NBA disputes findings, game anecdotes and 'conflicting' quotes in ESPN's Tim Donaghy report

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Tim Donaghy is back in the news as the NBA disputes ESPN’s report that concluded he fixed games. (Getty Images)
Tim Donaghy is back in the news as the NBA disputes ESPN’s report that concluded he fixed games. (Getty Images)

It feels like 2009 all over again. A decade ago former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was all over the news, as his associates did the media rounds in regard to the betting scandal that rocked the league.

ESPN dug back into it with a two-year long investigation released Tuesday that concludes Donaghy did conspire to fix games. The NBA issued a response to that early Friday afternoon, stating the ESPN report “does not add anything material to the record of what happened over a decade ago.”

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The NBA broke down its response into three direct attributes of the ESPN investigation: quoted individuals, statistical analysis and anecdotal evidence from games.

NBA takes issue with quotes ‘conflicting’ with evidence

The league used three specific examples of quotes to combat the claims, beginning with retired FBI agent Phil Scala’s remarks. Scala told ESPN the ref’s claims “never really flew with us,” but the FBI had to move on from the case. Per the report, Scala’s group was an organized crime squad assigned to the Gambino family in New York City. It had done its work and shut down the family profit center, prompting an end to the investigation.

The NBA’s reply is based on Scala’s foreward to Donaghy’s 2009 book, “Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA.” From the league’s response:

“ which Scala characterized Donaghy’s cooperation as ‘unconditionally truthful’ and stated that Donaghy ‘confess[ed] his sins, [took] full responsibility for his actions, pa[id] his debt to society, and [found] the humility to completely display his past vices.'”

A portion of the foreward is available in preview on Amazon. Scala details Donaghy’s cooperation and the FBI’s work. At the end he notes that the FBI “concerned our investigation with aspects of illegal gambling and the directions of its revenue stream, as well as with organized crime factions targeting individuals with something to hide.”

From the foreward:

“The additional issues of employment-contract breaches by the NBA referees, alleged misconduct, manipulations, associations, and sport integrity were peripheral aspects of our investigation. We left those issues to others who wished to call attention to the culture of officiating.”

In the NBA’s response Friday, it also took issue with an anonymous quote about Donaghy calling illegal defenses early, alleging that the ref called it only three times during the first minute of 274 games at which the league looked.

League unable to replicate ESPN’s findings

ESPN concluded Donaghy fixed games by analyzing 40 games during the 2006-07 season, then handing it off to a statistician expert at the National Science Foundation, Keith Crank. He found a 4.1 percent chance the ref’s calls would happen randomly.

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The NBA noted ESPN did not provide the “data and assumptions” it used — fully in its right — but attempted to replicate the findings and could not. The league employed the Pedowitz report from 2008 that found no conclusive evidence Donaghy fixed games, as a “significantly more comprehensive” look. It added that the report treated all calls the same and included all games and missed calls.

ESPN reported it left out blowouts because a ref looking to throw those games would “find he lacked much ability to way the matter — or the need to do so, if the score was already in his favor.”

The NBA closed its statistical analysis argument by adding it can “only suggest a probability or an event’s occurrence — it does not itself constitute direct evidence that an event occurred.”

NBA disputes three games in question

The NBA looked at three games used as anecdotal evidence by the ESPN report and took issues with what it called a lack of careful video analysis and the use of frequently omitted material.

In its statement, the league noted instances of Donaghy calling fouls for both teams when the game was near the point spread. It alleges that ESPN only cited the fouls it wanted to note, and left out calls made against the other team in between or consecutive ones in the lead-up to those it cited.

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