Tim Donaghy used to fix NBA games, in David Stern’s NBA. You might remember hearing about this several years back, but it largely disappeared from the public eye. It’s now worth looking at again, if you take a moment out to read Scott Eden’s fascinating espn.com article on Donaghy’s gambling activities.
Donaghy, an NBA referee from 1994 to 2007, manipulated games much more extensively than, say, gamblers did at the infamous 1919 World Series Black Sox scandal. It certainly involved a lot more money – according to ESPN, he had an agreement with a large-scale gambling ring that enriched an array of bettors “to the tune of likely hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Yet Donaghy is largely a forgotten figure while Black Sox mastermind Arnold Rothstein has been portrayed in films and TV series at least half-a-dozen times.
Donaghy served 15 months in federal prison for conspiring to commit wire fraud and conspiring to transmit gambling information during the 2006-07 NBA season. His misdeeds, though, began well before that; Eden reports that he bet his first game in March 2003 and increased his wagers each season leading to 2006.
What Donaghy did was simple:
He often bet on his own games, and for a ridiculously small fee – it began at $2,000 per game – colluded with gamblers to let them know which team would cover the point spread. He was almost always right, because he wouldn’t earn his fee if he were wrong and, well, he had to also live in fear of more than just out-of-pocket harm if he fouled up.
The FBI informed the NBA of Donaghy’s activity, but, according to the agent involved, Stern seemed mostly upset that the NBA’s in-house security had failed to discover Donaghy’s transgressions before the FBI did.
(Full disclosure: In 1996, TNT wanted to bring me on as part of its “Inside the NBA” studio show. The NBA had approval rights of all on-air talent TNT hired, and Stern’s NBA office rejected me. Maybe this was the smartest thing Stern ever did – if I were still contaminating TNT’s studio, Charles Barkley may never have gotten there.)
The NBA conducted its own investigation, and Stern and company concluded that while Donaghy bet on his own games in 2006-07, he was not involved in fixing games.
This would be very, very, very funny if it wasn’t very, very, very fallacious and faulty.
“Indeed,” Stern told us, “as a matter of his on-court performance, he’s in the top tier of accuracy.”
ESPN’s exhaustive review and analysis of Donaghy’s officiating came to a different conclusion:
He consistently called more fouls on the team he was betting against. Duh.
Or, as former NBA director of officials Ed T. Rush said, “There were lots of whistles, in the game, by him, that did not fit the game.”
This, my NBA League Pass friends, is the same as if a player is point-shaving.
It’s called fixing games.
I don’t know much about the human condition, but I do know if a red-blooded U.S.-born human has a financial stake and gets a chance to protect that financial investment, he probably will take it.
So are we to believe that Donaghy, when officiating games in which he had a vested wagering interest, did not make calls to tilt the point spread in his favor? Please.
And all the while Stern protected the NBA while not protecting the game.
Under Stern’s watch, Donaghy conspired to alter the outcome of games. Under Stern’s watch, the league did not detect this activity. Under Stern’s watch, when apprised of the problem, the NBA did next to nothing.
Stern said Donaghy was a “rogue” who acted alone. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t – but why should we believe Stern?
So while Stern is regarded as perhaps the greatest commissioner in U.S. sports history, this should be part of his legacy:
In David Stern’s NBA, games were fixed. How do we know that they are all on the up-and-up now?
Ask The Slouch
Q. Bowling? Really? Are you trying to drive away your remaining 35 readers? (Steve A. Klein; Teaneck, N.J.)
A. My pen, my paper, my column. In other words, my ball, my court, my rules – or, in this case, my bowling ball, my bowling alley, my bowling shoes.
Q. You should’ve linked high jumper Dick Fosbury to two-handed bowler Jason Belmonte – he changed his sport just as much, with his counter-intuitive Fosbury Flop. (Jay Cherlow; Arlington, Va.)
A. Bad omission by me. You should be writing my column (but stay away from bowling, or you might offend my remaining 35 readers).
Q. Do you agree that the reason for the lack of math skills among the younger generation is that automated scoring in bowling has eliminated any practical need for mathematics? (Jim Clanton; Spokane Valley)
A. I still subtract my “good” cholesterol score from my “bad” cholesterol score.
Q. You are given six months to live – do you put your affairs in order or do you join a bowling league? (Ken Chang; San Jose)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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