In their own words: The NBA betting scandal

By Andrew D

June 12, 2023

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 1. Something fishy

The biggest scandal in NBA history might even qualify as the biggest in all of sporting history, certainly in terms of the amount of money involved. The levels of confusion, intrigue, and misdirection have not really been exposed or become clearer as the years have passed. Those involved have either done their time or gotten away scot-free and it didn’t seem to be a subject that was anything other than a dirty, sordid tale of greed and loose morals. Better left in the gutter like the dirty little secret that it was. But, is that really the case?

Do NBA fans feel that lessons were learned from the aftermath of the scandal?

Do they feel that the NBA became more transparent and trustworthy as a result?

As NBA fans ourselves, here at The Jump Hub, we can tell you that the way the NBA betting scandal was handled by everybody involved did nothing to convince us that the problem was not a much wider one. One that may even persist to this day. 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This series of articles is a labour of love/hate that has seen us transcribe every word we can find from the players in this sordid tale and interesting outside observers. We have collated interviews from television and radio, and particularly one in-depth podcast that really blew a lot of the cobwebs away and dug deeper than even the ‘official’ investigations did. 

A lot deeper

Here at The Jump Hub, we highly recommend Australian sportsbook PlayUp for all your NBA Betting.

  • They have great offers and promotions, keen NBA odds, and a huge array of other sports to bet on.

Read our full review of PlayUp.

18+ | You know the score | Stay in control | Gamble responsibly

When the fun stops, stop

Nothing much has changed...

It was hard to know how to organise so much information. There are snips of conversations from former players, FBI agents, professors, and the criminals themselves. It makes our original article on the NBA betting scandal seem like nothing more than a headline in comparison.

But first things first...

Let’s just lay out the ‘facts’ of the story as you might have seen them in the news at the time:

In 2006, members of the Gambino crime family were caught on an FBI wiretap bragging about how they had an NBA ref ‘in their pocket’. From 2003 until 2007, the Gambinos and other professional betting syndicates earned hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars on this one referee’s games. 

The referee’s name was Tim Donaghy 

Donaghy was betting on most of the games he called during this time and it wasn’t just the betting markets that he and the Mafia were manipulating. It was the games themselves. When the story broke, Donaghy was quickly labelled a rogue, isolated criminal by David Stern and the NBA public relations machine. In its naivety, or perhaps for more sinister reasons we will hear about later, the American sports media accepted the story as the truth hook, line, and sinker without even blinking. 

Since then, Donaghy has maintained he refereed every single game straight-up, even the games he had money on. Despite being an admitted gambling addict, Donaghy claims that he consistently suppressed the urge to aid his bets with incorrect calls. Insisting that his integrity as an official wouldn’t allow him to do so. Ultimately, Donaghy pleaded guilty to two federal charges and was sentenced to 15 months in a federal penitentiary. 

On October the 2nd, 2008, 9 days after Donaghy began his 15-month prison sentence, the NBA released the findings of its internal investigation. According to then-commissioner David Stern, the goal of the report was to create the most effective possible system to monitor illegal gambling and preserve the games’ integrity, which had surely been tarnished.

The report was written by attorney Lawrence Pedowitz and is known as ‘The Pedowitz Report’. The report found that: 

  • 52 of 57 referees (91%) had engaged in some form of betting. This was expressly prohibited by the NBA.  

  • 33 referees admitted to gambling in casinos 

  • 37 bought Lotto tickets

  • 16 referees admitted to betting on non-NBA sporting events 

The report concluded it had:

'Discovered no information suggesting that any NBA refers other than Tim Donaghy has bet on NBA games or leaked confidential NBA information to gamblers.'

Tim Donaghy did not cooperate in the Pedowitz report.

PlayUp - Your Best Bet - Leading Australian owned sportsbook

What follows is a story that hints at a level of, corruption, greed, and deliberate manipulation of NBA games that goes to the very heart of the organisation itself. Strongly suggesting that the oh-so-easily digested story that the media diligently spewed out about one man being a rogue element might be a totally fabricated cover-up. That the heart itself might be irretrievably rotten. Before we get to the criminals themselves, it's worth taking a look at how the referee's performances affected some NBA players of the day, and how they felt something was amiss in the way the games were being called:

Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells were NBA players during the period in question.

For reference, a technical foul, also known as a ‘tech’ or a ’T’ is a rules infraction where a player, coach, or in rare cases someone in the crowd can be penalised for something that doesn’t involve physical contact during the course of play. A referee has full discretion over what constitutes a technical foul. They can call it at any time for anything.

But it’s supposed to be used as a last resort...

Rasheed Wallace

16-year NBA career

My name is Rasheed Wallace. I’m a 16-year NBA veteran. 4-time NBA All-Star and 2004 NBA champ. I forgot the team we were playing but, erm, you know the ref called a foul on me and he was facing the table, you know putting the number in ‘3-0 foul’ whatever right?  Now - Donaghy is waaaaay on the other side of the court. And, he hits me with a tech. And, like it shocks everybody because I didn’t say nuthin’, I didn’t argue or dispute the call so he gave me a tech, talking’ ‘bout some, I threw the ball at him. I’m like, yo, the man is less than 4 feet from me dog. If I really wanted to hit him, I could really hit him, so what you talking about I’m throwing the ball at him?  So then, calls another tech (…) jackin’ me, cool, that’s alright.

Now I’m out throw in the bag, change up and watch the game and everything you know? And so after the game everybody’s gone and we’re standing on the loading docks. So, here come the three referees walking down the ramp. I says to Donaghy, I says ‘Yo, I’m gonna get my money back for that bullshit tech you called’ and he’s like ‘What?’ And I said ‘You heard me. I said I’m gonna get my money back from that bullshit tech you called’, I said ‘you makin’ it too obvious’ And then that’s when he came at me and so we jarring back and forth, jarring back and forth.

So I go home, like a day or two later, NBA security hitting me. ‘Hey, you know, what happened out there on the loading dock?’ And so I told ‘em. I said ‘I told that cheatin’-ass ref that he was cheatin’ and I told him he making it too obvious’. So, suspended me seven games. At the time it cost me 1.2 million. Years later, I’m on vacation. I get a call. It was Joe, Dumar. He was like ‘Hey, I hope you enjoying yourself you know I hate to bother you on your vacation but,’ he was like - 'You were right’

Rasheed Wallace

Bonzi Wells

10-year NBA career

Best known for his years with the Portland Trailblazers, where he starred alongside Rasheed Wallace. 

‘When I think o’ Rasheed Wallace man, there’s so many good things that I could say about him. When it come to a friend, mentor, big brother you know it’s just totally the opposite of wha, the way he’s been portrayed in the media and the way people think about him’ 

When I really knew it was real was when we was in the 2000 Western Conference finals. And Rasheed, he was like, you know ‘I’m really gonna be on my best behaviour’. I just remember you know a moment Rasheed looked at the ref. And all he did was look at ‘im. He didn’t go at ‘im in a blazing type o’ manner where you know the ref had to fear for anything. Rasheed just looked at ‘im. And he whacked ‘im. Gave him 2 techs, ejected our best player out the game’. And he had been saying all along like, every time the notes section came out, he’d be like ‘Lemme look at the notes section, see who’s reffing this game’. Every time he saw certain names, he’d be like ‘We not gonna win today’. Either one of us will get 2 fouls in the first quarter, ejection, technical fouls. Gonna be somethin’. I just never believed it. But when that happened, when that moment happened when he whacked him just by lookin’ at ‘im, our best player.

That’s when I followed his lead from that moment on. ‘Cos the referee’s a human. I mean people gotta understand, these are not computers out there refereeing the game. They’re human people, they have human problems. Just like we’re human basketball players and have real-life human problems. But, we always had a thing in our mind that ‘What if there’s somebody out there really really tryna dictate these games and really tryna benefit off the outcome of some of these games?’

And we always said that. I mean, we didn’t have any proof to back it up but, you know, when there’s smoke there’s fire and that’s what we always thought. It’s some guys that’ll give you techs or ejections that you gotta respect ‘em because we know we went too far. But it’s some o’ these dudes that have an asshole to ‘em when they teching you and talking shit to you that you just can’t handle in real life.

Like the refs are the judge and the jury. And they know it. And that’s a heck of a thing to have behind you. Knowing that you are the judge and jury and nobody’s gonna question anything you say. 

Bonzi Wells

So clearly the players were already aware that there seemed to be intentional bias and manipulation during some of their games and with certain referees. Nobody was yet aware of the true depth and nature of the NBA betting scandal. Indeed, they still aren't.

But the players felt it from the start

Join us next time as the plot thickens...

