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Tuesday, July 1, 2008
NBA defines new role for oversight of referee operations

ESPN.com news services

A United States Army general has been hired by the NBA to the newly created position of senior vice president for referee operations, the league announced Tuesday.

Ronald L. Johnson, a two-star general who recently retired from active duty as deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be responsible for all aspects of the NBA's officiating program, including recruiting, training and development, scheduling, data management and analysis, and work rules enforcement.

Johnson will report to Joel Litvin, the NBA's president for league and basketball operations.

"As I leave the military and return to civilian life, I can't imagine a more interesting and challenging position," Johnson said in a statement. "Although I don't have a basketball background, other than as a lifelong fan, I am confident that my experience as an Army commander and engineer has equipped me to bring leadership and innovation to the NBA's exceptional officiating program."

The announcement of the new role comes as disgraced referee Tim Donaghy's July 14 sentencing looms for his role in a gambling scheme.

The 41-year-old Donaghy pleaded guilty last year to felony charges of taking cash payoffs from gamblers in the 2006-07 season. He faces up to 33 months in prison.

Johnson's hiring formalizes the separation of the league's referee and basketball operations functions, as previously announced by the league. Stu Jackson will continue as executive vice president of basketball operations and remain responsible for all other domestic and international basketball matters.

"Ron's wealth of leadership and management experience, together with his engineering expertise in areas such as systems analysis, processes, and operations, make him an ideal candidate to lead our officiating program," commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "Our referees are the best in the world but they never stop striving to improve and Ron has made a career out of getting the very best out of people."

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban -- perhaps the league's loudest critic of NBA officials being managed by Jackson and Ed T. Rush before that -- hailed the hiring of Johnson. Cuban has been calling for years for Stern to go outside his usual sphere in search of a new head of referees.

"I love it," Cuban told ESPN.com. "This was the exact right move."

ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein contributed to this report.