Tim Donaghy relayed inside information about the NBA to gamblers. He was involved in bets on games he was refereeing. He was sent to prison for 11 months because of what he did. Since he got out of jail, Donaghy has gone on the offensive.
He published a book which claims that he was able to pick NBA games, against the spread, with a 70% success rate, thanks to his intimate understanding of the biases and tendencies of his fellow referees. He has repeatedly and fervently denied that he ever intentionally used his whistle to impact the game in a way that would benefit him and the bets he made on the games he was officiating.
Recently, Donaghy has been using Deadspin.com as a platform to critique his former referee colleagues and continue to assert that the rest of the NBA are the crooked ones. (An example: “If we graded the [NBA Finals] broadcast according to how well it fulfilled Mr. Stern’s demands, I’d give ABC an A-plus.”)
On June 11th, Henry Abbott of TrueHoop, who has interviewed Donaghy and done lots of work regarding Donaghy’s attacks on the NBA before, published a piece calling Donaghy’s latest batch of claims into question
and featuring an interview with Shawna Vercher, the former publisher of Donaghy’s book.
Using his FaceBook page, Donaghy chose to respond to Abbott’s latest piece
. He referred to it as “mean-spirited” and “factually incorrect.” He continues to claim that a “thorough” FBI investigation found that he did not fix games, and used that finding to call into question the work of Haralambos Voulgaris, a gambling expert who has analyzed footage of games Donaghy bet on and refereed and found some serious issues regarding the distribution of Donaghy’s calls.
Mr. Voulgaris responded to Donaghy on the FaceBook thread, confronting him with data from games Donaghy has officiated. He then asked Donaghy to explain why, for example, he called 17 fouls against one team and 0 against the other in one game, and 26 fouls against one team and six against the other in a separate game.
He also found some inaccuracies in one of Donaghy’s attacks on referee Derrick Stafford:
You write that the reason you bet NYK in the Feb 26 2007 game vs MIA was;
“Derrick Stafford had a close relationship with Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, and he despised Heat coach Pat Riley. I picked the Knicks without batting an eye and settled in for a roller-coaster ride on the court”
Later on you write about this same game;
“I worked a Knicks game in MSG with him on Feb 26, 2007. New York shot an astounding 39 free throws to Miami’s paltry eight. It seemed like Stafford was working for the Knicks, calling fouls on Miami like crazy. (page 109)”
Here are the actual details for that game (fouls + violations+infractions)
Derrick Stafford 16 total calls
Tim Donaghy 18 total calls
Did you honestly believe you could write something so inaccurate in the hopes that nobody would actually attempt to verify your claims?
Donaghy responded to that by claiming that Voulgaris had been unsuccessfully searching for a job with the NBA for several years. That claim was quickly revealed to be untrue, and the accusation was then redacted by Donaghy. Donaghy then published his email address and invited Voulgaris to have a private conversation with him. He also looked at the first two plays of a detailed video breakdown Voulgaris had made of one of his officiating performances, defended the calls he made, and then said he “did not feel the need to continue.” There was also some discussion about the accuracy of Volugaris’ methods, all of which Voulgaris responded to.
At this point, I think it would be best to review the cases for and against the veracity of Donaghy’s post-prison claims, and the evidence supporting each viewpoint.
Donaghy’s Version of Events:
Tim Donaghy claims that he was able to pick NBA games correctly against the spread at an amazingly high rate because he knew how the league and his fellow referees influenced games in unseen ways.
Some of the examples he gave were that Dick Bavetta liked to keep games close, that Steve Javie disliked Allen Iverson, that Joe Crawford loved Allen Iverson, and other things of that nature. Using detailed gambling databases, previous game footage, and months of painstaking research, Henry Abbott and Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop proved that if Donaghy had followed his “rules,” he would have ended up losing money.
Some of the parties Donaghy claimed were involved in specific incidents during Donaghy’s time as a referee also deny that those incidents ever occurred.
Donaghy, despite the fact he was betting on games that he was officiating, was calling the games fairly; according to Donaghy’s version of events, the gambling addiction that ruined his life did not influence his calls the way Steve Javie’s dislike of Allen Iverson influenced his calls. After he was found guilty of betting on games, Donaghy decided to expose who the “real” bad guys were.
Donaghy’s standard rebuttal to everyone who claims that he may have fixed games is that the FBI did a “thorough” investigation into him and found that he did not fix games. The FBI’s investigation mainly focused on money that was going to the Gambino crime family
, and specifically abstains from saying that the FBI found that Donaghy did or did not fix games. The NBA’s own investigation into Donaghy, the Pedowitz Report, also refrained from making a conclusion on that front, saying that they did not look at many of Donaghy’s games, and even saying that they had found some questionable things in the games they did look at.