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 2. Donaghy goes on the record

Angelo Cataldi, a top sports radio host in Donaghy’s hometown of Philadelphia spoke to him in one of the many interviews Donaghy gave when he got out of prison. He had a book to hawk now, of course, so the publicity was just what he needed. But if the interviewers thought they were going to get into some great, deeply hidden insights that nobody else had managed to reveal, they were to be sorely disappointed. Donaghy toed the exact same line he had from the beginning...

Angleo Cataldi & Tim Donaghy

Angelo Cataldi - "When you become a ref, there are very specific rules on what you can and can’t do with gambling right Tim? What are those rules?"

Tim Donaghy - “Er, the rules when I was there were you weren’t able to place a bet of any kind except at the horse track”

AC - “Just the horse racing?”

TD - “Yeah”

AC - “Otherwise no. So, even when you were gambling on the golf courses, which so many refs did, that technically was a violation of the contract?”

TD - “Yes”

AC - “Alright, but they did it anyway?”

TD “Yes”

AC - “When did you cross the line into sports betting and why did you do it?”

TD - “I crossed the line when I started hanging out at the country clubs and, you know betting on sports college or pro and then eventually spilled over into betting on NBA and eventually NBA games that I officiated. As to why I did it, um, you know I just made some poor choices and crossed some lines that I shouldn’t have been near.”

AC - “What percentage of NBA bets were you hitting on?”

TD - “Ah, over 80%”

AC - “Yeah, and here’s what really amazed me about this. You did bet occasionally on games you officiated, is that true?”

TD - “Yes”

AC - “Here’s where I’m really having a hard time with this Tim. You maintain very strongly, you never fixed a game. You never did a game and called actual plays that would affect who won and who lost. But what If it was close and one call could affect the outcome? You would not make that call, you called it straight-up every single time?”

TD - “Yeah and in fact, ah, you know Phil Scala who’s a supervisory special agent said that I had told the truth at every turn and it was never a situation where we had so many losses that I needed a win and in fact, ah, a loss here and there was good because we won so much I was afraid red flags were going up all over the place”

Radio conversation between Angelo Cataldi and Tim Donaghy

When he reflected on the interview afterwards, Cataldi was essentially none the wiser.

Angelo Cataldi - “One of the more perplexing interviews I ever did because we somewhat covered the story as it was unfolding. And it was 15 minutes, I almost never do more than 10 with anyone but I thought it was a really interesting story. And 15 minutes after I stopped talking to him, I don’t think I had any better handle on the story than I did before”

Angelo Cataldi


Donaghy even went onto the world-famous 60 Minutes in 2009 with Bob Simon

Bob Simon & Tim Donaghy

Bob Simon - “You’re insisting that your betting did not influence the way you called a game. Why should we believe you?”

Tim Donaghy “Because the FBI did a thorough investigation and even the NBA concluded that I did not fix games in the NBA”

TD - “My name is Tim Donaghy, and on July 28th 2008 I was sentenced to federal prison for betting on games I refereed. (…) Ah, you know, grew up in Howard Town Pennsylvania, went to Cardinal Hauer High School, Villanova University. After college, start to referee and work my way up to become an NBA basketball referee. Unfortunately, I started to gamble in ah, ah, the golf course, gamble playing cards, er, running down to the casinos and gambling and and betting on college and professional football games and eventually spilled over to betting on NBA games and NBA games I officiated. 

BS - “So, your average NBA fan. Does he or she know the true story?”

TD - “You know I don’t think so. I think people think that I was out there fixing games and doing things with the whistle to make sure star players went to the bench. I don’t think they realise how the NBA had a major influence in what they wanted the referees to call on a given night. And I took that information knowing that the referee crew was gonna go out there and do certain things and teams were at advantages and disadvantages."

"You know the NBA game is more of a form of entertainment and it’s not really a true athletic competition and I think, once I got to come to understand that you know I was better suited to be a ref in the NBA."

"I mean, there was a situation with Michael Jordan, it’s in Philly, they’re playing on the road. He does a spin move on the baseline and we just had come from our referee camp and they wanted this spin move taken out of the game ‘cos they felt like it was a blatant travel. He did it. Dumped the ball. I waived it off and called a travel violation on him and 20k people booed me. And there was a timeout called and Phil Jackson rushed me and Michael Jordan rushed me and said, you know, ‘what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Whaddya mean what am I doing? You get the same training tape plays as I do, they want that called a travel’ And they looked at me and Phil Jackson said, real arrogantly ‘They may want that called a travel’ and then he pointed at Michael Jordan and he said ‘But they don’t want that called on him"’

BS - "Do you remember the first game you bet on the NBA?"

TD - "No, no. I just remember um, Jack Concannon had the Daily News, one day I was over at the country club getting ready to golf. I had just come from home and looked at the master schedule of referees and he flicked me the Daily News with the lines in the paper and said, you know ‘Pick me some winners’ and I rattled off 3 games to him and you know he called me the next day laughing, joking around and said ‘Is it that easy?’. And I just said ‘Yeah’"

BS - "How many did you win?"

TD - "3 out of 3"

BS - "Who was Jack Concannon?"

TD - "Jack Concannon was a guy that, you know I played golf with 3 or 4 days a week. He was the guy that, when we first started to gamble he’d put the bets in through the bookie and, ah you know we teamed up and we made plays and he placed the bets and kinda left me out of it."

"You know I think it’s just a situation where I love to gamble out on the golf course ah, golfin’. Playing cards in the locker room. Running in casinos. And you know it just eventually spilled over to betting college football, pro football and eventually that day when he came to me with the Daily News, you know the NBA and then and certain things happen or another referee said something to me and you know I thought ‘Oh wow, this team’s gonna be put at an advantage or disadvantage’. I started passing that information along to him"

BS - "Can you estimate your winning percentage during that period?"

TD - "I think that we won you know somewhere around 80% of the time"

Bob Simon and Tim Donaghy

Sound too good to be true? That's because it is

Now then, if you have spent any time reading our informative, hilarious articles here at TheJump Hub, you will know all too well that winning 80% of your picks sounds like an exceptionally high percentage. And that’s because it is.

The best sports gamblers in the world only win 55 to 58% of their bets

Imagine winning 4 out of every 5 Blackjack hands!

The only way that’s possible is if you know which cards you’re going to be dealt...

Donaghy claims that his betting success relied on inside information. NBA referees are a tight fraternity and Donaghy knew most of his fellow officials very well. According to him, his picks were based on which crew was assigned to which game.

  • If referee A was going to be in Houston, bet on the Rockets because that ref loved Yao Ming

  • If referee B was in Minnesota, bet against the Timberwolves because he hated Kevin Garnett’s attitude

By understanding referees' biases, Donaghy says he was able to look at the betting lines in the New York Daily News and win 80% of his picks. 

The most important thing for a non-gambler to note is that, in sports betting, the house wins as soon as you place a bet.

A Sportsbook’s goal is to get even money on both sides. So if you’re betting on one side, somebody else is betting on the other side. The sportsbook takes its cut, also known as the 'vig', or the 'juice', on every bet. So as long as the bets are even on both sides, the sportsbook makes a profit. A betting line, or a spread, is how sportsbooks keep the betting even. The line is how many points a team is expected to win or lose by.

Here’s an example:

  • If the Knicks are 4-point favourites against the Celtics the Knicks are expected to win the game by 4 points. If you place a bet on the Knicks and they win the game by only 3 points, you lose your bet. If you place a bet on the Knicks and they win by 5 points or more, you win your bet. 4 points, you get your money back 

You might go to a bookmaker, an actual person who will take your money and give you cash if you win.

But those guys are an outdated breed on the verge of becoming extinct

In states where betting is legal, you can walk into a casino or place a bet online. What most people do is bet online at a digital sportsbook. Some of these sites are headquartered in the US but most are in Asia, Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean. They are completely unregulated and there are zero comebacks if your money goes missing. Modern sportsbooks are much more legitimate now that the USA is finally legalising gambling in many states.

But at the time of the NBA scandal, most people spent their money at offshore sites

They just hoped that they would be paid out if they won. But lots of sites 'mysteriously' disappeared into thin air if things didn’t go their way and it’s not hard to imagine how much dirty money was sloshing around.

A deep, wide filthy ocean of it...

Pre-internet sports betting was controlled by organised crime groups, and when they placed huge bets it was because they knew something that other people didn’t.

Join us next time for part 3 of this fascinating, tawdry tale

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 3. A dark underbelly

Michael Franzese was a ‘made man’ in the Colombo crime family and he ran a large-scale bookmaking operation on their behalf. He alleges that his bookmarking operation employed multiple NBA referees and that fixing an NBA game was not just easy, but virtually undetectable.

