Retired NBA ref refutes Donaghy allegations from '02 playoffs

Updated: June 15, 2008, 11:27 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

One of three referees to officiate Game 6 of the 2002 Lakers-Kings series recalls it much the same as everyone else -- except Tim Donaghy.

Ted Bernhardt, who along with Dick Bavetta and Bob Delaney officiated the game, again denied Donaghy's latest allegations in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. He had told ESPN.com last week that he stood by his calls in the controversial game. Bernhardt acknowledged it wasn't one of his best performances, but he refuted Donaghy's assertions that refs had rigged the game in order to stretch the series to a Game 7.

Documents

• Tim Donaghy, right, claims that other referees were involved in altering NBA games. Read PDF

• The Donaghy legal team addresses the NBA's claim that he must pay $1 million restitution. Read PDF

"After the game, I wasn't happy, not with a particular call, but it just wasn't a good game for us," Bernhardt, who retired during the 2005-06 season, told the Bee. "I know this is a horrible thing. But we tried hard to get the calls right. I don't understand. ... I don't know what's behind [the Donaghy] situation, but I have never been around a referee I thought cheated or was influenced in a game.

"I never imagined we'd be talking about this six years later."

Delaney, who is still an active referee, also has denied Donaghy's allegations in an interview with ESPN's "Outside The Lines" last week.

Delaney, a highly decorated former New Jersey State trooper, said: "This is not the first time a known or convicted criminal has lied about me before the judicial system. I have an extensive law enforcement background and still train police officers. I have dealt with criminals and informants, and I know full well they are capable of doing and saying anything. I cannot comment any further without permission from the NBA."

According to a letter filed in court last week, two referees, known as "company men," purposely ignored personal fouls and called "made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6" in a 2002 playoff series.

"I stand by my calls in that game," Bernhardt told ESPN.com Thursday. "I was right on."

Although no teams are specifically named, it is not hard to deduce the game in question. The Lakers-Kings series was the only one that postseason that went seven games, and the officiating in Game 6 was so questionable that consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader called for a formal investigation.

"Everything just blew up," Bernhardt told the Bee. "It's a shame. You have an off-night as an official. Well, players have off-nights, too. For someone to say that we wanted the series to go to seven games ... it's really hard for me to hear all this stuff. This hurts me on so many levels."

The Game In Question

Shaquille O'Neal scored 41 points and pulled down 17 rebounds as the Lakers forced a Game 7 in the 2002 Western Conference finals. Recap

Bavetta, like Delaney, is still active. The NBA does not allow its referees to speak to the media without being given prior permission, and the league did not immediately respond to a request by ESPN.com to permit Bavetta to be interviewed.

Two former NBA referees told ESPN on Thursday that federal investigators had questioned them about Bavetta while conducting their probe into Donaghy.

Former referee Hue Hollins said Thursday on ESPN's Outside The Lines that federal investigators "questioned me about Dick Bavetta more than they did about Tim Donaghy."

"They wanted to know what I knew about Dick Bavetta in terms of holding calls, making sure this team wins, that team wins. I said 'I never heard of that, and I didn't know anything about it,'" Hollins said. "When they called to interview me, I was again caught by surprise they asked so many questions about Bavetta. I didn't know where they were going with that."

Another ex-referee, who spoke to ESPN.com on the condition he not be identified, said federal investigators asked him about specific games Bavetta refereed and whether he had noticed anything peculiar about Bavetta's actions.

Los Angeles, which shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter of Game 6, scored 16 of its final 18 points at the line. The Lakers went on to take Game 7 in overtime at Sacramento before sweeping the overmatched New Jersey Nets in the Finals.

NBA commissioner David Stern, and Kings owners Gavin and Joe Maloof have also rejected the claims from Donaghy, who has pleaded guilty to betting on games he officiated and taking cash payments from gamblers. Donaghy, 41, faces up to 33 months in prison at sentencing on July 14.

Donaghy's lawyer has sought to convince a federal judge in Brooklyn that Donaghy, of Bradenton, Fla., deserves more credit for coming forward before he was charged to disclose behind-the-scenes misconduct within the NBA. The letter suggests prosecutors have hurt Donaghy's chances for a lesser prison term by downplaying the extent of his cooperation.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan was used in this report.