Donaghy saw his chance, while NBA saw nothing


August 20, 2007|By TERRY PLUTO | TERRY PLUTO,Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal

There had to be clues.

The more you look at the Tim Donaghy case, the more you know it's true.

Someone knew something was wrong with the former NBA official, who pleaded guilty to a pair of felony charges dealing with gambling. His professional sins were too blatant, too outrageous not to be detected by an organization that should be watching closely.

Donaghy admitted he had gambled on NBA games since 2003. He began feeding cell phone tips to gamblers in December 2006. At first, he would get $2,000 if one of his "picks" on a game turned out to be accurate.

His price rose to $5,000.

Here's a guy with a $260,000 salary, and with a wife, four daughters and a nice home in Florida blowing it all with a corrupt toot of the whistle.

In court documents, Donaghy admitted to "being in a unique position to predict the outcome of games."

No kidding.

The men working games with him, traveling with him and evaluating him also were in a unique position. A report on reveals that Donaghy's crew led the NBA in personal fouls called and technical fouls over the past two seasons.

Wonder why that would be?

Maybe because this guy was betting the "over" in the point spread. That means he bet that the two teams in his game would score more than the average point total that the Las Vegas bookmakers expected.

ESPN reported that in 2004-05, games worked by Donaghy's crew beat the over only 44 percent of the time. That means the two teams scored less than the average in 56 percent of games.

But in the past two years, total points were over the average in 57 percent of the games worked by Donaghy.

That's a stunning 13-percentage point change. Someone somewhere in the NBA office should have noticed. Or, how about the guys assigned to call the games with him. Gamblers are aware of these things; why wasn't the NBA?

In 2005-06, the average NBA game had 187 total points, but it was 197 in games with Donaghy.

In 2006-07, the NBA average was 188; Donaghy's was 201.

He wasn't just over, but way over the top.

He did it by calling a lot of fouls, leading to more free throws - and easy points. He worked a Miami Heat-New York Knicks game last season in which five technicals were called on the Heat. The Knicks had an incredible 39-8 free-throw advantage. Yes, the underdog, dysfunctional Knicks beat the spread that night.

No one with the league noticed.

Or perhaps, no one wanted to notice.

The NBA cannot let this go. The integrity of the league and its officials are at stake. Commissioner David Stern has painted Donaghy as a "rogue" referee, a lone ranger of gambling.

But Donaghy traveled with other officials. He worked with them after games, evaluating tapes of his performance according to league requirements.

Gamblers have strange habits, wild mood swings, an unhealthy interest in sports action.

Yet it appears no one wanted to say anything. In fact, the New York Daily News reported that Donaghy received an "above average" evaluation from the league for last season! He worked second-round playoff games.

Makes you wonder what games they were watching.

This guy was at the infamous Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers brawl of a few years ago. He was in the terribly officiated Phoenix Suns-San Antonio Spurs playoff game last season. He's like the Forrest Gump of officials: When there was trouble, there was Tim Donaghy in the background.

He admitted he bet on games - some that he worked - for four years. Let's repeat that: He bet on games for four years.

The number of points in his games changed dramatically a few years ago.

He supposedly was a down-and-dirty addicted gambler.

But no one noticed anything, right?

If that's true, the NBA has a bigger problem than Donaghy, especially if the league keeps insisting it all came down to one bad man.

Terry Pluto writes for the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal.

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