He explained how deep the Mafia’s ties went when it came to game-fixing:

Michael Franzese

Michael Franzese - “I was once a made-member of the Colombo family in New York. One of the 5 Mafia, La Cosa Nostra families and, understand, in New York, there were so many of us where we met people. You know, we just knew how to deal with people. We knew how to get around people. We knew how to make ‘em our friends. Put our arms around ‘em, get ‘em to do our bidding. And they wanted to be around us you know? We didn’t have to chase them. And that extended into all walks of life, from the White House right down to the guy in the street. You know, after a while they come to us and they need a few extra bucks and they trusted us and we started to play the game. 

Interviewer - “Which sports specifically were you involved in?"

MF - “Well, I was you know, I had a bookmaking operation. We had a number of bookmakers that were working for me. It really crossed all sports lines. We took bets. We got involved with players and personnel, so it wasn’t any one particular sport, it was all of them.’

INT - "It was wherever you had an in?"

MF - "Yeah"

INT - "But undoubtedly, based on your experience, you would consider yourself an expert in the realm of game-fixing?"

MF - "I guess so, yes"

INT - "Can you go into any sort of detail about how your relationship with those referees worked?" 

MF - "Well, I’m not going to mention names. But um, listen, in our gambling operation, it was all about the line. It’s not about who wins or loses, it’s about the line. And so, if you have an NBA referee, the NBA basketball game’s the easiest game to work with. You got 5 guys on the court and the referee controls the game. So if you got a ref working with you that can move the point spread to your advantage, that’s huge you know in the gambling business, that’s tremendous. And really that’s how it worked you know. You had a referee that was willing to, a game with the Lakers, keep Kobe Bryant on the bench for a little bit longer than he should be out there so he uh, can’t cover the spread. It was very valuable."

INT - "So, if you had to fix a game, would you go after the star player or the referee?"

MF - "Rather have the referee, well again, it’s all about the spread so, you know, a referee on every play, you know he can call a foul or he don’t have to call a foul and that’s what dictates the outcome of the game in many many ways. So, if you need to gain a few points you bring a player to the foul line from the opposing team and you’re gonna gain a few points, you know? And, same token if you wanna lose a few, you put their best foul shooter on the bench for a coupla points after a coupla minutes. I mean, it’s really so easy when a ref is working with you and who’s gonna you know, they’ll get mad at him, they’ll question the call, but that happens all the time anyway so. If the referee is smart and, obviously, it’s his ass on the line, he’s gonna be smart. He just does his thing and moves on and uh, who’s gonna know?"

INT - "How did you pay the referees? Was it just a flat fee based like per game?"

MF - "Yeah, they get paid in cash. Some of them had debts they paid off that way and others made money along with us, yeah we paid 'em. You know if you’re gonna ask me, I question every game and almost every call just by nature because I know the way it goes. I certainly question garbage points at the end, that’s uh’

INT - "That’s where the money gets made?"

MF - "Yeah"

Michael Franseze and interviewer

When Franzese makes a reference to 'garbage points' towards the end of the interview, he is talking about large numbers of fouls (and therefore free throws), inexplicably (or perhaps they're explicable now we're reading this interview!) awarded to one team or another towards the end of a game.

Corrupt referees can use this tactic to move the line around if it is not fulfilling their requirements at that point

The team that was winning the game might still win, but the betting line would be moved to incorporate any bets made on the spread. Nobody would have any proof that the game had been interfered with in any way, as it was all done within the rules.  

Interviewer - "So, did you know a lot of referees were living that life or gambling on other sports or in some form?"

Michael Franzese - "Referees and players yeah, and league personnel"

INT - "Were they gambling through you guys, through your bookies?"

MF - "Well remember, back at that time, if you wanted to gamble you had to gamble through a bookmaker. It’s not like it is today. And every bookmaker that could cover a bet was involved with us"

INT - "How much money were you moving behind a referee’s tip?"

MF - "Oh god knows, you gotta understand we had so many bookmakers out there I mean the numbers were big. Really big"

INT - "In the millions?"

MF - "Oh yeah, absolutely" 

INT - "To your knowledge, has the Mafia had influence on fixing games in these sports for the past 30 years: Baseball, basketball, football, tennis?”

MF - “Yes”

INT - “And the best way to fix a basketball game, get a referee”

MF - “100%”

INT - “And you just need one”

MF - “Just need one”

INT - “In Tim Donaghy’s book, Personal Foul, he claims that you guys had a few off-the-record conversations and that you had 2 NBA referees on your payroll in the ‘90s. Is that true?”

MF - “Yes

INT - “And just to confirm, neither of these refs was Tim Donaghy?”

MF - “Correct”

So, all of that rather seems to back up what Donaghy said to the FBI and in private, but we'll come to that soon enough. Let's just say that it doesn't exactly align too closely with what he said on the record when he was trying to hawk his book after getting out of prison...

As for Franzese? Clearly, he was a man deeply involved in the darkest, most repugnant side of life. Do we believe what he says? The real question is, is there any reason not to? Perhaps it brought more focus and publicity to his own efforts shilling for money after 'going straight'. But he doesn't really come across as the kind of guy who tells lies.

The kind who would cut your arm off and feed it to his dog? Sure

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Donaghy on the semantics of 'fixing vs manipulating'

Tim Donaghy - "They’re very similar but, you know, I think fixed is you’re going out there with the agenda that you’re gonna do everything you can and make up fictitious calls or just totally do things that aren’t within the rules but I think manipulating is within the rules. It’s not wrong calls, but it’s just calls that you all of a sudden decide to enforce"

Interviewer - "But a good referee can manipulate the game within the rules?"

TD - "Sure, I mean I think, ah, any chance you’ve got to help a player or hurt a player you know, based on your relationship with that player - within the rules, you can do it"

Tim Donaghy and interviewer

This is a really important distinction. According to Donaghy:

  • Fixing is when a ref is making incorrect calls

  • Manipulating is when a ref is not making incorrect calls

In both instances, however, a ref is influencing the game but whether he’s cheating depends on if the calls are correct or incorrect. 

INT - "The FBI watched all your games, what did they find after watching all of them?"

TD - "They found that they didn’t feel I was fixing games. Of course, the NBA did an investigation and felt that I wasn’t fixing games either but, you know that was in their best interests to say that. But when you have the FBI digging in and coming back and saying you know they felt like all the calls were legitimate, er I think that that was one reason why Phil Scala, the FBI kinda supported me in a way, ah, even though I did something wrong. Knowing that the way the NBA conducted business there was some things that weren’t on the up-and-up"

Tim Donaghy and interviewer

According to Donaghy, he was gambling on everything under the sun except for NBA games in the years preceding 2003. That was when he got together with his friend Jack Concannon, who began placing bets based on Donaghy’s tips.

Things were going along very nicely for the pair until 'certain people' got wind of the scheme...

Pro-gambler Jimmy ‘Baba’ Battista, who knew Donaghy from high school was one of those people. Battista was a professional gambler but his speciality was betting on games, not picking them. He sat in a war room filled with screens and placed bets for the industry’s biggest sports bettors all around the world.

To approach the corrupted ref, Battista recruited their mutual buddy, Donaghy’s closest friend, Tommy Martino to set up a meeting.

Now we have to remember that Donaghy had been betting on NBA games for years before that initial meeting which took place on December 12th 2006 at the Marriott hotel in Philadelphia. But Donaghy claims that, at this meeting, Battista threatened his family to force him to get involved and do as he was told.

Battista denies this and says that Donaghy was a willing participant. We may never know. What we do know is this:

A deal was made that took the scheme from small time to the big leagues

There was only one problem…Battista was addicted to cocaine and prescription pills and had grown greedy. He started betting with his clients’ money.

And losing it

So, by the time Donaghy came along, Battista was in debt and desperate. After years of betting compulsively, including 4 years of betting on the NBA, the idea that Tim Donaghy was going to stop gambling after the ’06/’07 season seems a little hard to believe. 

Tim Donaghy 

Tim Donaghy - "Marriott in Philadelphia and Tommy brings him down not knowing that Battista was gonna squeeze me. Joking around, having a lotta fun, course Tommy’s on the phone from time to time, going to the bathroom. Leave me and Battista there by ourselves and he flat-out says to me ‘Hey Tim, you know, we’re gonna continue to get these picks. If not, you could be exposed to the NBA, uh for what you been doing in the past. By the way, You don’t want anyone visiting your wife and kids in Florida do you? Let’s just do this.’ So, er you know, that’s how he got me to get on board very quickly and understand that you know, this was something that wasn’t gonna go away. So I jumped on board with him and was hoping at the end of this year, or that year in 2007 that it was over and we were never gonna do it again. And I’m tryna keep my job and never bet on anything ever again. Not golf, cars. Nothing. That was it. It was done. But of course, that’s not what happened, it was discovered over a Gambino wiretap and the rest uh, you know is history. It kinda made the news a little bit" 

Interviewer - "If you would have kept it small and just worked with Jack Concannon, just worked with one person, never told anybody, would you still be reffing the NBA today?" 

