Tim Donaghy and the NBA: A Tale of Two Losers (part 1)

Posted: May 17, 2015

Updated: May 17, 2015

His actions still reverberates thru all discussions on legalizing sports betting.

Legalizing sports betting has become a top concern from sports leagues and state politicians in America. The multi-billion dollar empire of revenue that’s consistently entering the hands of people who live in countries, that don’t host these sports, is causing stress among in sports leagues and federal entities alike.

• Tim Donaghy, NBA referee admitted to making calls that change point spreads
• Donaghy served as a referee in the NBA for 13 years officiating 192 games
• Donaghy had a gambling problem and placed thousands of dollars on games

There are many aspects to legalizing sports betting that could “spill over” on other issues. These include effects on match fixing or “game handicapping” by individuals working in the leagues. Tim Donaghy, former 13-year referee for the NBA admitted to making calls that change point spreads for the intent of sports betting. He also admitted that NBA teams authorize the manipulation of their own games.

Donaghy’s life before the scandal

Donaghy’s life before he became a professional referee was mundane. Born in Havertown, Pennsylvania, Donaghy later attended Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield with three other future NBA referees. Having talent in baseball, he played on the baseball team for Villinaova University. The sales and marketing student achieved All-Catholic and All-Deleware County honors, which were denied by his former coach.

After graduating, Donaghy worked for five years as a referee for Pennsylvania high schools. Then Donaghy served seven seasons as a college basketball coach in the Continental Basketball Association and head official for the CBA All-Star game in 1993.
The following year Donaghy entered the NBA where he worked for 13 years. During that time, Donaghy was a referee for 772 regular season and 20 playoff games.

Donaghy first incident of controversy happened in 2003 when he ruled a technical foul on Rasheed Wallace, star of the Portland Trailblazers. Wallace threw a ball at a different referee for a call he disagreed with. Wallace went and confronted Donaghy as he left the stadium and yelled profanities and supposedly threatened him. In response to a NBA investigation, Wallace was suspended for seven games.

In 2004, Donaghy was involved in the infamous Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Known in US gambling news, the “Malice at the Palace” began with a fight that sparked in the last minute of the game. After the fight was settled, a fan threw a drink from the spectator stands at Indiana’s Ron Artest who then proceeded to go into the stands which started another battle between players and fans.

The scandal the rocked the sports world

Donaghy Bryant

The discoveries that revealed the true extent of Donaghy’s crime was a small coincidence of a larger investigation by the FBI. In 2007, when the New York Post reported that “NBA referees wagered on games to control the point spread.” The FBI investigation also stated that Donaghy had a gambling problem and had placed tens of thousands of dollars on games.

Most of these games Donaghy bet on occurred during two seasons from 2005 to 2007. During that period, low-level mafia associates approached Donaghy to set up a scheme that ignored US gambling laws. Some believed Donaghy perpetrated these acts because he gotten into debt and needed the money.

President of betting information site Pre-game and sports betting expert R.J Bell studied every game Donaghy officiated between 2003 and 2007. During two seasons, NBA teams Donaghy coached scored higher than Vegas sportsbooks predicted 57% of the time which proved to a 99.9% possibility that an outside factor was present. Also evidence showed that point spreads moved before games resulted from larger wagers placed.

The NBA Commissioner at the time David Stern made a statement about the controversy. “We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports, and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again.“

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