What NBA Knew Is an Issue
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The NBA may have suspected that Tim Donaghy had a gambling problem but did not know that the veteran referee was possibly betting on games he worked, a league source familiar with the situation said yesterday.
Donaghy, who recently stepped down after working NBA games for 13 seasons, has not yet turned himself in to authorities, although several reports said he is expected to do so soon. The reports said he plans on cooperating with investigators.
NBA Commissioner David Stern scheduled a news conference for today to discuss the situation. He almost certainly will be asked to explain how long the league knew about the FBI investigation and whether league officials had any reason to believe that Donaghy was betting on games he worked.
"There is no way David Stern would have allowed a referee to continue working games, especially playoff games, if he thought there was even a chance that the guy was crooked," said the league source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "This is a nightmare scenario for any sports league."
According to several reports, the FBI is examining whether Donaghy made calls to affect the point spread in games on which he or his associates wagered thousands of dollars over the past two seasons. NBA referees are contractually prohibited from gambling on any sports.
Donaghy worked 131 regular season games and 20 postseason contests the last two seasons. Referees are selected for playoff assignments based on their performance during the regular season. Donaghy called seven Washington Wizards games last season but did not work any of Washington's first-round playoff games against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The NBA assigned a special investigator to look into Donaghy's possible gambling activity more than a year ago, the New York Daily News reported. Authorities said the referee had a gambling problem and was approached by low-level mob associates through an acquaintance.
Donaghy's attorney, John Lauro, did not return a telephone message left at his office yesterday.
According to a report in the New York Post, Donaghy called local law enforcement officials to his Florida home on Sunday because he has received threatening phone calls.
So far, investigators have not said what specific games they are looking into. Donaghy last worked on May 12, in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs. That game, won 108-101 by the Spurs, has drawn scrutiny because the crew of Donaghy, Greg Willard and Eddie F. Rush made several controversial calls that went against Phoenix. The Spurs were favored by four points going into the game.
Donaghy also worked a game involving the Miami Heat and New York Knicks in February. The Knicks, who were favored by 4 1/2 points, won 99-93 after attempting 39 free throws to Miami's eight. Also, Heat Coach Pat Riley and assistant Ron Rothstein were assessed technical fouls.
According to the Web site Pregame.com, which tracks sports gambling trends, the teams playing in games worked by Donaghy the last two seasons scored more points than Las Vegas bookmakers expected more than 57 percent of the time. According to RJ Bell, a sports gambling expert who runs the site, the odds of that happening naturally are 19-1.
In the statement released by the NBA on Friday, Stern said the league is cooperating with the FBI and said the allegations involved a single referee.