The next few weeks will probably find David Stern longing for the days when his league was merely known as a "thug" league. Fair or not that impression has a cache in certain circles and there was always the Spurs to point to as a direct counterpoint to any allegations that the Association was only home to selfish millionaires prone to misbehavior. But if today's New York Post cover story is true the NBA is in for a world of hurt.
The FBI is investigating an NBA referee who allegedly was betting on basketball games - including ones he was officiating during the past two seasons - as part of an organized-crime probe in the Big Apple, The Post has learned.
The investigation, which began more than a year ago, is zeroing in on blockbuster allegations that the referee was making calls that affected the point spread to guarantee that he - and the hoods who had their hooks in him - cashed in on large bets.
There's nothing worse for any sport than the belief that the fix is in and as bad as players shaving points might be it's nothing compared to the thought that referees are shaping outcomes. There's absolutely nothing that can stop a ref who's trying to keep a game within or outside a point spread. The Post isn't naming any names but they report Stern is aware of the investigation into the official who wagered on and reffed games played over the last two seasons. Those games numbered in the double digits and although they don't mention any playoff contests it's hard to imagine that the extra eyes and, more precisely, extra money flowing in that direction wouldn't make them of particular interest to the ref and his mob overlords.
There's no indication that the NBA knew any of this during the season and if that's so then they are the biggest victim in this mess. Baseball took a bit of a hit during the Pete Rose mess but by banning him for life and sticking to it they've made it clear that they offer no quarter for those mixed up with a criminal element. And that was a manager betting on his own team to win which doesn't do much to taint the league as a whole. Sure it's unsavory but it's hardly as ugly as the thought of a ref controlling the outcome of a game based on his own financial gain. It will taint the league terribly, especially if it turns out that the official worked games of high importance.
Anyone looking to speculate on which ref's name is about to become a household one might want to check out Covers.com's page of referee statistics. It's hard to glean much from the information since there's both spreads and over/unders to bet on but Jess Kersey's record against the spread was 18-42-1 which jumps out as totally out of line with his brethren. But the previous season the record was 37-31-1 so do with that information whatever you will.
Expect a lot more about this story in the coming days because the story says that the federales are set to make arrests in this case. The ref will be one of those arrested and once his name hits the wires the NBA will finally get all the eyes on them that they didn't during the Finals.