TD - "Erm, you know, if I could turn back time and say ‘Woulda, coulda, shoulda’ I wouldn’t have done it at all but, unfortunately, I can’t do that"

Interviewer - "Do you remember how much money you made during your time with Tommy and Baba?"

Tim Donaghy - "It was around 30 thousand dollars, I think that’s the, uh big misconception and that was a big hold up with, you know the prosecution. Battista’s going around telling people he gave me 250 thousand dollars when, in fact, I never saw him again after that first game. Er, he has the amount of games wrong, he says there was 40-somethin’ games but, there wasn’t and and all’s you have to do is look on my schedule and see that, from that timespan I only refereed 30 games. So, there’s a lot of inaccuracies that if he, you know had half a brain he would see that they’re something that’s very researchable"

INT - "Do you remember how much money you made during the run with Jack Concannon from ’03 onwards?"

TD - "You know I think with everything together over the 3 and a half years it was something around 100 thousand dollars I thought"

Tim Donaghy and interviewer

This is the story Donaghy tells over and over again

He bet on his own games, but he didn’t fix them. And the majority of his bets were on other referees’ games. Games where his inside knowledge allowed him to pick winners against the spread. And over the course of 4 seasons, he says that he only took home 100 thousand dollars.

Despite having the ability to win 80% of his picks...

Despite having the ability to virtually print money

Join us again next week as the hole gets even deeper and darker.

Stay classy

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 4. By the numbers

So, as we learned last time, Donaghy sticks doggedly to the line that he bet on his own games but didn’t fix them. And the majority of his bets were on games officiated by other refs. It was only his inside knowledge that allowed him to pick winners against the spread and his overall winnings were largely insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Sean Patrick Griffin is a professor and head of the criminal justice department at 'the Citadel', the military college of South Carolina. He researched the gambling side of the story of the NBA scandal and wrote a book entitled 'Gaming the game'.

He believes that the data tells a very different story:  

Sean Patrick Griffin

Sean Patrick Griffin "The most common misconceptions concerning the NBA betting scandal are, first and foremost that Donaghy simply bet on games as opposed to influencing them. That’s the most important, I would argue. This is one of the largest scandals in US sports history and there’s so much misinformation out there. And I’ve always said, there are plenty of things we’re never going to know, that are ‘he said, he said’ situations. But in this story, there are plenty which are not and let’s at least get those correct. The research relies mostly on what we call ‘primary source documents’ meaning FBI files, court documents. In this modern era, people can track all sorts of data and professional gamblers will, oftentimes, employ sophisticated statistical analyses. Computer models and all that stuff. Well, for the NBA betting scandal, I got access to all that stuff."

Sean Patrick Griffin

Griffin gained access to:

  • The gamblers who were doing the betting

  • The sportsbook managers who were taking the bets

  • Some of the actual betting accounts

Effectively, all the data required to solve these mysteries.

What Griffin was ultimately looking for was betting line movement

When a sportsbook moves a betting line, it signals 2 things:

  1. A lot of money is being bet on that game

  2. It means that a lot of money is coming in on one team

If the numbers aren’t big, the sportsbook doesn’t care. Any money landing on the site is usually a win for them. It is only when the money on one side starts to vastly outweigh the other that they start to grow concerned. This compels the sportsbook to adjust the line in order to encourage more bets on the other team. Their ultimate goal is to get even money on either side of any betting line as this guarantees them profit. 

What the data from that time show is inarguable and pretty damning.

The betting lines moved far more on the games Donaghy officiated

And there was a reason for that. Those are the games Jimmy Battista was betting millions of dollars on, thereby causing the lines to move to compensate for the hefty amounts involved.

Sean Patrick Griffin - "What the data shows, is that clearly the betting lines move far more on the games that Donaghy officiated than those he didn’t. And there was a reason for that. Those are the games that Jimmy Battista, the pro gambler was betting millions of dollars on and that’s what was causing the lines to move. Tim Donaghy has been very shrewd in how he has convinced a large section of the public that he didn’t fix games. If you listen to what he says, he says a handful of staples all the time. Number one, he always says he did not make incorrect calls to influence game outcomes. That might seem trivial, that’s said for a reason. That he was calling correct calls, technically correct calls that other people either don’t call, or don’t call nearly with the frequency which he did. And there’s an irony there, by the way, because the NBA themselves said that he was one of their highest-rated officials and was in the top tier when it came to the number of calls made.

So, if that’s how you’re fixing games, they’re not gonna get discovered (chuckles) But Donaghy, when it comes to how he’s influenced people to thinking he didn’t fix games, he’ll always say, ‘The FBI and the NBA each conducted thorough reviews and concluded that I didn’t fix games’. Well, first of all, the NBA’s on record as saying ‘We absolutely did not conclude that’ and the FBI, far from concluding he didn’t fix games, the FBI didn’t look and that’s the fundamental problem. You need only look at the words of supervisory special agent Phil Scala who Donaghy loves quoting all the time, and he flat-out says, ‘...we fought with Donaghy a lot about that. We rejected the idea that you could possibly have money riding on the outcome of a game, and which you have an opportunity to influence and not have it influence your behaviour'. So they never, certainly never concluded that. But no one ever points any of these things out to him while he’s live on their air and the public is, unfortunately, left to hear ‘Well, yeah I guess if the FBI concluded and the NBA concluded.’ And they didn’t." 

Sean Patrick Griffin

So, to paraphrase, while the FBI did not conclude that Donaghy fixed games, they never concluded he didn’t fix games.

In fact, the FBI never had the opportunity to complete its investigation into the NBA betting scandal at all. Much more of that later...

So, if Donaghy was smarter, could the scheme have gone on forever? 

Sean Patrick Griffin - "I think Donaghy was smart enough that the scandal wouldn’t have been discovered if not for Jimmy Battista screwing this up for everybody. As he will tell you, by the time the scheme was ending in the spring of 2007, had a major prescription pill problem, was betting all over the place. A bunch of people, by that point, were told by him about the scandal. Tommy Martino, their mutual friend and co-conspirator - he had told other people, including another gambler and that’s why the betting lines were flying all over the place and that’s why the mobsters up in New York caught wind of this and were making money on it. If not for all that chaos, what Donaghy was doing was so shrewd, it never was gonna get detected by the NBA and it wasn’t gonna get detected by the FBI. There was nothing to detect. It was genius." 

Interviewer - "Can you quantify, as best you can, how much money was likely moving from 2003 to 2007?"

SPG - “Identifying how much money was being bet on these games is always hard. It’s a murky world. I was able to document, by doing a forensic analysis of Battista’s betting records. There were cases where he was betting a million dollars, or two on Donaghy’s games himself. That alone is its own number but then beyond that, we know that there were other people whop were betting as much as they could. The number we know is in the hundreds of millions over the four seasons that were bet on this. Tim Donaghy did not know the logistics of how his bets were being placed. Nor where they were being placed, by whom, or how much.

Here’s the thing - if inside information did account for Tim Donaghy’s betting success, it wouldn’t matter if he was officiating a game or not. Well then, that’s a problem where all of the evidence shows that all of the bets were on his games. Where all of his co-conspirators say that. All the pro gamblers say that. All the betting line data says that. The bets were only on his games? There’s not a single person who says that, other than him”

Sean Patrick Griffin
Image Courtesy of Alamy

So, Donaghy maintains he was using his inside knowledge of the other refs' intentions, petty vendettas against certain players, and tendencies to bet primarily on games other than his own. Griffin, however, says the data makes it clear Battista and other bettors weren’t betting on Donaghy’s picks. They were betting only on games that Donaghy was refereeing.

Games he could personally control...

Tim Donaghy

Interviewer - “Can you take us through, one more time, your definition of literal interpretation?" 

Tim Donaghy - “I mean, uh, the definition of a foul or violation and how it’s written in the rulebook, there isn’t any grey areas there. It either is a foul, or it’s not a foul. It’s not a situation where you’re looking at the score, at the time on the clock and taking that into account. We’re really not supposed to do that”

INT - “So, I think that’s a key distinction, with your games that you bet on, you were calling the games by the rules, correct? 

TD - “Right”

INT - “Who were the other referees that you were friends with, that you would call to shoot-the-shit and have those conversations? Just trying to understand the broader NBA”

TD - “You know, Javie, uh Callahan, Wunderlich, Foster, Robinson, Zelinsky. All those guys, we had a tight-knit bunch o’ people that we were just (…) and talk to each other and talk about the games”

INT - "And none of them had any idea that you were betting on games?” 

