FBI agents questioning former NBA referee Hue Hollins

last year asked him if colleague Dick Bavetta was a "company man," the same

term used by Tim Donaghy's lawyer to incriminate two referees in an alleged

game-fixing scheme.

Hollins realized this week what the agents were referring to when Donaghy,

who has pleaded guilty to felony charges related to gambling on games he

officiated, dropped his latest bombshell during the NBA Finals.

"They were very, very inquisitive about [Bavetta]," Hollins told Newsday in

a phone interview yesterday. "They asked me more questions about him than they

did about Tim Donaghy."

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Donaghy's accusation in a pre-sentencing letter that an officiating crew

including Bavetta had heavily favored the Lakers over the Kings in Game 6 of

the 2002 Western Conference finals - coupled with Hollins' recollection of

federal agents' interest in Bavetta - marked the latest movement in the NBA's

widening officiating scandal.

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"I didn't know what they were talking about until the other day," Hollins

said. "And he was on that game. [They asked] about selectivity of calls. Would

he not call this to make sure the home team won, things like that. I told them

I didn't know anything about that. I had never heard that."

With pressure mounting to quell the maelstrom, commissioner David Stern

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held a news conference before Game 4 last night and said the allegations about

officials manipulating games are "false. We don't. And if you'd like me to

repeat it again, they're false. We don't."

That may not be good enough for Congress. The scandal has attracted the

attention of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which plans to draft a

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letter of inquiry to the NBA in the next week, according to a person familiar

with the situation. The committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.),

will then decide whether to proceed with congressional hearings.

Stern said league investigators, led by former federal prosecutor Lawrence

Pedowitz, have questioned every current NBA ref as to whether they have ever

deliberately made incorrect calls. The investigation is closed, although Stern

said he would order all officials to be questioned again in light of "media

coverage" of Donaghy's accusations. But he declined to release the results and

won't do so until after Donaghy is sentenced July 14.

Hollins said the two FBI agents from New York, who met with him at a hotel

near his Southern California home after Donaghy pleaded guilty last summer, did

not specifically reference any game or series in asking him about Bavetta, 69,

who has officiated more than 2,000 NBA games.

But they asked him if Bavetta was a "company man," the term Donaghy's

attorney, John Lauro, used this week to describe two officials on the crew he

alleged to have been ordered by a league official to favor the Lakers and thus

extend the series to a seventh game. Bavetta worked the Lakers-Kings game with

Bob Delaney and Ted Bernhardt in which the Lakers enjoyed a 40-25 advantage in

free-throw attempts, including 27-9 in the fourth quarter. The Lakers won,

106-102, and went on to win the series in Game 7 and defeat the Nets for the

championship.

A request to interview Bavetta, who worked Game 1 of the Finals, was denied

by the NBA yesterday. So was a request to view the postgame officiating report

on the game. Asked if he has any concerns about Bavetta, Stern said flatly,

"No."

Bernhardt, now retired, told ESPN.com about how he felt after that game: "I

didn't feel we were very good. But I stand by my calls in that game. I was

right on."

Hollins, who retired in 2003, said he was never asked by any league

official to favor certain teams or players. Nor was he ever approached by

gamblers or those seeking to aid gamblers during his 27 years as an NBA ref.

The FBI didn't ask Hollins about any past or present referees other than

Donaghy and Bavetta, he said. Hollins said no other authorities have contacted

him since then, and that NBA investigators have never contacted him. Hollins

also said he never called Bavetta, with whom he rarely worked because both were

crew chiefs, to warn him of the FBI's line of questioning.

"With the questions they were asking me," Hollins said, "I'm pretty sure

they got to him."