Considered the most prestigious basketball league on earth, the NBA has a certain appeal that other leagues lack. With its high level of play and stars that seem to do no wrong, how could it not? But is it possible that some of the best players and teams get a little help from the officials?
5 years ago, Tim Donaghy, a former ref for the NBA, was discovered to have been making bets on games that might have affected his decision making in calls. He denied his gambling to have affected his officiating, but was sent to court on charges of conspiracy to engage inwire fraud, and transmitting wagering information through interstate commerce. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison for betting on games that he reffed. His arrest unearthed a long debated topic about the NBA, it’s biased reffing, and slightly scripted feeling.
After his arrest Donaghy went public about his situation. He wrote a book, was on 60 minutes, and did multiple interviews with many radio stations. People wanted to know how was he so accurate in his bets? During the an investigation the FBI conducted, they discovered that out of the 100 games he bet on, he won a whopping 80% of his bets, a ridiculous percentage. To Donaghy however, it’s no surprise that he won so many bets. Donaghy had told the FBI, “You don’t realize how easy this was for me knowing what I know”.
In his book and his interviews, Donaghy explains how he could know the outcome of a game with the point spread, just by knowing who was officiating, and how crucial a game it was for either team. “I would call the referees the night of the game” he said. “I would pick their brain, and see if they had any vendettas against any player/coach/owner involved in the game that night, and based on the information, I could make a decision.”
During a YouTube interview, he stated, “I’m never going to say that the NBA is fixed, or that David Stern, NBA commissioner, is going to go out and completely screw teams but the way they program and train referees in meetings, it puts a team at an advantage or a disadvantage” He gives an example later on in the interview. “To use the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers as an example, the referees had talked about how important this game was to the Lakers. It’s a matter of them making the playoffs or not making the playoffs so if they are going to call a foul, they’re going to call them on the side of the Lakers because Houston’s already in, and if they make a call that ends up taking the Lakers out of the playoffs, there’s going to be big consequences due to fans. Not only for officials, but for the league losing millions of dollars because one of their main teams missed the playoffs.”
Donaghy gives another example of how the NBA is partially scripted in his book Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA, by talking about current NBA ref Dick Bavetta. Bavetta is known for usually officiating close games. If a team was being blown out, he would alter his officiating, and instruct the other refs to do so as well. “Lets not embarrass anyone,” he would say. Donaghy knows first hand, as Bavetta has given him these instructions in the past. He says that during conversations with him, Bavetta stated that he was the NBA’s “go to guy”. Whenever they wanted a game to be really close, or a playoff series to go the 7 games, just to entertain fans, he would assign Bavetta to the game with instructions on which team to favor. What makes the situation even fishier is that when Bavetta was investigated, he was forbidden by the NBA to speak publicly about the case.
In an interview on WEEI radio, Donaghy was asked to elaborate on how refs might favor stars. Donaghy explained how sometimes if there was a foul called that would put an all star in a troublesome situation, they would try to find a person who was not as important, (maybe an 8th man to a team), that might have been involved in the play and give them the foul.
It can’t be denied that Donaghy did the wrong thing. But maybe it was all for the better, as it unearthed a controversial topic that few people were aware of. Many people now believe that the NBA does have a scripted feeling to it. If you have ever watched an NBA game, there is never a single game where there is not at least a couple controversial calls. Even the announcers pick up on it when looking at the replay.
I think it is very low of the NBA and the officials to pull this kind of stunt. Basketball is not a show; it’s a sport that should be played with dignity, honesty, and pride. The good teams deserve the wins they get, and the bad teams deserve the losses. There should be no unnecessary interference from the league or from the officials just because they want to entertain the fans. It’s just not fair to the players. Whether an All-Star, or a bench warmer, each and everyone of those players worked their butt off to get to where they are today, and the fact that the NBA is turning them into a show instead of letting them just play basketball, is just an insult to their dedication. The NBA should let the players just play basketball, no biased reffing, no extending a series for entertainment, just play basketball like it was meant to be played. Not for the money, not for the fans, for the competition and for the sport.