Whistling While They Work

NBA refs put on an annual clinic for developmentally challenged boys. It was conceived by Tim Donaghy, who was absent, facing betting allegations.
NBA refs put on an annual clinic for developmentally challenged boys. It was conceived by Tim Donaghy, who was absent, facing betting allegations. (Photos By Sarah J. Glover For The Washington Post)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 7, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Pa., Aug. 6 -- Tim Donaghy's absence from the referee clinic he started nine years ago wasn't lost on the youths at Don Guanella High or five NBA officials who carried on without him Monday.

Although the FBI's investigation of Donaghy, a former 13-year NBA official, for allegedly betting on games and providing confidential information to gamblers continues to hover over the leagues and its officials, it couldn't silence the laughter and stifle the smiles in a tiny, carpeted gym in suburban Philadelphia.

NBA referees Joey Crawford, Mike "Duke" Callahan, Steve Javie, Eddie Malloy and Mark Wunderlich spent an hour teaching about 50 developmentally challenged boys the rules of the game and how to signal violations. They also showered them with hugs and gifts such as NBA officials jerseys and jackets, basketball cards and caps. "This is what we do," Javie said. "It's no more important than any other year."

Donaghy is expected to turn himself into law enforcement officers this month. Referees are forbidden from speaking publicly about the Donaghy situation, but longtime officials Crawford and Javie spoke in general terms about the perception of officials in the wake of the allegations.

"Of course, you're disappointed," Crawford said. "But I know what I'm made of. I know what the rest of these guys -- and woman -- are made of. We are good people. We've proved that in the past, and we'll keep proving it."

Said Javie: "People don't like officiating, in general. We're professionals, and we do our job no matter what. We're good at what we do, but people perceive us to be bad because they're fans. Fans are going to be fans until the day they die, and they are going to root for their home team, no matter what."

The first Monday in August has been reserved for the clinic since Donaghy suggested the idea to Robert Neely, Don Guanella's activities director, in 1998. But when Neely first heard about the Donaghy controversy in late July, he was prepared to cancel the event until Callahan assured him the clinic would continue.

"It just shows you the character of the guys here," Neely said, adding the referees often officiate games for the school or bring the children Christmas gifts.

The best part of the afternoon, Crawford said, was when they explained the art of tossing unruly players or coaches.

"It's one of my fortes," said Crawford, who gained infamy April 17 when was he was suspended and missed the playoffs after ejecting San Antonio's Tim Duncan and asking him if he wanted to fight. "There is a technique. Sometimes you can go overboard, which I have at times."

Neely played the role of a belligerent coach while the boys took turns ejecting him. John McGrath, an 18-year-old student at Don Guanella, obviously didn't need a lesson. When Neely refused to move after being directed to leave, McGrath screamed, "Do you want to fight?"

Crawford's mouth nearly dropped to the floor. Crawford is still waiting to hear if his suspension will be lifted next season after meeting with NBA President of League and Basketball Operations Joel Litvin, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson and Director of Officials Ronnie Nunn last week in New York. He said the decision was out of his hands.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company