Tim Donaghy And The NBA

Hey, guys. Y’all remember Tim Donaghy (who, by the way, is now a free man). He is forever known as the referee that fixed NBA games, including the ones that he worked on. Donaghy also wrote a book about it called Blowing the Whistle. In the same vein as Jose Canseco with Major League Baseball, it’s basically a confession and an attempted exposé of the league. People laughed off Canseco at first but it turned out that he was right. As far as Donaghy goes? A lot of what he said on the book might turn out to be true.

The world famous blog, DeadSpin, obtained a copy. It revealed excerpts of Donaghy’s book and it mentioned a few things…

*Steve Javie‘s feud with Allen Iverson.
*Tommy Nunez‘s rooting interest for the San Antonio Spurs.
*Dick Bavetta helping the 2002 Western Conference Finals get to a Game 7.
*A revelation of the NBA wanting the marquee names to score big points.
*Inside bets between the referees. (i.e. How long will it take for them to call a foul?)

I don’t want to believe what Donaghy said. I really don’t. But it’s worth thinking about. Because of these revelations, I’m paying even more attention to the referees. Now I wonder what kind of inside bets they make in games.

I LOVED the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers. Game 6 was long viewed by everybody as tainted, though, because of the ridiculous amount of times the Lakers went to the foul line in the fourth quarter (which may have cost the Kings the series). I actually haven’t watched it since the first time I saw it seven years ago and I was advised by everyone else NOT to. But as suggested in our podcast months ago, if the NBA is going to admit they’re wrong, they might as well take points back made from the bad calls the NBA admitted to. And those things are the difference between a one-point win by Team A and a one-point win by Team B. And one win can do wonders to a team’s mentality.

At the same token, referees don’t put up baskets. They’re not the ones making the good pass, a clutch defensive play, or the three-point shot. However, they also have the ability to send someone to the line (which can definitely stop momentum and give teams a few points). So I’m really, REALLY torn over this issue. Sure, he may be a “rogue referee” and a convict, but there HAS to be truth to what he’s saying. I mean, why did the NBA go out of their way to block this book from being released?

Dave? Peter? What’cha got?


As if Tim Donaghy hasn’t already gone down in infamy. His new book, “Blowing the Whistle” provides insight into the referees’ world and all the legal and illegal activities involved. It is an eye-opener to those who thought NBA refs have a tough job, thus they will miss calls and make bad calls in an honest-to-good manner. Think again.

The tell-all book of Tim Donaghy is definitely something the NBA does NOT want you to read. From reading the excerpts, quite a few things shocked me whereas others didn’t. For instance, Donaghy on star treatment:

“If a player of Kobe’s stature collides with the likes of Raja Bell, the call will almost always go for Kobe and against Bell. As part of our ongoing training and game preparation, NBA referees regularly receive game-action video tape from the league office. Over the years, I have reviewed many recorded hours of video involving Raja Bell. The footage I analyzed usually illustrated fouls being called against Bell, rarely for him. The message was subtle but clear — call fouls against the star stopper because he’s hurting the game.”

Obviously, to no one’s surprise, players like Kobe have been known to receive star treatment for years. Ratings reign supreme. However, regarding the side bets, I was somewhat surprised to read:

“We had another variation of this gag simply referred to as the “first foul of the game” bet. While still in the locker room before tip-off, we would make a wager on which of us would call the game’s first foul. That referee would either have to pay the ball boy or pick up the dinner tab for the other two referees. Sometimes, the ante would be $50 a guy. Like the technical foul bet, it was hilarious — only this time we were testing each other’s nerves to see who had the guts to hold out the longest before calling a personal foul. There were occasions when we would hold back for two or three minutes — an eternity in an NBA game — before blowing the whistle. It didn’t matter if bodies were flying all over the place; no fouls were called because no one wanted to lose the bet.

“We played this little game during the regular season and summer league. After a game, all three refs would gather around the VCR and watch a replay of the game. Early in the contest, the announcers would say, “Holy cow! They’re really letting them play tonight!” If they only knew…”

Many times, I’ll watch a game and see a tale of two halves. The 1st half would consist of tons of fouls called. Then in the 2nd half, nothing is called. This would explain it. If refs are making side bets as to who would call the first foul, it’s conceivable to go an entire quarter without calling anything. The commentators would think the refs are letting them play, and all of a sudden, you’ll get three foul calls in one minute. It’s a common theme seen too often.

There’s a lot more where this came from, but you’d have to buy the book and read it yourself (which is exactly what Donaghy is aiming for). Is he right for putting all this information out? Is he considered the biggest snitch in the referee circle now? Probably. Will this hurt the NBA as far as revenue from attendance, merchandise, etc.? Time will tell. The bottom line is Donaghy has opened up lines for debate…and believe me, these discussions will go on for quite some time.


Everything that has to do with the NBA is all about money. There’s too much money at stake for there to be no meddling by David Stern or the NBA office. In recent years, we’ve seen a move towards a “cleaner image” approach with the NBA dress code and “no tolerance” for any fighting. A move likely made in order to attract more sponsors. So it’s understandable that the NBA would want to create the best matchups possible and it appears that Tim Donaghy knows a little bit about how that works through a few of these bits and pieces we’ve been given:

“In 2008 Mr. Donaghy’s allegations were thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” the NBA said in a statement. “We are reassured that the U.S. Government completed its investigation finding that the only criminal conduct was that of Mr. Donaghy.”

