Ref excerpt doesn't read as tall tale for teams

Dan Wetzel

Some gambling experts have suggested former NBA referee Tim Donaghy likely attempted to shape the outcome of games, whether that meant affecting a final score to impact the over/under, or to push one team towards winning over another. Donaghy has denied ever fixing games, but did bet on NBA games, including those he worked. Regardless, this was a major stain on Stern's tenure. Stern and the NBA’s front office did well in acting transparently to reveal Donaghy’s gambling illness and its effect on the games he worked. But in return the league also instituted an over-the-top policy on critiquing its referees that has resulted in varying returns, to put it mildly.

– Kelly Dwyer

The biggest problem the NBA has in trying to squash, defuse and discredit anything disgraced referee Tim Donaghy says is that many of its own players, coaches and front office executives are predisposed to believe the guy.

In a sweet bit of irony, Donaghy wrote a book about corruption in NBA officiating while serving time in a federal prison for being the most corrupt NBA official ever. He’s currently back behind bars for violating the parole agreement that sprung him from his original federal gambling charges.

While publisher Random House will reportedly not publish “Blowing the Whistle: The Culture of Fraud in the NBA” because of liability concerns, printed what it calls excerpts of the book.

The NBA denies it threatened any legal action against Random House in an effort to stop the book, league spokesman Tim Frank said. It’s far more likely the publisher pulled back when its senior legal team got a look at the completed manuscript that lacks corroboration for the most serious allegations. If those passages were stricken, the sales potential of the book would likely fall apart.

In today’s media world though, that hardly matters. A website ran what it received and now it’s available for public consumption.

Whether or not Donaghy’s allegations are true, most of them are believable. Not only to anyone who has watched a game, but the league’s own rank-and-file players and coaches.

Donaghy admits stars get preferential treatment, some refs have it in for some players and coaches, and a losing home team is likely to get a favorable whistle to make it competitive.

By understanding the dynamics of intra-league relationships and referee tendencies during his 13 years with the NBA, Donaghy writes he was able to gamble successfully on the outcome.

Ask around the NBA this week and you won’t find too many people outside the league office dismissing Donaghy’s claims.

“I read it last night and was laughing, and said, ‘Yep, that’s about right,” one team executive said. “I don’t think anyone is going to dispute the possibility.”

If the NBA’s own front-office people believe this, then how can fans simply dismiss it?

Consider Rasheed Wallace(notes), who has recorded a record number of technical fouls during his career-long battles with refs. He earned many of them, but he also claimed the refs had it in for him.

“Some of them cats are felonious, man,” ’Sheed famously declared, even before Donaghy became a felon.

Was Wallace targeted? Well, here’s Donaghy, according to Deadspin’s excerpt:

“To have a little fun at the expense of the worst troublemakers, the referees working the game would sometimes make a modest friendly wager amongst themselves: first ref to give one of the bad boys a technical foul wouldn't have to tip the ball boy that night.

“After the opening tip, it was hilarious as the three of us immediately focused our full attention on the intended victim, waiting for something, anything, to justify a technical foul. If the guy so much as looked at one of us and mumbled, we rang him up. Later in the referees' locker room, we would down a couple of brews, eat some chicken wings, and laugh like hell.”

This is confirmation of what nearly every player in the league suspected.

The most damning allegations are against a fellow referee, who Donaghy names but I won’t. The allegations are uncorroborated and some comments attributed to the ref are not sourced.

The charge is huge though, a claim that the NBA used certain refs to determine games and extend playoff series.

Across the league, many have whispered the same suspicions about certain referees. Worse, this particular ref worked many notoriously suspect playoff games.

That includes the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings that Donaghy called, “a stunning example of game and series manipulation at its ugliest.”

Elizabeth Ventura, the NBA’s senior vice president of communications, said in a statement Thursday that Donaghy’s allegations were investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2008, and that the only criminal conduct discovered was that of Donaghy. The latest allegations, Ventura said, will be forwarded to former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz, who reviewed the league’s officiating program two years ago.

The suggestion of a league-office effort to control the games is where I generally draw the line on these conspiracies. Individual referees showing blatant favoritism or vengeance? Absolutely, that’s human nature.

The idea of David Stern sitting in his Manhattan tower committing federal crimes and risking the future of a billion-dollar business to potentially make a few more million from a favorable outcome?


I don’t believe it’s true in the NBA, MLB, college football or any other sport (other than boxing) where referees are currently under fire. These vast plans would be suicidal for people with little motivation to conduct them.

Besides, in the NBA, there have been too many Finals sweeps. There’s been too many Pistons-Spurs series. There’s been too many games begging for referee intervention that never arrived.

There are plenty of NBA fans who won’t ever agree with me, and, courtesy of Tim Donaghy, there’s more grist for the mill. That’s fine. No one can be completely sure what’s true or not.

The NBA can only deny it all.

The league’s biggest problem is that many of the most convinced conspiracy theorists are drawing league paychecks. And if they aren’t buying the NBA’s denial, why should anyone else?