By all means take this with a grain or two of salt, considering that Tim Donaghy not only lost his job as an NBA referee but went to federal prison following an FBI investigation into gambling on NBA games. However, some fans are already under the impression that the league attempts to engineer outcomes to what it perceives as its benefit, and Donaghy’s remarks Monday will only bolster those suspicions.
“It’s a situation where they are going to try and get a Game 6 and open things up so they can create more revenue for the league,” Donaghy said on San Francisco radio station KNBR, hours before the Warriors were set to host the Cavaliers in a potentially title-clinching Game 5 of the NBA Finals. “. . . I think it’s dramatically important to extend this series in any way they can without coming out and fixing it.”
The 50-year-old Donaghy, who was an NBA referee from 1994 to 2007, said that going into Game 5, the league likely was to show referees plays that it wants to see called as fouls on Golden State. He thought particular emphasis would be placed on Warriors forward Draymond Green, saying, “You are probably going to see him in foul trouble again.”
Green’s suspension for Game 5 last year was widely viewed as a turning point for those Finals, in which the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the championship round. Green appeared to have been ejected in Friday’s Game 4 after picking up his second technical foul, but the referees conferred and eventually announced that the forward had been mistakenly listed with the first infraction, one they said should have been assigned to Golden State Coach Steve Kerr.
By jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the favored Warriors had threatened to make short work of the Finals, this after a postseason many criticized for being devoid of drama. Donaghy pointed to “all the layoffs at ESPN . . . based on the fact they signed an awful TV deal with the NBA and overpaid dramatically for it,” and suggested that the league would do what it could do deliver a more compelling product.
“I’m just telling you I’ve been in this situation before. I’ve been in these meetings,” Donaghy told KNBR. “. . . I’ve walked out of them with my crew and kind of laughed.
“And thinking to myself, wow, they really want the Lakers, or they want the Spurs, or they want the Cleveland Cavaliers to win tonight. . . . [Former referee] Dick Bavetta came out on occasions and said he was put on Game 6s to make sure Game 7s occurred.”
Donaghy pleaded guilty in 2007 to two federal conspiracy charges, and he admitted to using his insider information to both bet on games himself, including some that he was officiating, and to pass on tips to a professional gambler in return for cash. He spent 15 months in detention, most of it spent in federal prison, and has since become an outspoken critic of the NBA.
Then-commissioner David Stern described Donaghy as a “rogue, isolated criminal” in 2007, saying, “I feel betrayed by what happened on behalf of the sport.” Donaghy said of NBA executives Monday, “It’s in the back of their minds at all times what’s best for the league.”
“I’m not saying the games are fixed, because they are not,” Donaghy told Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan on Monday, “but they definitely program and train these referees to go out on the floor, and look for certain things, to put teams at advantages or disadvantages, based on who’s up or down in the series.”
“If you’re going to advance as a referee and make that $75,000 to $100,000 a year in the playoffs, you’re going to give the league what they want. Because they are grading you,” he told KNBR.