TD - “None”

INT - “None of them, during the games you were reffing, had any idea that you had money on these games?”

TD - “Not that I’m aware of”

INT - "What does that speak to, as far as the game of basketball goes?”

TD - “Well, I think it just shows that I was doing what the NBA wanted done and how they wanted the games called. And unfortunately for me I took that inside information because I knew the lines were way off because of that and was able to pick the games at 80% correct”

INT - "Can a skilled referee, such as yourself, influence the outcome of a game without making one incorrect call?” 

TD - “I don’t know how you would do that, influence the outcome of a game if you were not making incorrect calls”

INT - "It goes to the subjectivity of the NBA?”

TD - “Right, sure. If there’s a situation where there’s bang bang plays blocked charges and they can go either way, and you’re consistently giving it to one team, yeah you can definitely influence the outcome of the game that way” 

INT - "Last year, your best friend Tommy Martino wrote a book about the scandal. Titled Inside Game. In it, he said ‘I also want the world to know what really happened in the 3 months in which we re-wrote the book on influencing professional; sports. I’m gonna stop short of saying ‘fixing’ because there’s a fine line between fixing and influencing. The question of fixing is for Tim Donaghy only and in my eyes if he were fixing, he would have won all the games he gave us. Tim told me he could influence a game 6 points either way. Take that as you wish, but that’s what he told me’ What do you say to that?”

TD - “I don't ever recall saying that to him and I don't know why he wrote it in the book” 

INT - "Do you agree with what Tommy said about the fine line between fixing and influencing? 

TD - “Yeah I mean I’ve always said, you know, fixing is different than manipulating a game and I felt like that’s what the NBA did and that’s what a lot of the referees did, was manipulate the game. I think if you were out fixing the games you would have put the star players to the bench on phantom calls to make sure their team was at a major disadvantage” 

The data strongly suggests that Donaghy fixed games. But, outside of a confession, he’ll always be able to deny it.

Fixing games doesn’t have to be obvious

The less obvious the better, in fact. You don't have to put a star player on the bench, you can fix a game subtly. As Michael Franzeze said, it can be virtually undetectable. 

Be sure to come back next week as we continue this fascinating insider view of the betting scandal that rocked the NBA.

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 5. Timmy and Tommy

Speaking to Tim Donaghy alone seems unlikely to draw us any nearer to the truth of the matter. He has painted himself into a convenient corner that all but exonerates him of any guilt in the business and it would be obvious he lied if he were to change any element of it now. But we know 100% that some of it is lies. As we saw from Sean Patrick Griffin’s research, the FBI utterly refutes his assertion they concluded he didn’t fix any games. But, as we are all too aware in modern times, those who shout loudest tend to be heard and often believed.

Tim Donaghy shouted his well-rehearsed lines from the rooftops when he was trying to hawk his book after getting out of prison. The FBI didn’t send people out to publicly refute his claims because, quite simply, they had better things to do. What follows is an interview with Tommy Martino, Donaghy’s closest friend since childhood and co-conspirator in the colossal mess that was the NBA betting scandal. Donaghy is present at first and it seems that he just wanted an excuse to hang out with his buddy.  

The next morning, Donaghy leaves and the Martino interview can begin in earnest: 

Tommy Martino

Tommy Martino - “This is good that Tim left”

INT - “I agree. When he said that he had a doctor’s appointment at this time of the day, I was like ‘perfect’. There’s certain things that Tim says that we have to examine, ah objectively. There are some things I believe that are, unequivocally 100% true”

TM - “I believe that”

INT - “The stuff with the scandal and you guys…”

TM - “He fabricates it. Like the amount a money he got and shit”

INT - “You know with Tim, it’s ah. He wants the, he wants everything to be told a certain way, that’s…”

TM - “Right”

INT - “And he’s been doing it for ten years and I get it”

TM - “Stick by it. What he told the Feds ‘cos he doesn’t wanna look like a liar”

INT - “The point is not to prove that Tim fixed games like, I think what’s interesting is looking at the influence in games right? ‘Cos that’s what I asked him at the end. Can you influence a game by the rulebook, and the answer is ‘yeah’. It’s not his fault that the NBA’s not subjective, right?”

TM - “Tim influencing, he used to tell me that, if he saw somebody’s foot close to the in line, he’d blow the whistle (…) Is that influencing, or is that fixing Tim?” 

INT - “Close to, or on?”

TM - “Close. If it was our guy, it was on.”

INT - “Well, I think that’s where it gets interesting right?”

TM - “I could never say he fixed them. Is that influencing or fixing?”

INT - “If you’re taking Tim by his definition then, I think that would be fixing, right?”

TM - “Right. We were having a good time. Yeah, we were going to titty bars. And every once in a while we’d bring one of them home. We had tons of money. You know we were, having a good old time. We were getting girls and stuff. We were banging girls left and right - I don’t even know if I should, well, I was getting blown in the back seat, or he was. And he was trying to drive and he was looking back at me as I was getting blown or I was banging. And I was banging this one girl and he was in the bed next to me with his girl. And he was like ‘Dude, get off her. Lemme show you how that’s done’ and, like we switched girls and stuff. But one of the girls was his, like alleged girlfriend and he was like ‘Don’t blow him’ (laughing) He told this girl don’t blow me. I guess he had a connection with her, you know. Kinda funny but I didn’t think he’d be pissed at that. He was married, but he didn’t give a shit. But I didn’t give a shit either. I was cheatin’ on my first wife too” 

Tommy Martino and interviewer

This makes them sound like just a couple of childhood friends from Delaware County who shared everything with each other.

And they were.

It's just that one of them happened to be a top-ranking referee in one of the most highly-paid, high-profile sporting leagues in the world.
Image Courtesy of Alamy

INT - “Let’s start from the beginning”

TM - “So, I grew up in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. I, ah, worked for JP Morgan for 20 years. Got involved, of course, with the NBA scandal. Went to jail for a little while and now I’m here again. Delaware County is a haven for bookmakers and bettors. And everything that comes with that. Gangsters, mobsters, everything”

INT - “And the mobsters in Delaware County, are they very involved in bookmaking?”

TM - “Yes they are. So they take, a cut of what everybody else makes. The mob has their own set of people who are, you know money makers and they take bets for the mob. And they have, you know, muscle behind them in case people don’t wanna pay up. So, if people don’t wanna pay up, they just tell their buddies in the mob and say ‘Look, this guy’s not paying and they can pay him a visit’ But the regular bookmaker in Delaware County that decides to take up a book uh, they just take bets. And they gotta go pick up the money themselves. Or they have somebody to go collect for them. But it’s nobody in the Mob. But once the Mob finds out you’re bookmaking, they wanna tax you on it. So they want money each month. From the proceeds.

So Delaware Country is like ah, people sometimes describe it as a cult. You know, if you talk to someone outside Delaware County, they’ll tell you we’re weirdos. But, you know if you ask me, I love it there. I wouldn’t wanna live anywhere else. But it’s a lot of, you know a lot of NBA referees come out of Delaware County. There’s a lot of bookmaking in Delaware County. You know, I think I’d say that there’s a lot of Mob-sters in Delaware County. So I like Delaware County. All kindsa different people shapes and sizes

Tommy Martino and interviewer

When Tommy says a lot of NBA referees come out of Delaware County (DelCo for short) he means a lot of NBA referees come out of Delaware County. 

  • Jake O’ Donnell

  • Ed T Rush

  • Joey Crawford

  • Steve Javie

  • Tom Washington

  • Mark Wunderlicht

  • Duke Callahan

  • Ed Molloy

  • Mark Lindsay

  • Aaron Smith

  • Mendy Rudolph

  • Earl Strong 

  • Billy Oakes

All of them hail from the Delaware County area, in and around Philadelphia. Oakes was Donaghy’s uncle. And Donaghy’s father, Jerry, was a respected college ref.

It might never have been Tim Donaghy’s dream to be an NBA referee, but it was undeniably deep in his roots

Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy - “I used to go to a lot o’ games and like that, I saw a lotta the grief that he took out on the floors, so it was nothing that I aspired to be but I graduated from Villanova, had a couple jobs. Was refereeing, you know local grade school for extra money and started to work my way up a little bit. My mom one day just said you know, ‘Why don’t you pursue a career as an NBA referee?’ I knew that, you know, there was a lotta people in our area that were successful at doing it and I thought, to be honest with you, if they could do it, why couldn’t I?”

INT - “And, with your uncle and your dad, did they love their jobs? Did they love being referees?”

TD - "Sure, I mean when you talk about being a parta the game and I mean, in a way, running up and down the courts with the greatest athletes in the world. Being paid very good for doing it and in my dad’s case it was a second job, he made more money than his first job.” 

