LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Federal investigators questioned former National Basketball Association officials about NBA referee Dick Bavetta when looking into an NBA betting scandal involving potential referee match fixing.
Former NBA referee Hue Hollins told the New York Times he was questioned by FBI agents about Bavetta while an unidentified ex-NBA referee told ESPN that he was questioned about details of Bavetta's actions and specific calls in games.
Questions about Bavetta, a 32-year veteran referee who handled last week's NBA Finals opener, stem from claims by disgraced ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who admitted betting on games he officiated and taking payoffs from gamblers.
NBA commissioner David Stern has portrayed Donaghy, who awaits sentencing next month, as a lone rogue whose actions were not part of any deeper conspiracy that might undermine the integrity of NBA results over many seasons.
Stern calls Donaghy's allegations baseless and claims he is merely a felon trying desperately to have his sentence reduced, saying here before Thursday's fourth game of the NBA Finals that he has no concerns about Bavetta's honesty.
"Guilt by association is not something we engange in," said Stern, who did not know how many questions FBI agents asked regarding Bavetta.
"I do know there were questions about him," Stern said. "They investigated and followed up and the only person being sentenced for a crime now is Mr. Donaghy."
Donaghy claims other officials altered the outcomes of playoff games in 2002 and 2005 and took part in conflict of interest behaviours such as socializing with players, coaches and team executives.
FBI agents asked Hollins, who retired in 2003, if he noticed Bavetta "was making sure the home team would win," Hollins told the Times.
"They were very specific about their questioning, as though they heard something," Hollins said. "They knew exactly what they were going after."
Another referee told ESPN that he was also asked if Bavetta's actions were unusual and questioned him about specific games officiated by Bavetta.
ESPN also reported that former NBA referee Mike Mathis was questioned by the FBI, but not about Bavetta, and that ex-NBA referee Ted Bernhardt was questioned only by the NBA's security division.
Details in Donaghy's accounts point to two playoff series that, if true, would have been tainted, including a 2002 Western Conference final between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento and a 2005 series between Houston and Dallas.
In 2002, Sacramento led the best-of-seven matchup 3-2 and game six was a controversial one in which the Lakers were sent to the free throw line 27 times in the fourth quarter, three times as often as the Kings in the period.
"My memory recalls that was not one of the best refereed games," Stern said. "The allegations about that (being deliberate) are not true."
Bavetta was a referee in the controversial sixth game, which the Lakers won before taking game seven and eventually winning a third consecutive NBA crown.
Bob Delaney and Bernhardt officiated the sixth game as well. Delaney told ESPN that he had never been contacted by the NBA or the FBI about Donaghy's allegations.
Bernhardt told ESPN he did not think the officiating crew had a strong performance in the controversial game.
"But I stand by my calls in that game. I was right on," Bernhardt said. "I believe in Dick Bavetta and I believe in Bob Delaney and I believe in the NBA for that matter."
The Kings, denied a trip to their first NBA Finals, questioned the officiating in the aftermath of the loss in Los Angeles.
The 2005 matchup in question appears to be one in which Dallas Mavericks owner mark Cuban complained about the actions of Houston center Yao Ming.
The Chinese star was whistled for more fouls in later games, prompting complaints from Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy that drew a huge fine from the NBA, and the Mavericks went on to beat the Rockets.
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