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NBA ref sues AP sports reporter over Twitter tweet

5:40 p.m. Monday: Updated with AP comment and a few more quotes from the lawsuit, which is now attached.

Wow, libel suits are suddenly breaking out all over. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal's Jim Hammerand reports NBA ref Bill Spooner is suing Associated Press sports reporter Jon Krawczynski over an allegedly defamatory Twitter tweet.

Spooner says the NBA investigated him after Krawczynski posted the following message Jan. 24: "Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he'd 'get it back' after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on the Rockets. That's NBA officiating, folks."

The offending tweet
The offending tweet

According to the ref's complaint (below), "Defendant Krawczynski published this statement on his AP Twitter account knowing at the time, or with reckless disregard of the truth at the time, or without due care of the truth at the time, that Plaintiff Spooner did not tell Coach Rambis that 'he'd get it back' nor utter any words to that effect, and therefore that the quoted attribution was, in fact, false."

Hammerand quotes AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin's statement: “We believe all of the facts we reported from the game in question were accurate.”

This wouldn't be the first time a ref has been suspected of an "even-up" call, but Spooner's filing says the wire service and Krawczynski have refused demands to retract the statement. The official references the 2007 scandal involving Tim Donaghy, a referee who pled guilty to two felonies for conspiring with gamblers, as evidence of how his reputation could be damaged.

(That said, the lawsuit will give Krawczynski's little-noticed tweet wide public play. According to Twitter, he has 2,045 followers. I'll bet he gets more soon, especially since the complaint notes, "Throughout the current professional basketball season, Defendant Krawczynski has made a theme of his reporting persistent criticism of NBA officiating'.")

Spooner asks the court to declare that "Twitter publication consitutes defamation." By the way, the lawsuit was filed the same day the Star Tribune noted how few lawsuits stemmed from online postings.

Aside from the possibility that Krawczynski accurately tweeted Spooner's comment, the official may have a tough road recovering any damanges. Someone who makes high-profile calls in front of 20,000 fans a night would likely be ruled a public figure. That means his lawyer would have to prove Krawczynski knew his tweet was false, or had a high degree of awareness that the statement was untrue — not merely that he was wrong or failed to do enough reporting.


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Comments (4)

This is the most interested I've been in the NBA in years. Brilliant marketing.

Since the AP seat is courtside near the Wolves bench, Jon might have heard the conversation himself, which makes this even more interesting.

Here's a more detailed story on the suit that we published in the Pioneer Press this morning:

Any NBA fan knows that this has been a major problem in the league for sometime. Any league that lets it officials call anticipation fouls or non-calls based on a players lack of seniority is asking for this type of scrutiny.