INT - “What it feel like as a kid watching your dad get booed by 20 thousand people?” 

TD - “Yeah, you know. Not good. You don’t really understand that he’s out there doing a job you know, you don’t understand that he’s out there doing it the right way and ah, you know, it kinda bothers you a little bit when you’re, 12, 13, 14 years old but you know as you grow up, you come to understand it.”

Tim Donaghy and interviewer

Timmy and Tommy have been friends since grade school but became close in high school. Where they both played on the Cardinal O’Hara basketball team. To this day, almost 40 years later, they’re still best friends and class clowns. Jimmy ‘Baba’ Battista is the money mover who orchestrated the scheme with Dinghy and Martino.  

Tommy Martino

Tommy Martino - “So, I never gamble. I was a street kid you know like, I just went to work for JP Morgan. I went to West Chester university you know I was a, good kid. And then I just got mixed up with Battista. So I never, I didn’t really gamble. I don't like gamble ‘cos I don’t like losing my hard-earned money. You’re not gonna win...

Jimmy Battista is a childhood friend. We went to grade school together at Holy Cross in Springfield. He’s a professional gambler. He came to me in debt, large debt. 7.5 million dollars back in 2006. And he asked me if he could use my house to conduct his business. I liked Baba growing up. He’s a nice guy. He really is a nice guy. He lies a lot. I think his lying progressed and got worse as we got older. I knew that, when we were kids, he lost like 60 thousand dollars as kids. And he paid back the debt. He got in trouble, you know a couple times with gambling and losing large amounts o’ money.

But that was the first time I saw a red flag, when we were kids. Delaware County is a haven for bookmakers and bettors and that’s where Battista met this guy Mike Ranier who was a big-time bookmaker. And Battista got into gambling. You know when you’re a bookmaker, you don’t gamble. You don’t bet the games or you’re gonna lose. But he kept getting into that. Kept betting and losing. You can’t do that if you’re a bookmaker.” 

INT - “How involved were you, personally, in that world?”

TM - “I wasn’t involved. So, I know about it just because I know people who were bookmakers and who got busted and who went to jail. And I knew Battista back then and I knew what was going on.”

INT - “And then what happened?”

TM - “And then, he came into my house with his 5 cell phones. Burner phones. Laptop. He was conducting his business, phone was ringing off the hook. Chinaman was calling. All the big, professional gamblers, all the big handicappers around the United States would call his phone to put bets in for him. There was a guy in Boston. There was a guy in Florida, Vegas, and the Chinaman.”

Tommy Martino and interviewer

The Chinaman, is a renowned, mysterious handicapper who at the time of the scandal, was one of the most, if not the most successful sports bettors in the world. He designed his own algorithms, as many sports bettors do, but his were the most accurate. Generating legendary profits. He was, by all accounts, part Asian, but not Chinese. 

Tommy Martino - “Couple months later, he asked me about Donaghy. So he said ‘Timmy’s in trouble, we gotta talk though’. And I said ‘What the hell’s Timmy doin’ now?’ ‘Cos Timmy would always get in trouble. There was always sumthin’ he’d call me about, that he did something and now he’s in trouble, like ‘Help me get the hell outta this thing’. So, I figured - alright, let’s go, we’ll meet up with Timmy. I really had no idea the reason why until we were on our way down to the Marriott to meet Donaghy. Is when I found out the reason why Battista wanted me to get Donaghy.” 

INT - “And Battista said that Tim was in trouble?" 

TM - “Yeah”  

INT - “So you had no idea what that meant?” 

TM - “No, I didn’t know what it meant at the time. On the way down in the car to the Marriott I said ‘Jimmy, what the hell’s goin’ on?’. He said ‘Timmy’s betting games through Jack Concannon and Pete Ruggieri and there’s a word on the street that it’s happening, he could lose his job.’ I said ‘Let’s go’. As soon as we got down there, we walked in, Timmy’s standing there looking like he saw a ghost when he saw Battista. We sat down. We ordered drinks. Battista held up a napkin with ‘2K’ on it and then right then and there I knew. We were there for other reasons. So they both knew, pretty much. And then I knew. And Jimmy said ‘Gimme the games’”

Tommy Martino and interviewer

So, Martino was flying all over the country, delivering cash to Donaghy.

He strapped 20 thousand dollars to his ankles to meet Donaghy in Phoenix

He took a bag with 15 thousand in cash to meet Donaghy in Washington D.C. He even met Donaghy and had lunch with him and 2 other NBA refs with 45 thousand dollars strapped to his waist in a fanny pack. 

The crew had code names to signify which side they were betting on. If Donaghy mentioned Martino’s brother Chuck, who lived in the Delaware County area, the pick would be the home team. If he mentioned his brother Johnny, who didn’t live in Delaware County, the pick would be the visiting team. If Donaghy had a lock, he would mention Shmarga, a childhood friend from the neighbourhood. Battista’s nickname for Donaghy was Elvis. 

INT - “Do you remember where you were when Tim told you he could influence a game 6 points either way?”

Tommy Martino - “He told me over the phone. I think he was away at some city, I don’t remember the city but I remember him telling me that. 100%. It was early in the scheme because I was questioning him because of his accuracy you know? And he said ‘Tommy, if the spread is 6 points either way, over or under, we got a good chance of winning.’ Anything over that, you pick ‘em." 

INT - "Did he ever tell you how he could influence a game?" 

TM - "Did he tell me how he was influencing? No, we didn’t never get into that. But he did tell me about the 6 points either way but I knew that irritated him when I asked him questions about it so I didn’t ask him anymore. That’s the kinda person I am. If I know you’re annoyed by me I’m not gonna butt-pester you on it. I’m not gonna badger you about it. And we did have couple Scott’s games that Donaghy gave us that didn’t win, so of those 7 losses that Timmy lost, like I left 2 losses outta my book, ‘cos they were Scott Foster’s games.”

Tommy Martino and interviewer

Scott Foster's games? The plot thickens yet again. Be sure to come back soon for the next instalment in this incredible, tawdry tale.

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 6. Scott Foster enters the fray

Scott Foster started refereeing the NBA in the same year as Tim Donaghy, in 1994. After more than 25 years, he is now one of the most senior officials in the league, trusted with refereeing many of today’s most important NBA finals and playoff games.

This is extremely controversial, not least among the players

4-time NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan threw a ball at Scott Foster in frustration during the 2019 playoffs. James Harden and Chris Paul have publicly expressed their disdain for Foster and this kind of behaviour is extremely rare. Not only will the players be fined by the NBA, but they will inevitably have to play future games and be refereed again by Foster. If you think that a referee is making incorrect calls deliberately, or has some kind of vendetta against you then you have to stick your neck all the way out to call him on it and risk getting it lopped off.

Prior to the scandal, Foster was Donaghy’s closest friend in the league. So, what does Tommy mean when he says that they ‘had’ 2 of Foster’s games?

Tommy Martino

Tommy Martino - “So I have Timmy at 40 and 5. It was actually 40 and 7, but 2 of the games that we lost were Foster’s. That Timmy was giving us to throw off Vegas you know? So it wasn’t him reffing the game right? Timmy would throw Foster’s games in there. When the spread moved, it wouldn’t be his game that moved. But it wasn’t enough. 2 games wasn’t enough. And then Batista said ‘Stop giving us Foster’s games, we don’t want any more Foster’s games’. But I do know that he would call Scott Foster when I was in town with him, like in Phoenix and stuff, he would call Scott Foster before the games. I don’t know what they talked about. He would like go out on the deck and talk to him, out on the balcony. But, was Scott Foster involved? Does Tim say he was involved?”

Interviewer - “I dunno”  

TM - "I don’t think, I mean, he wasn’t involved with what we were doing. If he was involved with something else like the influencing, like knowing teams or players or coaches and referees that held grudges against one another. I think that’s what Tim means by it, and that’s why he was calling Scott. But I do know that he talked to Foster before pretty much every game that I was with him." 

INT. - "But he would step outside the make the calls, he didn’t wanna…"

TM - "Called him, then stepped outside. But I never heard Scott on the enda the phone either, you know Tim (…) what the hell."

INT - "So, how do you know he was calling Foster?"

TM - "Because I was there. He told me, I’m calling Scott Foster."

INT - "And that was just part of his routine?"

TM - "Yeah, it was part of his routine and then later I found out, when they got his phone records, that he was calling him before every game."

Donaghy and Foster didn’t referee a single game together in the ’06/’07 season but when their phone records were made public, it was revealed that the 2 refs spoke 134 times at the height of the scheme from October 2006 to March 2007.

The most calls Donaghy placed to any other ref during this period was 13...