I will also note that Donaghy has been attempting to encourage paranoia and promote conspiracy theories against multiple large entities since he returned from prison, most notably the NBA and ESPN, even when ESPN has shown its work at every opportunity. That he asks for the public to have complete and unwavering faith in an FBI report that nobody has seen and did not specifically say it found him innocent seems to reveal an inconsistency in Mr. Donaghy’s feelings about large entities.
The Other Version of Events:
The other version of events is that Tim Donaghy is a gambling addict who got involved with the mafia, overestimated his own ability to handicap games (which, by the way, problem gamblers do), and ended up in over his head. He then began betting on games he was working and, consciously
or unconsciously, changed th
e outcome of the games in order to win his bets.
When HBO’s Bryant Gumbel asked Donaghy’s former gambling partner if Donaghy fixed games, he gave a long, long pause before saying “no comment,”
then basically said he didn’t want to know whether or not Donaghy was fixing games.
Gumbel also said something at the end of that segment which I will now put in boldface and italicize:
One Quick Postscript: According to Batista [the man who bankrolled Donaghy's picks], Donaghy wasn’t much of a handicapper when he wasn’t directly involved. The games Donaghy picked but didn’t officiate? Batista ultimately said “Thanks, but no thanks,” after those picks lost him money.
Statistical research on the factors Donaghy said allowed him to pick games at 70% proved that betting those factors would not have won Donaghy money. Donaghy’s former gambling partner said that his picks on games he did not officiate lost him money. Yet Tim Donaghy made money the vast majority of the time on games he officiated. There is detailed statistical analysis, with accompanying video, showing that Donaghy had a tendency to call games in a ludicrously one-sided fashion
. If found guilty of fixing games, Donaghy faces additional criminal charges to the ones he has already been convicted of. Given that information, how many possible conclusions are there?
Tim Donaghy is feeding on our insecurities. We’re sometimes so afraid of being seen as naive that we’ll believe any narrative other than the one presented to us by a “mainstream” entity, and often end up making ourselves cripplingly naive by doing so. But every now and then, Occam’s Razor works. The referee who bet on games, went to jail for betting on games, and is trying to make back the reparation money he owes for illegally betting on games is the one who isn’t on the up-and-up here, not the ones getting a desperate finger pointed at them. As of right now, Tim Donaghy is failing the duck test
The men whose supposed biases have been statistically proven not to impact their work and do their best every day to correctly call a game that is nearly impossible to officiate perfectly are not the bad guys in this picture. There is likely not a vast NBA conspiracy that has placed the reputation and long-term survival of a multi-billion dollar industry in the hands of some of its most-maligned and worst-paid employees.
The amount of disrespect Tim Donaghy has shown to the game of basketball and the league that employed him is appalling. First, Donaghy bet on the game of basketball, the ultimate sports sin. That alone should have been enough to make Tim Donaghy’s name live in basketball infamy for as long as people talk about basketball.
Since his supposed rehabilitation Donaghy has, shockingly, made things worse. The 1919 White Sox admitted to their crimes when presented with the evidence. Pete Rose may have denied his guilt for decades, but at least he never tried to take anybody down with him. In response to the overwhelming evidence that he fixed games, Donaghy has decided that the best defense is a good offense.
He has, in the most calculated and self-serving manner possible, tapped into long-standing anxieties that basketball fans have about the way the game is officiated and used that to deflect attention away from his own indiscretions. How badly you wanted the Kings to win in 2002 doesn’t make the evidence against Donaghy go away. If you want to talk about games like that, go to places like this
. The man to lead the discussion about NBA officiating is not the ex-con ex-ref with some very murky motives behind his words.
In order to prove himself innocent of a crime he likely committed, Donaghy has been willing to tarnish the reputations of his fellow referees. His ultimate goal is to destroy the credibility of the league that features the best basketball players on the planet.
The truth — the unsexy, un-fun, conspiracy-free, actually true truth — of the matter is that the NBA and the people who work for it are doing everything they can to ensure that the games are called as fairly as possible. They are reviewing their referees. They are trying to find out which ones are the best. They are changing the rules to make the game more fair whenever they are given the opportunity.
Plenty of people are working on this, and none of them have gone to jail because they bet on games. Until Tim Donaghy completes the substantial amount of work that must be done in order to clear his own name, it’s probably best to let other people worry about how to fix the league Donaghy did so much damage to.
Tim Donaghy has said his piece. Thanks to innovations like FaceBook, he will always be able to get his words to people who want to read them. He will continue to talk, and that’s his right as a free man. Until Donaghy can provide some real evidence for the unsubstantiated claims he’s made about others and against the very substantial claims made against him, it’s high time to stop listening.