NBA’s new director of officials has a criminal past


The NBA has a new director of officials, according to a report from Don Vaden is replacing Bernie Fryer in the role, and Vaden has the qualifications: 15 years as a top on-court referee, and has worked for the league in an off-court capacity since 2003. But for a league that suffered through the Tim Donaghy scandal, it seems a bit odd that the person chosen for this position just happens to have a criminal past.

Vaden was ranked among the league’s best referees by the end of his on-court tenure, which ran from 1988-2003. But he was also among eight referees charged with tax evasion in 1998 for downgrading first-grade plane tickets and not reporting the refunded money. He was found guilty and served six months’ of home confinement and two years of probation.

After he retired from working games in 2003, Vaden accepted an off-court position with the league. Although several distinguished referees have recently retired — most notably, Steve Javie, Bob Delaney and Mark Wunderlich — the league named Vaden without interviewing anyone else or conducting an open search for Fryer’s replacement, sources said.

Tax evasion certainly isn’t a murder charge, and it also isn’t a charge that would have any direct impact on the integrity of the game, even if David Stern himself was the person who was convicted of it. I’m not defending the actions of Vaden, but I will say that he was charged, convicted, and punished. If we’re willing to let athletes back into action once they’ve served their time, then the same should hold true for those working in the league office.

With that being said, Vaden’s selection to fill this role is still likely to raise some eyebrows.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.