Donaghy had several phones but all the calls to Foster came from the phone the FBI says Donaghy used primarily for gambling purposes. The timing and duration of the phone calls was also suspect.

Most calls came immediately before or after a game that Donaghy was officiating and lasted less than 2 minutes

Donaghy and Foster both claimed that they constantly called each other to kill time. Killing time in 2-minute increments is suspicious but the fact that TD, who shared everything with Tommy always stepped outside to speak with Foster in secret?

What didn’t he want Tommy to hear? 

Tommy Martino - "So, maybe he was. I mean, who the hell am I to say he wasn’t? We got 2 of Scott Foster’s games that lost. We didn’t want any more."

INT - "What was your vibe with those calls? Whaddya think was going on?"

TM - "I didn’t think things were going on that we were doing. No way to what the magnitude what we were doing. I didn’t give it much thought, I’m telling you now only because now I can reflect back and say ‘Hey, shit. He was calling Foster.’ Because he mentions Foster a lot and I never knew why. Until he started giving us Foster’s games and stuff"

Donaghy maintains that Foster was an innocent victim and the constant calls were primarily to glean more information. Insisting Foster had no idea that he was betting on games, but that explanation raises several additional questions.

  • Weren’t all referees, for the most part, privy to the same inside information?

  • If what Sean Patrick Griffin argues is true and all the betting activity revolved around Donaghy’s games, what pertinent information could Foster have provided?

  • If Donaghy was constantly pressing him for information, could Foster really have been so naïve he was totally oblivious to what was going on?  

NBA Power Ranking
Sean Patrick Griffin’s thoughts on Foster’s potential involvement:

Sean Patrick Griffin

Sean Patrick Griffin - “Obviously, like anybody who was trying to research the scandal, I did look into other referees and especially into Scott Foster just because of the phone records. I think it’s been widely assumed that Foster fixed games just like Donaghy because they were talking all the time. Batista’s argument, and I agree with Batista on this, is that he just assumes that what was happening is Donaghy was giving Scott Foster the pick on Donaghy’s game for that particular day. That doesn’t excuse Foster if he was actually betting on another referee’s game but that is more likely than him actually fixing games. And, put it this way: for the games where it’s believed that Donaghy and Batista were betting on Foster’s games, there’s no evidence that he fixed game outcomes. And, in fact, to the contrary, they were a loser.” 

Sean Patrick Griffin

People familiar with the scandal have often pointed to the phone records as an indication of Scott Foster’s involvement in the scheme. But Griffin found no evidence that Foster was fixing games with Donaghy. But the idea that Foster was betting on Donaghy’s games? That’s a new theory. 

SPG - “The fascinating part about the Scott Foster angle is that the public not only gets it wrong in the idea that they don’t realise he may have been copying the bets on Donaghy’s games. It also opens up other avenues about how many people Donaghy was betting with. We know he was betting with Batista, that was the scandal. What the public didn’t catch is that in the plea deal, he actually admits to betting with Jack Concannon through then too. So he’s betting with Batista at the same time and Concannon. We suspect he’s also betting with Scott Foster. And then you go, ok, well how many other people may have been involved in this? And the truthful answer is: we don’t know. The aspect that bothers people about Scott Foster, of course, is that they spoke so much. The phone calls and the text messages were crazy uh, among two middle-aged guys who were NBA referees. It’s just unnatural so, predictably, people are suspicious. And, erm, you know it makes sense that they were close friends, and in that regard, it makes sense that Donaghy would defend Foster and say that he had nothing to do with this. But people are not going to stop being suspicious, for the reasons we said, and because we have no idea what the FBI looked into in that regard. And the NBA has never talked about this”

Sean Patrick Griffin

Unfortunately, when it comes to Scott Foster, we’re just left with a bunch of questions. It’s assumed Donaghy was giving picks to more people than just Batista and Concannon but we’ll probably never know. If there were 2, 5, 10, 100 people placing bets for Donaghy. We also can’t be sure of the financial arrangements Donaghy had with anyone. Including Batista and Martino Donaghy says he made 30 thousand dollars in the season they worked together. Tommy says he paid Donaghy close to a 100 thousand. Batista says it was closer to 250 thousand. All we know for sure is that when Tim Donaghy refereed a game, money was flying all over the place. 

Tommy Martino

Interviewer - “If you had to estimate how much money was moving?”

Tommy Martino - “Millions of dollars. Each game. 100%. Yeah right? I got nuthin (chuckles) - I got the red-hot poker”

INT - “What was Tim like throughout this time? Was he…”

TM - “Funny! Happy. We didn’t think we were gonna get caught. We were havin’ a good time I used to love when I was…we used to have a ball” 

INT - “That initial meeting you had. Did Bah Bah threaten Tim in any way?”

TM - “(Exhales hard) Not in fronta me. I didn’t threaten Timmy, of course, but Timmy says that Batista threatened him. I didn’t see it. If it happened, it happened when I wasn’t there. That’s all I really gotta say about that.”

INT - “I gotcha, but, during the course of the scheme, Tim wasn’t fearful for his life?”

TM - “He says he was. But I don’t know if he was.” 

INT - “But based on your guys partying, though, if he was fearful he was living it up to the last…"

TM - “Right. Why was he fearful right? If he was living it up”

INT - “Whaddya you guys, what does your friendship consist of now? What do you guys talk about as, at this point in your life?”  

TM - “Yeah we talk about the stuff we used to talk about. Our families and, he’s helping me with my son. My son has a problem, he’s 3 and a half, he’s not speaking yet so Tim helps me with that. My son loves Tim. So, you know just like family life the way it used to be.” 

INT - “I wanna talk about your book Inside Game, what inspired you to write it?”

TM - “Believe it or not, it’s Timmy that inspired me to write it. I saw Tim looking to re-launch a book, I says great news. And he said Tom you’re a dumbass if you don’t finish yours. Finish yours. Forget about mine. So, I wrote the book. From the beginning to the end, yeah. So I did it for my son (long emotional pause), my wife, (choking back tears) my family. Give ‘em sumthin’ to, remember me by. That’s why I did it. That’s it. I’m glad it’s done with. Yeah. Feels good. Can’t wait to get home.”

Tommy Martino and interviewer

At this point, Tommy becomes emotional and it seems whatever Donaghy is doing to help his son, it clearly means the world to him. He came down to Sarasota to support Timmy but really just wants to be in Delaware County with his wife and his son.

Tommy isn’t telling us everything, he’s clearly still hiding some things.

As with so many aspects of this fascinating tale the deeper you dig, the more possibilities and questions you uncover. Why isn't Donaghy telling the whole truth now? He cannot be prosecuted for the same crime twice so he's off the hook there.

  • Does he not want to disappoint his father, who was an honourable referee?

  • Did he promise other refs that, if shit ever hit the fan, he’d take the fall?

  • Did he strike a deal with the Feds?

  • Is there some sort of legal barrier between Tim Donaghy and the truth?

Ultimately, it’s hard to believe a lot of the things that Donaghy says, especially when they clash directly with his best friend. Tommy may have made some mistakes and bad decisions along the way but he does not seem like a liar or someone who would try to manipulate the situation for his own personal gain. He says they had a lot of money, but Donaghy says he only had 30 thousand dollars in his season with Batista and Tommy.

Donaghy says he wanted to quit the scheme and that he feared for his life and for the safety of his family. But Tommy says Donaghy was a whole heap of fun during their run together, seemingly unencumbered by such dark thoughts. Moreover, he himself never heard the alleged threat.

Tommy Martino - (caught on a car microphone, unaware he is being recorded) "D’you ever think about, you never try to get Batista? It’s next to impossible. He wants 100 thousand bucks to do anything. He sold his life rights for a dollar. Allegedly. But we know it’s more than that. And that’s when he wrote his book. Well, he had Sean Patrick Griffin write it. And the guy life, argued with me and Tim for years after we go outta jail that we were lying. Batista was telling the truth. When The facts were that, both of ‘em were lyin’” 

INT - “Lying about what?”

TM - “Lying about, ok, so Batista - the big lying point is that Donaghy was threatened by Batista. But the fact of the matter is he wasn’t. But, Tim asked me to back him up you know on that? So, I always have to say ‘I never threatened him but I don’t know what happened with Timmy and Batista when I wasn’t around’. But I was never not around. Man, Tim would be pissed if he heard that…”

Tommy Martino and interviewer

Tim Donaghy

Interviewer - "The Pedowitz Report. A section of that report aims to debunk an article from July 14th, 2008 that called into question your relationship with your friend and fellow referee Scott Foster. Are you familiar with that section?"

Tim Donaghy - “Not really, no. Go ahead”

INT - “In that section of the Pedowitz Report it traces a series of phone calls that you made with Scott Foster. Foster said most of these calls were to ‘kill time’ - is that accurate?"

