HERE'S WHAT makes me uneasy about everyone dismissing Tim Donaghy's most recent allegations about NBA corruption just because he is a cheating dirt ball.

Jose Canseco is also a cheating dirt ball.

And Brian McNamee is, too.

Canseco was roundly ridiculed when he first began naming fellow steroid users in a 2005 book and during congressional hearings. Just trying to sell a book, they said. Just trying to deflect blame for his own steroid use, they said.

"It should be enough that you consider the source of the statements," Mark McGwire said before the House Government Reform Committee in his infamous, "I am not here to talk about the past" testimony in March 2005.

McGwire also likened Canseco to "convicted criminals who would do or say anything to solve their own problems." And Curt Schilling warned lawmakers against "glorifying" Canseco, or "indirectly assisting him to sell more books."

A large chunk of the media jumped on board, too. Just as some have done now.

A story in the Dallas Morning News

yesterday started with this:

"Former NBA referee and admitted

felon Tim Donaghy intruded on the NBA Finals with a wide range of allegations designed to lessen his upcoming sentence."

Hate to intrude.

Once, it was blasphemy to suggest seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens might have been injecting magic vitamins into his buttocks region. No one worked harder, we were told repeatedly.

No one worked harder, we wrote,

repeatedly.

Donaghy, who has admitted betting on NBA games he officiated, has offered up all sorts of insider info in an attempt for a lighter sentence. Some of it, like the assertion that certain NBA officials frequented casinos in violation of NBA rules, was

confirmed by commissioner David Stern during a conference call with reporters last October.

Rather than any disciplinary action, Stern called the rules arcane and said they would be changed.

Before Tuesday's Game 3 in Los Angeles, Stern dismissed the latest charges - including that officials were prodded by the league into extending the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Sacramento for revenue purposes - by citing Donaghy's self-made troubles.

"This guy is dancing as fast as he can to throw as much against the wall so his

sentence won't be as hard," Stern said. "So he picks his spots, figures the NBA

Finals, game in LA, he'll file it today."

All that might be true.

All that probably is true.

So what?

As we learned from Canseco and McNamee - the ex-Clemens trainer-turned-canary - the perception that someone is lying doesn't make it so. And avoiding jail can just as easily be motivation to tell the truth. Anyone care to guess how many mobsters, murderers and lying, cheating politicians were sent away by the confessions of cheating dirt balls?

Stern has to do better than this. Or hope that short memories prevail. It was pointed out in an Associated Press story yesterday that referees' calls made in Game 6 of that 2002 series were

suspect enough that Ralph Nader and

a sports industry watchdog group complained in a letter to Stern. In beating

Sacramento and staving off elimination, the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the final quarter and scored 16 of their final 18 points at the line.

The more popular and marketable Lakers then won Game 7.

Donaghy also claimed the outcome of a 2005 first-round series between Houston and Dallas was influenced by league directives ordering referees to target Yao Ming for illegal screens. ABC and ESPN television analyst Jeff Van Gundy, then coach of the Rockets, was fined $100,000 during the series for publicly claiming that a referee had told him the league had targeted Yao.

In yesterday's Dallas Morning News, Van Gundy said he "didn't want to give any credibility to what Tim Donaghy said," but that he believed the league should be more transparent when complaints are filed.

Less defensive might be a good idea, too. It was only last spring that Stern's NBA dismissed quite arrogantly a well-considered, well-supported study by a Penn professor and a Cornell graduate student on the subliminal bias of calls along racial lines. Like now, they said they had found no evidence of that in their own investigation. And like now, their investigation was not immediately forthcoming.

Because the NBA wants him to pay $1 million for that purported investigation, Donaghy has requested it be made public.

Maybe the NBA doesn't owe that to a cheating dirt ball.

But it sure would put our minds at ease. *

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to