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Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Updated: June 12, 1:32 PM ET
Nader still wants NBA to take long look in mirror

By Thomas Neumann
Page 2

Six years ago, consumer advocate Ralph Nader sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern asking him to review the officiating in the now-infamous Game 6 of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and the Kings.

He was lampooned by some for his foray into the sports arena and skewered by Lakers fans, who questioned whether he's a Kings fan, which he's not.

Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader wants fans to be able to enjoy the "sanctuary" of sports without having doubts about its legitimacy.
The Lakers subsequently won Game 7 and their third consecutive championship, and the controversy gradually quieted.

Then came Tuesday's allegations, in a court filing by disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy, that two of the three referees who worked that Kings-Lakers game altered its outcome.

Now, Nader says he feels vindicated.

"There were some suspicions that the referees that were chosen were company men," Nader said. "[Stern] doesn't have to say anything. He doesn't even have to wink in their direction. They know an extra game means more revenue."

The Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter to nine by the visiting Kings, and LA won by four.

"The Sacramento Kings were one win away from the NBA Finals," Nader said. "That cost them their season."

Nader currently is running for president for the fourth time, this time as an independent. He readily admits there are far more important issues in America than NBA officiating, but he sees it as a relevant consumer issue in that many fans see sports as a sanctuary and deserve to believe in its legitimacy. Nader still would like to see the NBA's officiating practices put under a microscope -- by an independent, objective entity.

"There should be a non-partisan commission and an independent review," Nader said. "David Stern has a conflict of interest."

Nader said he did speak to Stern in 2002 about reviewing the Kings-Lakers game, but he simply got lip service from the commissioner.

"He was a bit standoffish," Nader said. "He said they'd look into it, but it was really a whitewash."

Nader pointed to Sunday's Game 2 of the NBA Finals, in which the Celtics shot 38 free throws to the Lakers' 10, as another incident that raises conspiracy suspicions among fans. Further, Nader said NBA policies contribute to an environment in which an officiating cover-up could flourish -- specifically the league's practice of fining players and coaches who speak out about officiating.

"You have a corporate dictatorship," Nader said. "Players are muzzled and can be fined upwards of $100,000 [if they speak up about officiating]. It's a closed system. We need some sort of voice … otherwise, cover-ups remain cover-ups. There's no deterrent."

Nader said the NBA could alleviate some fans' suspicions by revealing the specific criteria the NBA uses to select referees for playoff games and allowing players to speak out about officiating once the season is over. He also thinks it would be a good idea for the league to use an independent body to oversee officiating.

Nader advocates lifting sports antitrust exemptions and urges fans to organize and speak out if they truly want to see their concerns addressed. He founded League of Fans to try to do just that, he said. The larger and louder the voice, the better.

"It's hard to crack a corporate dictatorship," Nader said.

Thomas Neumann is an editor for Page 2. You can contact him here.