To briefly recap the existing public record re: NBA referee Tim Donaghy and the possible fixing of games:
*Donaghy claims he didn’t consciously fix games to advance his betting propositions.
*Federal authorities said very little publicly on the matter throughout the court proceedings involving Donaghy and his co-conspirators, other than to note that “there is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.” Although…
*Donaghy admitted to authorities that he “compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games, and that this personal interest might have subconsciously affected his on-court performance.”
Unfortunately, very little has been written regarding Donaghy’s more nuanced statements about his on-court behavior when his bets were at stake. Donaghy has repeatedly said, in slightly different ways, that he did not make “incorrect calls” to advance his betting propositions, leaving wide open the possibility that he simply made strategic “correct” calls (perhaps on typically oft-ignored violations) to produce successful outcomes with regard to his bets.^
Consider this incisive give-and-take with ESPN’s Mark Schwarz, who interviewed Donaghy for the network’s acclaimed “Outside the Lines” program (beginning at 6:23 of the interview, following Donaghy saying that game “manipulation” occurred among NBA referees because of personal biases [emphasis added]):
MS: But, if you had a bias against a player – and you said you did against Rasheed Wallace – didn’t you make calls to affect the point spread?TD: Sure.MS: So, how is that not fixing a game?TD: I think, um, those calls are justified. That’s where the subjectivity comes in.MS: Why is it justified to make calls at an unusual rate against a particular player? How’s that not fixing the outcome?TD: If the calls are warranted, it’s not fixing the outcome.MS: But “warranted” by what, personal bias?TD: Personal bias, um, obviously comes into effect, but the calls have to be justified to be made.MS: Personal bias compounded by also betting against Rasheed Wallace could lead to manipulation of a game, correct?TD: Sure it could.MS: So, how is that not fixing it?TD: It’s not fixing it because I don’t think that I’m making calls up against him.
Obviously I didn’t want to be detected. Going out and making calls that were wrong to help a bet win is something that I tried to stay away from because the goal was not to be detected. Certainly if I was making incorrect calls on purpose to help my bets win I would have been detected by the NBA which scrutinizes most of the calls.
Obviously, when you’re doing something wrong like I was, you don’t want to get caught and, uh, going out onto the floor and making calls in games that are wrong to influence a point spread would have certainly thrown up some red flags very quickly that would probably, uh, enable me to get caught a lot quicker than what I did.
I didn’t want to throw up any red flags and be detected to make calls that were incorrect to help a bet win.
If I was making calls in games, uh, that were flat-out wrong to, uh, facilitate a bet winning, uh, I certainly would, uh, be throwing up red flags to be detected.
I certainly didn’t want to make calls in games, especially calls that were wrong, that would send up red flags and get me in the kind of trouble that I ended up in later down the road.
I’m going to be detected if I’m making incorrect calls on a continuous basis to affect these games so that the bets would cover. I mean, red flags would be thrown up all over the place and the NBA or the FBI certainly would have detected this well before it was detected.
In closing, and in special consideration of all Donaghy has been quoted as saying above (and elsewhere), I’d like to return to something I noted a while ago. In Personal Foul, Donaghy argues that the subjectivity of calls is a significant problem with the league’s officiating. He then states (p.238) that an additional issue concerns “the friendships and hatreds between the referees and the players, coaches, and owners.” In this regard, Donaghy adds:
Because (NBA) referees are able to make calls or ignore violations with impunity, they can hide a whole lot of love or hate for players or a team with their calls.
Couldn’t this logic be used to illustrate why it would have been possible, indeed easy (assuming he is correct), for Tim Donaghy to fix games? That is, let’s take Donaghy at his word, and simply apply Donaghy’s arguments to his particular situation vis-a-vis the possible altering of game outcomes in advance of his betting propositions:
Because Tim Donaghy was able to make calls or ignore violations with impunity, he could – depending on which side he bet that evening – hide a whole lot of ‘love’ or ‘hate’ for players or a team with his calls.
^ If Donaghy was, in fact, making such strategic “correct” calls, these actions would have been rather difficult to detect considering Donaghy’s reputation as an official who made a lot of calls. NBA Commissioner David Stern has said that Donaghy “probably was near or at [the] top of calls made,” and that according to the league’s assessments of his officiating, Donaghy was “in the top tier of accuracy.”
[Obviously, I get into the context for all of this in much greater detail in Gaming the Game. I am nevertheless attempting to offer as comprehensive an understanding of the scandal as possible, and amalgamating this sort of publicly-accessible information in a tidy fashion hopefully assists others in conducting their own follow-up assessments.]