Czar Stern’s tangled NBA nets

The NBA gambling crisis featuring a malcontent referee gone haywire is already the biggest and most important sports story of the year and it is only just beginning to unravel.

Forget about the interminable Barry Bonds sideshow. It’s an asterisk, relatively speaking. The baseball steroid inquiry is huge but it’s all about ethics and concerns cheating. The basketball calamity is about crime and it features criminals. People are going to go to jail. It all springs from a major investigation by the FBI of the Gambino crime family, the Corleones of our times. It is about the scorning of the most fundamental laws of our beloved games. It is seismic.

In this light it has been interesting watching the NBA’s poobahs -- media apologists included -- nervously dissemble their way through the early rounds of the Tim Donaghy fiasco. Czar David Stern was only too eager to pronounce Donaghy “a rogue” and an “isolated criminal” well before he had any way of knowing if that’s true. Not that you can blame the beleaguered Stern for flopping about like a trained seal in a desperate attempt to minimize this mess.

But it won’t work. The government chose to back off from the more explosive “sports bribery” charge, preferring to stick with the safer and much easier to prove raps of wire fraud and interstate transfer of gambling dope. A bribery indictment would have required the Feds to prove Donaghy actually fixed games; very, very tough to do.

Needless to say Stern and company doubtless dropped to their knees in thanksgiving when the government opted for the less dramatic option although it’s hardly a break for Donaghy who could still get up to 25 years for his guilty plea. But if this is legally and technically an easier course for federal prosecutors to run, it won’t wash with the public which wants very much to have the ‘‘fix question’’ addressed.

To the great, unwashed fans of sport in general and basketball in particular that is the central issue; indeed, the only real issue. Did Tim Donaghy alter the outcome of games to get off the hook with his crooked gambling connections to whom he was fiercely indebted? If that question does not get answered in satisfactory detail, the effects of this nightmare scenario will not only linger, but explode. Even if the craven Donaghy does not succeed in implicating upward to 20 of his NBA refereeing buddies, as he is now suggesting he just might do.

Stern’s main goal is to keep the lid on this festering cesspool. Donaghy’s guilty plea gave him the glimmer of hope that effective damage control is possible. He’s deluding himself. His nightmare has only just begun. But given the gravity of the issue it’s a bit surprising it hasn’t skyrocketed in the media.

You get the feeling only diehard hoop junkies are really into it. This too is a mistake. The tentacles of this thing could yet extend well beyond basketball. Can you just imagine what the reaction would have been had the game in question been baseball? Can you begin to fathom the fallout from any such suspicion being linked with an umpire? But then there are two sets of standards in American sport. One is for baseball. The other is for all the other games. Guess which one is substantially higher?

In the short term how does the NBA, only some two months removed from another season, begin to function in a spirit of “business as usual”? If -- as is widely expected -- Donaghy does trash roughly 20 more of the league’s officials in a shoddy effort to reduce his jail time, that would mean one third of the NBA’s total stable of whistle blowers has been to some degree “compromised.” How do they shake that off?

It’s not expected that Donaghy has bombs to toss. “Bombs” would obviously include the ultimate knock-out blow of a “Fix,” or -- to a lesser degree -- point shaving charges, or even the implicating of some of his ex-colleagues in his own chicanery. As of the writing there is no reason to expect any of that.

But it is expected that Donaghy will reveal that some of his brethren have been guilty of what may politely be termed “indiscretions.” The list is said to probably include the placing of stray, small wagers on other sports, visiting the odd casino on the road, hanging out with dubious characters, accepting favors from folks both dubious and otherwise, picking up perks on the sly, or even living the high life or otherwise disporting ones’ self “indiscreetly” None of them are high crimes or even misdemeanors in the eyes of civil law let alone the FBI. But they are serious violations of the NBA rules that Stern maintains his league takes seriously and polices assiduously. Hold the laughter, please!

There is, however, one issue above all that has the biggest bombshell potential and it has to do with the misty, murky, difficult to define and even more impossible to prove matter of “bias.” It is already on the table and it’s not only the issue that must scare Stern witless, it has to have officials of every other major game under the sun shaking in their boots as well.

Donaghy’s guilty plea keeps some of the juicier details of his transgressions and the government’s case against him under wraps for the moment. But enough of it has already seeped out and more is sure to come bubbling to the surface soon enough. And among the established facts specified in the court papers is the explosive assertion that Donaghy provided gamblers with insights about the attitudes of officials and how various of them “interact” (the court’s word) with players.

This has to do with who they like and who they don’t like. Who they might therefore be tougher or easier on when calling fouls. Who might have a bit of a racial hang-up, or some other such prejudice. Who has a grudge against whom. He also offered tips on which officials would be calling certain games, which is top secret stuff. You should understand all this precious information is so much gold in the hands of seasoned wise guys trying to pick the winner of a game that has a point spread of maybe only a single basket or foul shot. For this intelligence, Donaghy pocketed five grand a game when his “tips” proved “useful.” Let’s just say this operation was bigger than “Bingo.”

Officials in all the games are only human. It is impossible for them to restrain every subjective impulse from invading upon their necessary objectivity. But for an established official of a major sporting league to effectively affirm that unrestrained subjectivity -- i.e. ‘‘Bias’’ -- can be a notable factor in the officiating of some of our games is no less than a bombshell. Let much more of this get out and you will never trust a zebra or a man in blue again. At what point then do the games become irrelevant?

Stern, long the teflon czar who has always been smoother and more glib than any of his confreres in the other games, has made one huge mistake. Early on in this crisis he characterized Donaghy as a “typical” NBA official. That was the word he used; “typical.” He said that’s why Donaghy was so hard to nail, why he glided safely under the radar for so long.

For four years this rascal worked his deceits and felonies with some major league wise guys smack in the middle of the NBA’s daily hurly-burly and yet he appeared to be no different than any of the other guys who tote whistles for the NBA.

That is what David Stern effectively said. Think about that for a minute.

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...