He was involved in the biggest NBA scandal – Testimony of a former NBA referee

My name is Tim Donaghy, I am the former NBA basketball referee. I was involved in a gambling scandal in 2007 to where I used information that I’ve obtained from other referees and the legal office, based on relationships that existed between referees and owners, referees and coaches, and referees and players, and used that information, knowing what was going to happen in the NBA game and used that information to pass along to people associated with organised crime for a monetary gain. It all fell apart because at the end of the year, you know, some of the people associated with organised crime were heard talking over a wiretap. So it got back to the FBI and they started a big investigation. When I got there, I basically told them the truth, that I, you know, was somebody who had gambled a lot in general, and gambled on NBA basketball games.

Then they wanted to know how I was able to win so many games without fixing them, and it took a long while and several meetings but I explained to them that the relationships that existed, both positive and negative, between the referees and the players and coaches and the owners, that spilled out on the floor. Through their investigation and speaking to, you know, coaches and owners, and players, and former referees, they came to the conclusion that what I was telling them was the truth. We think we have here a rouge, isolated criminal.

The NBA reacted by basically saying that I was just one bad apple in the bunch and you know, tried to throw me under the bus. But what happened was, they did a huge investigation and the FBI came out and supported me 100 percent and said that everything that I said was truthful, and that the NBA had a lot of problems that they needed to clean up. NBA arenas are, you know, basically packed with 20.000 people, it is like a Broadway show and you have beautiful cheerleaders you got the greatest athletes in the world running up and down the court doing things that most people could only dream of. So, it’s packed with excitement and people love to be a part of it. 50, 60, 70 thousand of Dollards per year, taxes free At the NBA level, especially during the play-offs, the league would really dictate what they wanted called in a game and that would put a team at a huge advantage or disadvantage moving forward in a play-off series.

And it was always a situation were were extending a playoff series, because the amount of revenue and additional game would be in a seven game series was always something that was in the back of the referee’s mind. Everything is fed by money. We know each additional game is ten of millions of Dollars fort he league office.

It’s a culture of the bottom line which is money. It was in 2003 that the famous game six was where Sacramento players had the better team that year, and in LA they needed to win, to close out the Lakers, it was a game six and there was a lot of fouls called at the end of the game and basically it looked outrageous to the fans that, you know, something strange was going on, it even got congress involved to where they wanted explanation as to how these calls could have gone against Sacramento when they clearly should have gone against LA, and why Sacramento ended up losing that game when they’ve clearly should have won. So it was very controversial and we all know that in Sacramento, LA went on to win that game seven and went on to beat New Jersey in the NBA finals. It was just a commonly known practice that the stars ran a league in the NBA, the stars soled the shoes and jerseys, and the bigger market team is what got the NBA global attention and better rating. So we all knew that, you know, we needed to give them an advantage, you know, in some way, shape or form, and that’s what a lot of veteran referees did, and that’s what a lot of the veteran referees passed along to the younger referees.

As a young referee in Philadelphia, the Bullls were in town to play the 76ers and that year, they gave us points of emphasis as referees that they wanted to call during the game. And one of them was a spin move on the base line, and I’ll never forget, I was the referee on the player that was responsible to call it out if it took place and Michael Jordan did it, went up and you know, had a monster dunk and I waved it off, and I called the travel. And right after I made that call, there was a time-out, Jordan rushed up to me, Phil Jackson came at me, 20.000 people in the stadium booed me, even though it was in way a game for the Chicago Bulls and Jordan said: What are you calling that for?

I said, you know, you got the same training tape we got, that’s the rule that they want called a travel. And both Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan said to me, they may want that called a travel, but they certainly don’t want it called on me. And Phil Jackson pointed to him and said, they don’t want that called on him. And it was really something that got stuck in my mind, because it bothered me that 20.000 people were booing at me, the whole Bullls team was coming at me, and everyone was kind of amazed that I made that call. So I spoke the lead referee in the locker room. He said: you have to realise that you know, you don’t call that against the star, you let that go and you call that against the lesser players.

When they have a point of emphasis that they want cleaned up in the NBA, you don’t do it against the star players. When Phoenix played the Lakers in the play-offs and Phoenix was a very good team and giving the Lakers a very good run for their money, Raja Bell was known as the Kobe stopper, and that’s what he would call himself, and the league came in and said that he was being too physical with Kobe Bryant and made handling him and showed us plays that they wanted called against Raja Bell. And it was a situation that they wanted Kobe to be able to get to the basket a little bit easier in our mind, and they wanted the Lakers to win over Phoenix because, of course, we all know that David Stern set his ideal NBA finals matchup would be the Lakers, first the Lakers, because that’s what is going to bring global attention, so we always knew they wanted the Lakers to advance. I think when you talk about gambling in the NBA with the referees or even the players, obviously the referees like to go to the casinos, we like to gamble, playing cards, we like to gamble even on the NBA floor with betting on who would call the first foul in an NBA game. Basically, when you are refereeing an NBA game with two of your good friends, that you would bet 20 Dollars because that is what the tip was for the ball boy.

So we would say, whoever called the first foul of the game had to put up a 20 Dollar tip for the other two guys. So we would go out on the floor, and we would be running up and down the court, and we, you know, would be letting fouls go, because nobody wanted to call the first foul in a game, because then you were responsible to pay that ball boy. So, we get bodies flying all over the place and nobody would be wanting to blow the whistle, you know, two or three minutes into a game which is unheard of a foul not been called because of 20 Dollars bet in the locker room A supervisory official at the time, came in the locker room at half time and basically said, what the hell happened at the beginning of the game? None of you guys were blowing the whistle.

I didn’t want to blow the whistle, they didn’t blow the whistle either because we had a bet, 20 Dollars. And he just said, well, I don’t want to know anything about that, and walked out. But nothing was ever done about it. So the legal office knew that it had taken place at times. I believe for sure that the NBA didn’t sue me because the last thing they wanted to do was having some of their referees, owners or league personnel testify under oath that a lot of the things that I was saying did take place, and were true, and that would be very detrimental to the league.

So what they wanted to do was just, you know, hopefully put me in jail for a long period of time and have this thing fall over by, but it kind of backfired on them. I was given 15 months in prison and I was able to write a book and tell my story. That was something that they tried to squash repeatedly by going into the offices of Random House and getting my book deal squashed at first and going into the offices of 60 Minutes and trying to get them not to air the episode.