12/6--Phoenix at Lakers
While most Lakers fans were watching LA beat up on the Suns for the second time this year, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy appeared on 60 Minutes. It was his first interview in two years, detailing everything that happened at the end of his career. It was riveting television, and for any NBA fan, a look inside how a professional referee could ruin his life by gambling.
In the interview, Donaghy outlined how his gambling problems began. He found himself in debt after losing bets golfing and playing card games at a country club. Once the debts piled up, he realized the easiest way to make that money back would be to bet on NBA games. He knew things that few others knew, and figured for the most part he could use that knowledge to correctly predict the outcome of NBA games against the point spread.
He was right. In three years of betting NBA games (many which he officiated himself), he won 70 to 80% of the games he bet on. If you believe Donaghy, he based his bets not on his ability to control games with his whistle, but on tendencies his fellow officials had against certain players, coaches, general managers and owners. He insists that he never "fixed" games, and that he never let his calls influence the teams that he bet on. In one instance, he shared a story of a game in which he bet on San Antonio, but then ejected coach Greg Popovich early in the first quarter. The Spurs went on to lose that game in New Orleans, costing Donaghy and the Mob a lot of money. He said this is just one example of how he never let his calls influence his bets.
On the surface, his story seems very hard to believe. Why would a convicted felon, who is trying to sell a book, not say anything to improve his book sales?
But you know what? I tend to believe his story. I don't want to believe him, but I have no reason not to believe the FBI agent who headed the Donaghy investigation, Phillip Scala.
During the 60 Minutes piece, Scala tells reporter Bob Simon that Donaghy cooperated fully with the FBI, and that they tried to find examples of Donaghy fixing games. They couldn't. Either could the NBA's lead investigator, Lawerence Pedowitz. Even Donaghy himself tells a story of how he and his fellow referees intentionally tried to teach Allen Iverson "a lesson." Iverson was feuding with referee Steve Javie at the time, and the league fined AI $25,000 after he threatened Javie. The other officials thought Iverson should have been suspended, so according to Donaghy, they all agreed to stick it to him. Based on that, Donaghy bet on Utah to beat Denver.
But as Ken Berger from CBS Sports points out in this incredibly well-researched article http://www.cbssports.com/nba/story/12624836/disgraced-former-ref-donaghy-details-scam-on-60-minutes , Donaghy's claim that they went after Iverson doesn't hold up. I think he simply bet on the Jazz, and the Jazz beat Denver.
Donaghy tells another story that involves the Lakers. He says that at one point, the Lakers sent a DVD to the NBA league office that contained 25 examples of fouls against Kobe Bryant that were not called. The next day, the league sent a memo to all of the officials pointing out that 22 of those 25 were indeed missed calls. Donaghy knew that Kobe would get calls for a few weeks, so he bet a lot on the Lakers--and he won. Of course, the Lakers are always good, and Kobe usually gets calls, but that probably helped.
In the end, I believe that Donaghy knew certain refs tend to call things a certain way, and he used those tendencies to make his bets. It was nothing more than insider trading at an NBA level. I don't think he fixed games, and I also tend to believe the NBA's investigators when they say Donaghy acted alone. I know that good NBA scouts can tell you the tendencies of every NBA player and most coaches. The refs are no different, and Donaghy was the only guy using those tendencies to sway his betting. Had any team or owner studied the refs, they would have had a similar advantage--not to make bets of course, but for strategic purposes. Mark Cuban tried to do this for years, until the league told him to knock it off.
I actually think this whole scandal might make the referees better. Now that they know more people will be paying attention, I think holding a grudge against a team or a player will be harder to do. Of course, any time a ref makes a really bad call, fans are going to assume the worst.
That will be the legacy of Tim Donaghy.
For what it's worth, I think his biggest crime wasn't the gambling. It was that he sold out all of his co-workers and the league that had allowed him to make a ridiculous living for 13 years. Any referee could have done this, but most have too much integrity and too much love for the game to throw it all away like Donaghy did. It's clear from the 60 Minutes interview that he realizes that now, but it's hard to believe he didn't think about any of that before he started. By the way, he's not only out of work--but he lost his family. His wife divorced him, and she now has custody of their four daughters.
If you want to watch the Donaghy story on 60 Minutes, click here: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/60_minutes/video/?pid=UHMI_aAl1bF4grHiBD1x1CTwxUJvoKDi
Next up for the Lakers, another home game--Wednesday night against Utah.