The NBA may have scared Random House into putting the kibosh on disgraced referee Tim Donaghy’s tell-all book, “Blowing the Whistle: The Culture of Fraud in the NBA,” but that doesn’t mean the league and its current referees don’t have some explaining to do.
You know why?
Because nothing Donaghy claims seems unbelievable.
In excerpts released to Deadspin.com, Donaghy describes how some referees would place wagers amongst themselves on various aspects of a game, including who would call the first foul and who would give a technical foul to the league’s troublemakers. He also suggests that some referees would alter the way they blew their whistle depending on the amount of fouls a team’s star might have or whether or not a high profile, big-market team was playing.
Donaghy goes as far as writing that a referee’s relationship with a given player was so influential that he often made his picks or tipped off gamblers based on who was covering a certain game.
“Allen Iverson provides a good example of a player who generated strong reaction, both positive and negative, within the corps of NBA referees,” he claims. “For instance, veteran referee Steve Javie hated Allen Iverson and was loathe [sic] to give him a favorable call. If Javie was on the court when Iverson was playing, I would always bet on the other team to win or at least cover the spread. No matter how many times Iverson hit the floor, he rarely saw the foul line.”
“By contrast, referee Joe Crawford had a grandson who idolized Iverson. I once saw Crawford bring the boy out of the stands and onto the floor during warm-ups to meet the superstar. Iverson and Crawford's grandson were standing there, shaking hands, smiling, talking about all kinds of things. If Joe Crawford was on the court, I was pretty sure Iverson's team would win or at least cover the spread. “
For anyone who has watched, covered or played in the NBA in the past decade, Donaghy’s allegations are hardly shocking. He points to highly controversial contests - like the infamous game six of the 2002 Western Conference finals – as examples of referees making calls for the benefit of the league. In that game, the Los Angeles Lakers, the league’s most storied franchise, went to the foul line 27 times in the fourth quarter to force a game seven against the small-market Sacramento Kings.
At the time, even the most rational people -not just NBA conspiracy theorist- were questioning whether or not the fix was in. Even sports columnists in Los Angeles thought something was fishy. According to Donaghy, something was.
“In the pregame meeting prior to Game 6, the league office sent down word that certain calls-calls that would have benefitted the Lakers — were being missed by the referees,” Donaghy writes. “This was the type of not-so-subtle information that I and other referees were left to interpret. After receiving the dispatch, (Dick) Bavetta openly talked about the fact that the league wanted a Game 7.”
While none of Donaghy’s accusations are all that surprising, they do call into question the integrity of the league. Commissioner David Stern has always dismissed the former referee’s claims, calling them a desperate act of convicted felon. But that’s what good lawyers do. They attempt to make the opposition look weak.
But Donaghy isn’t trying to save his own butt. His reputation is irreparable. More than anything, he comes off as someone who doesn’t want to go down as the only fraudulent referee in the history of the NBA, not when he’s positive others were guilty too.
And here’s what makes him so dangerous: Nobody can disprove any of his claims. It’s his word against the NBA’s, and everything he says seems possible. Even likely.
He may be a desperate convicted felon, but in the court of public opinion, Donaghy has to like his odds.