(if this man doesn’t get a reduced sentence, the puppy dies)

Amongst those who’ve taken note of rogue ref Tim Donaghy’s latest accusations is consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

The “Unsafe At Any Speed” author, in an open letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern, wonders if public confidence in the Association hasn’t been forever shaken by the officiating in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Kings and Lakers.

Calls by referees in the NBA are likely to be more subjective than in professional baseball or football. But as the judicious and balanced Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon wrote this Sunday, too many of the calls in the fourth quarter (when the Lakers received 27 foul shots) were “stunningly incorrect,” all against Sacramento. After noting that the three referees in Game 6 “are three of the best in the game,” he wrote: “I have never seen officiating in a game of consequence as bad as that in Game 6….When Pollard, on his sixth and final foul, didn’t as much as touch Shaq. Didn’t touch any part of him. You could see it on TV, see it at courtside. It wasn’t a foul in any league in the world. And Divac, on his fifth foul, didn’t foul Shaq. They weren’t subjective or borderline or debatable. And these fouls not only resulted in free throws, they helped disqualify Sacramento’s two low-post defenders.” And one might add, in a 106-102 Lakers’ victory, this officiating took away what would have been a Sacramento series victory in 6 games.

This was not all. The Kobe Bryant elbow in the nose of Mike Bibby, who after lying on the floor groggy, went to the sideline bleeding, was in full view of the referee, who did nothing, prompted many fans to start wondering about what was motivating these officials.

Wilbon discounted any conspiracy theories about the NBA-NBC desire for a Game 7 etc., but unless the NBA orders a review of this game’s officiating, perceptions and suspicions, however presently absent any evidence, will abound and lead to more distrust and distaste for the games in general. When the distinguished basketball writer for the USA Today, David DuPree, can say: “I’ve been covering the NBA for 30 years, and it’s the poorest officiating in an important game I’ve ever seen,” when Wilbon writes that “The Kings and Lakers didn’t decide this series would be extended until Sunday; three referees did…” when many thousands of fans, not just those in Sacramento, felt that merit lost to bad refereeing, you need to take notice beyond the usual and widespread grumbling by fans and columnists about referees ignoring the rule book and giving advantages to home teams and superstars.

Your problem in addressing the pivotal Game 6 situation is that you have too much power. Where else can decision-makers (the referees) escape all responsibility to admit serious and egregious error and have their bosses (you) fine those wronged (the players and coaches) who dare to speak out critically?

In a February interview with David DuPree of USA Today, he asked you “Why aren’t coaches and players allowed to criticize the referees?” You said, “…we don’t want people questioning the integrity of officials. …It just doesn’t pay for us to do anything other than focus people on the game itself rather than the officiating.” “Integrity” which we take you to mean “professionalism” of the referees has to be earned and when it is not, it has to be questioned. You and your league have a large and growing credibility problem. Referees are human and make mistakes, but there comes a point that goes beyond any random display of poor performance. That point was reached in Game 6 which took away the Sacramento Kings Western Conference victory.

My favorite part of ABC’s Game 3 finals broadcast was Jeff Van Gundy scoffing at Donaghy’s insinuation Yao Ming was targeted during in the ’05 playoffs as a means of appeasing Mark Cuban. JVG, as you might recall, claimed at the time he’d been tipped off to that very plan, and was hit with a $100,000.00 fine as a result.

If Van Gundy claimed he was vindicated, he’d have magically disappeared from Mike Breen’s side before tipoff. In reminding viewers Tim Donaghy was a very, very bad man, the usually credible Van Gundy appeared genuinely fearful — perhaps David Stern was operating the teleprompter?