Ex-referee whistles her way to the bank

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 April, 1998, 12:00am

There was a picture in these sports pages the other day which should have carried an X-certificate.

A tattooed Dennis Rodman, with muscles bulging and anger rising, teamed up with a scary-looking Scottie Pippen to floor Shawn Kemp of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The photograph emphasised that the National Basketball Association (NBA) is peopled by athletes with attitude as well as gentlemanly sorts like that nice Mr Jordan.

It makes you wonder what sort of people would willingly put themselves forward to referee contests between multi-millionaire sportsmen with egos as inflated as their biceps. The answer was provided a couple of columns away on the same page as the picture of Messrs Rodman, Pippen and Kemp. Step forward Sandra Ortiz-Del Valle, whose lifelong ambition was, seemingly, to officiate full-time in the NBA.

She wanted to keep Rodman, Pippen, Kemp and Jordan at heel in the best, most-professionally run basketball league in the world. Her credentials for the job were reasonable, if not outstanding.

She had refereed a Pro-Am League, the US Basketball League and some pre-season games involving the New Jersey Nets. Next step was the NBA and nothing more than a whistle to keep the likes of Rodman, Pippen, Kemp and Jordan in line.

But that whistle was denied her by the NBA, which said that the level she had worked was far below that of the lofty National Basketball Association.

Also, it claimed, she had not acted on its advice to upgrade her schedule to include more high-profile matches.

This being America, the land of the free where Citizen Jones can have her day in court (well, nearly) with an allegedly Full Monty President, Ortiz-Del Valle accused the NBA of discrimination and litigated big time.

She went for a three-pointer, to win the Championship, with a second remaining on the clock and nailed it. Her legal eagles, and they must have been a veritable dream team, convinced a jury to award her US$7.85 million. The breakdown - US$100,000 for lost wages, US$750,000 for mental and emotional pain and US$7 million in punitive damages.

Reports of the proceedings indicated that Ortiz-Del Valle shook uncontrollably when the jury's decision was announced.

Damn sure she did. Without ever coming face to face with Messrs Rodman, Pippen, Kemp or Jordan, she picked up the sort of money they earn for playing the game at the top level.

Talk about a result, she lifted the NBA Championship and the Olympic gold on the same day.

The NBA, naturally, is going to appeal and its grounds are pretty solid.

With the limited experience she had in lower leagues, there is no way Ortiz-Del Valle could prove she was equipped to handle Messrs Rodman, Pippen, Kemp or Jordan in the NBA.

Ironically, regardless of the appeal outcome, Ortiz-Del Valle will never experience life as a NBA referee.

She dropped her request to be installed in their ranks after injuring her back.

Messrs Rodman, Pippen, Kemp and Jordan can sleep easier in their beds.