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Coming to defense of NBA referees amid Donaghy allegations

LOS ANGELES - Greg Magarity, the former federal prosecutor who represented the NBA referees during their interviews concerning alleged gambling improprieties, told the Daily News yesterday that the referees "feel like victims."

LOS ANGELES - Greg Magarity, the former federal prosecutor who represented the NBA referees during their interviews concerning alleged gambling improprieties, told the

Daily News

yesterday that the referees "feel like victims."

But because the officials, by league rule, cannot speak publicly about their situation, Magarity felt compelled to speak on their behalf. He made that decision after the latest series of allegations from convicted former referee Tim Donaghy made headlines Tuesday night, just before Game 3 of the Finals.

In a letter submitted Tuesday to U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., Donaghy's attorney, John Lauro, detailed testimony the former official gave last year to federal prosecutors and FBI agents on the "inner-workings" of the NBA. Donaghy alleged that NBA executives manipulate games to boost earnings, referees accept gifts from coaches, and "anonymous" observers who are supposed to monitor the referees' performance fraternize with them in the locker room.

Donaghy also alleged that league officials told referees they should withhold calling technical fouls on "certain star players" so as to not "hurt ticket sales and television ratings," and that at least two playoff games were manipulated to prolong the series.

The letter did not name any teams, players, coaches, referees or league executives.

"To think these guys make decisions based on what might be good for the league is incredible," Magarity said in a telephone conversation. "One of their own breached a sacred trust. To suggest someone would make a [playoff] series go seven games, if a referee were to do that he wouldn't be around long. Right now, they feel like a cop feels when another cop goes bad."

Late last summer, after the Donaghy scandal broke, Magarity represented the officials in connection with the NBA's review of its basketball operations and officiating programs.

"I'm saying this in my role as a citizen, as someone who represented these guys in their interviews with [former federal prosecutor Lawrence B. Pedowitz]. Those interviews were handled well, even though no one wanted to be there. The elephant in the room was a 'brother' who had violated their trust, who had sold that trust for money."

Magarity said Lauro released the latest documents at this point because Donaghy's sentencing has been delayed until July 14.

"It's a bad time [for the NBA], but he's doing what he feels will best help his client," Magarity said. "The refs, though, have no way of fighting back. They have no outlet. Everyone is trying to figure out the [unnamed] names. It's got to hurt.

"What I know is, I was never more proud of a collective group of clients in my life. This was as impressive a group as I've ever seen. It was electric in the room when they talked [to Pedowitz and his staff]. In a situation like this, there are two kinds of relevant statements: those from a defendant making relevant statements, and victim impact statements. As a group, their trust was breached by [Donaghy]."

During yesterday's availability with reporters at the Staples Center, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he has "zero concern about the integrity" of the referees.

"That doesn't mean I don't cry with every other call," said Rivers, whose team holds a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven championship series going into tonight's Game 4. "But I don't have any thought, and I never have, about the integrity of our officials. It's the toughest game in sports to officiate."

Rivers said when he worked as a broadcaster, he learned that, "Every arena I went in during the playoffs, the fan base thought the refs were against them."

But listening to the allegations, Rivers said, "[Celtics star] Paul Pierce got injured [in Game 1] and we questioned him, but we believe Donaghy? When you think of the logic of that crap . . . I'm not going to go any further, but our league is a great league, and that stuff bothers me a lot. It really does."

Magic Johnson, the former Lakers star and current minority owner, addressed the allegation of anyone trying to surreptitiously extend a playoff series, saying:

"I can't buy into that; I have never seen it happen. I've been part of the league going on 30 years. I've never seen it happen. I've been in all these series. [If it were true], last year commissioner [David] Stern would [have wanted] Cleveland-San Antonio [to go longer]; he got their prize guy in LeBron [James] going out in four games. That doesn't make sense to me if he's talking about business.

"I've been [involved in a series] with Michael Jordan, 4-1 against us. I've been 4-0 [in a loss] with Moses Malone. I've been 4-0 with Detroit. If you want to extend a series, they would've done it then. That's it. OK. I'm not buying it."

Neither was Jack Ramsay, the legendary Hall of Fame coach who is covering the Finals for

"I have a hard time believing any of this, knowing the officials as well as I do, and I know them better now than when I coached," Ramsay said. "There's no reason for an official to want a series to be extended; the official gets no more games, no more pay; the rotation for the games is predetermined."

As for Donaghy specifically, Ramsay said, "He's lied all the way through. Why believe him now? He's trying to get his sentence reduced. He has appealed for leniency."

Said Lakers coach Phil Jackson: "I think these guys have an impossible job. It's a very difficult game to referee, judgment calls on many, many situations in the course of a game, and these guys are doing as good a job as they possibly can."

Richard Buchanan, NBA executive vice president and general counsel, said in a letter to the judge presiding over Donaghy's case that the league has "received no information that any referee other than the defendant bet on NBA games or engaged in criminal activity with respect to NBA games."

"While the NBA has acknowledged that a number of referees periodically engaged in casino gaming and similar social gambling, this conduct amounted at the time only to a violation of NBA rules relating to the off-the-court activities of referees [those rules have since been changed], and not to any violation of criminal law," Buchanan wrote to U.S. District Court Judge Carol Amon in a June 5 letter that was entered into the court docket yesterday.

The letter was in response to a sentencing memorandum that Lauro filed last month. The 36-page memorandum - designed to reduce the ex-referee's sentence by highlighting the cooperation he provided to the government - claims, among other things, that prosecutors in Brooklyn gave last-minute "sweetheart" plea deals to Donaghy's gambling associates, James "Baba" Battista and Thomas Martino.

The guilty pleas averted a federal trial that could have revealed exactly what Donaghy told investigators, including embarrassing, behind-the-scenes details about how the NBA allegedly works, Lauro said. Battista, a professional gambler from Phoenixville, and Martino, of Marcus Hook, are scheduled to be sentenced July 11, 3 days before Donaghy. *

Daily News staff writer William Bender contributed to this report.