The NBA has a new director of officials, according to a report from ESPN.com. 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.