There are a number of questions that one might ask upon reading this statement. Where are the details of this investigation? Why is the media prohibited from speaking with the referees? Why are there so many missed calls and rescinded technical fouls? Why did the NBA start imposing hefty fines on players who criticize the officiating?

It’s nearly impossible to not believe that certain teams or players get preferential treatment and it almost seems that it is becoming more and more apparent. For example, it would have been the ultimate ratings booster had the Cavaliers and Lakers met in the 2009 NBA Finals. There were a number of calls against the Orlando Magic but none more glaring than this one:

Donaghy goes on to explain how referees (Dick Bavetta in particular) were quite skilled when it came to manipulating the game:

“He also knew how to take subtle — and not so subtle — cues from the NBA front office and extend a playoff series or, worse yet, change the complexion of that series.”

This assertion may very well hold some truth as evident through inconsistent calls. During the first round playoff matchup between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, the NBA made an exception for Boston PG Rajon Rondo for his “foul” on Brad Miller and his “altercation” with Kirk Hinrich which kept him from sitting out of Game 7.

But there are no exceptions made when the forces are working against a certain team, and in this particular example, the Phoenix Suns:

“My favorite Tommy Nunez story is from the 2007 playoffs when the San Antonio Spurs were able to get past the Phoenix Suns in the second round. Of course, what many fans didn’t know was that Phoenix had someone working against them behind the scenes. Nunez was the group supervisor for that playoff series, and he definitely had a rooting interest.”

Surely there could have been an exception made for Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench but apparently they were way out of line by not using physical violence.

The most frustration comes from the “forgotten” teams. In a game between the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Clippers on December 22, 2008, Zach Randolph was injured as a result of a push from Jake Voskuhl (4:45 mark):

These incidents are handled by Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president for basketball operations, who vaguely remembered receiving a video of the incident in question but, in the end, no punishments were handed out.

It goes without saying that we should take Donaghy’s words with a grain of salt but there’s so much evidence that supports his claims as outrageous and they may seem. The NBA has done almost nothing to assure its fans that these allegations are false and will continue to sweep this issue under the rug while we NBA fans will have to pray that there will be no repeat of the 2002 Western Conference Finals.

A lot of sports fans have long said that the NBA referees are the worst in professional sports (yes, it’s a difficult job but…). With Tim Donaghy snitching, he can provide a lot of reasons why.

Of course, he’s also a criminal and it can easily be said that he’s just looking for someone to blame and that he really IS a rogue referee. But I’m comforted with the fact that NBA players are the ones PLAYING the game, not the referees. At the very least, they’re the ones that can stop whatever scheme the referees and the NBA may be trying to fix. Thank you, Orlando Magic of last year.

But, as mentioned, this referee issue will go on for a long, long time.

Project Spurs
Red’s Army

Follow all of us on Twitter. I am @TheNoLookPass, Peter is @YungBolo, and Dave is @illastrate.


  1. mcbias

    The thing that still bothers me is that refs would bet on anything to do with the game itself. Giving technicals or fouls based on bets is ridiculous. They should all be banned from the game, if they had to follow same rules the athletes are subjected to.

  2. Rey-Rey (Post author)

    I still don’t get why they’re NOT allowed to face the media considering how many bad calls they make that sometimes decide games. I don’t know. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

    That’s why I preferred the scab refs. Ha ha ha.

  3. MattC

    Anyone else wonder why the new CBA was agreed on so quick? I was kind of hoping to see the (un-influenced) replacements call the game down the middle.

    In reference to your video above, the “forgotten” team (Clippers/Raptors) may not show up as much but in the given video, if the foul WAS called, the basket by All Star Chris Bosh wouldn’t have counted. The Raptors won’t be mentioned in the same breath as the Celtics/Cavs/Lakers for a long time but Bosh is one of those guys the league wants to protect.

    I love the comparison to Jose Canseco since it’s the exact same. Well done! Only time will tell though if Donaghy is on to something.

    1. Rey-Rey (Post author)

      I don’t really wonder about it too much but as much as we criticize the league’s refereeing, we probably won’t be as entertained with the NBA with calls made by the book and players trying to intimidate scab referees. I have mixed feelings about this.

      Actually, the basket would have counted. It was already on the way but they would’ve called the foul on Jake Voskuhl. Peter and I were actually AT the game and we were furious that Z-Bo got injured as a result of that.

      I appreciate the compliment but there was really no other comparison other than Canseco.

  4. Violet

    wow.. this is madness. i think that even though the media isn’t allowed to confront them about this.. bloggers are allowed to speak their minds and this is being heard by the nba. maybe this is why kobe gets NOOO calls lately. he has to be beaten to the ground before he gets a call. maybe they’re turning everything around so its not so obvious anymore. ugh. its disgusting. and yes, you’re right.. THANK YOU ORLANDO MAGIC.

  5. Rey-Rey (Post author)

    My buddy just mentioned that he’s surprised that Kobe Bryant doesn’t get MORE calls. Make no mistake that LeBron is the poster boy of the NBA so he’s getting A LOT of superstar treatment… though Kobe does get his share of calls. I think it’s even more fishy that the refs can’t talk to the media.

    I’m ready to get fined by the NBA. 🙂


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