of the Game Observer of Game 6 of the 2002 playoffs? Why not make that public?
DAVID STERN: Actually, the Observer system was put in after that, okay.

Q. So there isn’t any –
DAVID STERN: There is a box score, but you can watch it, you could look at it again and you could see the what we call the correct, incorrect and non-call incorrect. I mean, we’ve got a — we could go back and look at it. My guess is it won’t be pretty, but it won’t be dishonest and it won’t be illegal. Of that I assure you, and I thank you very much.

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