Stern criticizes study on refs, rips New York Times

Updated: May 4, 2007, 10:39 PM ET
Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- NBA commissioner David Stern criticized a study regarding racial bias among league officials and panned The New York Times for printing it, saying racism "doesn't exist in the NBA."

NY Times reacts
A statement from Tom Jolly, sports editor of The New York Times:

"We are confident that our article fairly and accurately reflects the findings of the Wolfers-Price study, and fairly and accurately reflects the NBA's response to that study. Over the course of three weeks of reporting, Alan Schwarz spent several hours meeting with NBA. executives to discuss the Wolfers-Price study and the league's own subsequent study.

As we reported, all of the data that was made available to us from both studies was reviewed at our request by three independent experts: Ian Ayres of Yale Law School, David Berri of California State University-Bakersfield and Larry Katz of Harvard University. They uniformly agreed that the Wolfers-Price study reflected a solid analytical approach and that the NBA's study was significantly flawed.

In fact, after studying the NBA. data, Katz, one of the nation's most respected economists, told us: "It was so poorly presented that it was hard to figure out what they were doing. And to the extent you could figure out what they were doing, there was such incoherence you couldn't draw any conclusions from it."

Speaking before Friday's Game 6 of a playoff series between Toronto and New Jersey, Stern said of the report: "My major concern about it is that it's wrong."

"This is a bum rap, that's all," Stern said. "This is a bum rap, and if it is going to be laid on us it should be laid on us by basis of some people who are purported to be scholars in a publication that purports to hold us up to a higher standard -- a little bit more should have been done."

Justin Wolfers, an assistant professor of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and Joseph Price, a Cornell graduate student in economics, found that white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players.

The study, conducted over a 13-year span through 2004, was based on information from publicly available box scores, which show only the referees' names and contain no information about which official made a call.

"If David Stern wants to criticize the study, it has to be on some material grounds," Wolfers said.

"I'm in the social science game. I assembled large amounts of data, analyzed them seriously, have that analysis in the public domain and the professional domain and have had it vetted, and I have yet to hear a single social scientist criticize it at all.

"David Stern is a better business executive than I am. But this is what I've been trained to do."

The NBA did its own study, which it sent to Wolfers on Friday afternoon, over a more recent 2½-year span that included which referee made each call.

Stern seemed more annoyed with the Times, saying it "behaved very badly, very badly." He criticized the timing of its story and said the experts it interviewed had conflicts of interest.

"When we have gone to the expense of saying you raised a fair subject, let us analyze it ourselves and may we share the data with you and obviously they had a deadline because the information was so fresh it ended in 2003," Stern said. "They had to rush into publication. Why? Because they wanted to get good play on the front page of The New York Times. We're not buying it.

"Am I sensitive to the subject? Yeah. But The New York Times should be held to the standards to which it [pronounces] itself."

Wolfers presented the study Friday at the annual meeting of the Society of Labor Economists in Chicago. He will present it again Sunday at a meeting of the American Law and Economics Association.

"As long as the assignments of crews to games is random, Justin doesn't have to know the official's [race] in order to know an all-white crew calls less fouls on white players than an all-black crew," said Derek Neal, an economics professor at the University of Chicago who was in the audience for Wolfers' presentation.

"It doesn't matter who officiates. You get the same number of fouls called on black players. But if the officials are all black, there are more fouls called on white players. And if the officials are all white, there are less fouls called on white players."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press