TD - “It is. I mean it was a situation where, you know you’re in a hotel room, you have nuthin’ to do, you’re bored. We’d call each other a coupla times a day and, when we were sitting round we’d call each other just to see what was goin’ on.”  

INT - “What did the scandal do to your relationship with Scott Foster?”

TD - “Oh it totally ruined it you know I remember the last time I talked to him I knew I was in trouble and it wasn’t in the news yet and I was supposed to go up to his country club to play in a member/guest (tournament) and I called him and told him I couldn’t make it. And he was like in shock, then 2 or 3 days later is when the news came out and we just never spoke again”  

INT - “He’s never asked you for any explanations ‘Why’d you do this?’ Nothing?"

TD - “Nothing. Never spoke to him”

INT - “How’s that make you feel?”

TD - “I mean he was a good friend yeah it’s tough but, you know, of course, he has a job to do in the NBA and I did somethin’ that I shouldn’ta done and he can’t jeopardise his job by speaking to me so, you know I don’t blame him one bit.”

INT - “So did you ask him specific questions about the games he was reffing. Did he have any biases towards particular players that you were trying to extract during those conversations?”

TD - “No. There were times when we would talk about, you know, different situations or different players and if I felt that it was gonna affect the game that night in some way, I would tell, you know, Tommy or Jack to bet the games.”

INT - “It’s interesting then Tim that you don’t hold any bitterness towards these guys at all.”

TD - “You know what can I do? I should never have been doing it. Nobody twisted my arm to do it you know? I did it, so (…)”

Tim Donaghy and interviewer

So the line about Foster holds for now. Whether truthfully or not, Martino claims there was no involvement he was aware of on Scott Foster's part and Donaghy backs that up. But we're not done yet.

Not by a long stretch...

Come back soon and see the next phase of the NBA scandal from the very people who perpetrated it.

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 7: Deeper and deeper

It’s been a month since the trip to meet Donaghy and Martino in Sarasota, we make a trip to Tommy’s house in Delaware County as it seems he has more to say…

His father, Charles Martino sits in on the interview with us.

Charles Martino

Charles Martino - "I have a Bachelor’s, Master’s, PHD in Mathematics. Actually, I started out teaching ‘cos I didn’t know what I wanted to do right outta college. I was doing graduate work at Villanova. I was a senior design engineer. I taught, um finite math, differential (…) advanced calc" 

A highly intelligent, educated man, Charles Martino is the epitome of a hard-working, decent American. His son Tommy Martino was a college-educated IT specialist who spent 20 years working a respectable job at JP Morgan. How did this family get wrapped up in the scandal? Charles Martino watched all three boys, Timmy, Tommy, and Batista grow up in Delaware County.

Here’s what he had to say about each of them:

CM - "Lemme start with Timmy Donaghy. Timmy started out as a bit of a player with a very short temper and a penchant for wanting to get revenge for anything that he perceived as having been done to him. Where he was wronged. And if I were to fast-forward it to the present, and I think Tommy would corroborate this, he’s turned over a new leaf. He, uh is all about his family He’s all about, pretty much honesty and I’m uh, kinda proud to know him right now. That would be Timmy." 

As far as Baba, going back to his childhood, I knew his parents. His parents were probably some of the strictest individuals. And the most religious that I’ve known in quite some time. And, as such, they held very tight reins on Jimmy. He would have been the last person that you would have expected to get involved into anything that was illegal or unethical. But, I think, because of those strict reins they held on Jimmy, he revolted. And he got into, early on, into bookmaking. And of course, that led to involvement with some very very shady characters. And, as a consequence of that, he drew my son into that situation to his detriment as well. As far as Tommy? Good kid. Very very bright. All about family-oriented but he made a serious mistake in getting involved. And it’s the one thing that disappointed me, he shouldn’t be in it. Either he got talked into it or it looked like a fast buck. Anyway, he dropped his guard. He got involved even though he was more of the ‘bag man’ than being anything central in the scandal. He suffered the same punishments as everybody else.

Tommy actually received a slightly shorter sentence than the other two. He was handed 1 year and a day, whereas the other 2 got 15 months each. Even if we take into account the fact that a father is bound to be somewhat biased towards his son, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Tommy would not have been in this mess if he had not been dragged into it by Battista.

Charles goes on to talk about the local community in Delaware County and how gambling has permeated and affected it profoundly.

CM - "When we initially started in Delaware County, you never heard of a bookie. But as it evolved, it seemed like everybody was involved with some bookie. And occasionally you’d hear about one of the books being confiscated by police and the guy going to jail. That type of thing. So there became a certain element that didn’t initially exist when we moved in. And they were known by almost everybody to have Mob connections or gambling connections, you could always place a bet and (…) associated with, there were certain restaurants or certain produce stores that were run by a Mob that had a local person that front for it. But if that particular person, and I have one person in mind, did not fulfil his obligations with respect to that, he was in trouble. One of my friends had his legs broken sent, and left at the (…) airport. Friend o’ mine was shot, on Market Street. In the head. Ok? How’s that for intensity?" 

INT - "So that rapid proliferation of betting in the ‘80s, that’s when these boys were growin’ up."

CM - "I think it started out as very harmless betting, well, I’ll tell you this much ok? These guys, Donaghy, Batista, Tommy, just to give you kind of picture of how competitive these guys were. They played in the Catholic CYO. They played basketball They played football, street football. Kicked cans, you name it. Everything was about competition. Which naturally led to an easy acceptance of gambling. Risk, thrill. And that became, just like anything else., there comes a time when the competition doesn’t do it for ya anymore. It’s like any kind of an aberration I guess. That competition doesn’t provide the thrill for ya anymore. So you need a bigger thrill. What was the bigger thrill? The gambling."

Charles Martino and interviewer

Charles watched as Delaware County transitioned from a sleepy suburb into a gambling hotbed. He was there every step of the way as the boys went from competitive kids to gambling teenagers to imprisoned adults. Charles talks about how the scandal affected his relationship with his son. 

CM - "I’m gonna be honest with you, it ah, it probably sounds corny. I don’t think we could get any closer no matter what. It’s a glass that’s full. There are no more words. If the glass spills over then you got the same quantity of liquid in there. I mean that sincerely, I really really do. It’s all about my kids, my family. Always has been, and I’ve always told you Tommy, choose what? WhaI tell ya?"

Tommy Martino - "Choose wisely"

CM - "Choose wisely my son, choose wisely. Yeah." 

Charles Martino and Tommy Martino

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Here is Sean Patrick Griffin again. If you have been paying attention, you will remember he is a professor and head of the criminal justice department at 'the Citadel', the military college of South Carolina. He researched the gambling side of the story of the NBA scandal and wrote a book entitled 'Gaming the game'.

Here he breaks down the betting markets and how they were affected by the scandal: 

Sean Patrick Griffin

SPG - "One interesting aspect is, whereas the Vegas sportsbooks are regulated, and anything, generally speaking, they don't take big bets - they’re not gonna take a half-a-million dollar bet or something like that. But the offshore sportsbooks are taking that big money. One of the sportsbooks was actually in on the scandal. And they would actually get word from Battista on what the side of that Donaghy game was. Park a number to get the rest of the market to chase that number but no one realised that that sportsbook was actually not taking bets that day. They wanted that number to be influenced around the world so that that sportsbook owner could then bet everywhere else. And because it’s an unregulated market, there was nothing anybody could do or say. It’s just genius. So the numbers of people making big money on this, we’re never gonna know. And the only thing that would stop it was, the market can only take so much money. You know, at some point you have to have somebody betting on the other side of these propositions…

Battista would say there were some nights where the pick was so obvious. And if one of his other major handicappers, these other professional gamblers, if that person had already picked that side of the Donaghy game and then Donaghy called him with his pick and it was the same, the quote in the book is ‘There wasn’t enough money in the world for what we were gonna do that night’. Donaghy argues that, instead of fixing games, his success was based on inside information. Either garnered from other referees before a game, one of his famous claims is that he used to bet his own games from the bowels of the arena just before a game on information he would pick up from other referees or from people in the arena. There are many problems with these lines of argument. Much of the stuff that he calls ‘inside information’, gamblers are well aware of. But beyond that, the notion that he was placing his bets right before games. Well, I got access to the betting records. And that’s not how they were being done. Right? And Battista, when he cut that deal with him in ’06, in December, he wanted those picks as early as possible because Battista, in the pro-gambling world, does what are called ‘head fakes’. His goal is to put a small amount of money, maybe 100 to 300 thousand dollars on one side of a proposition overseas. Starting in Asia which is 12 or 13 hours ahead. Let that money filter through. All the betting lines change, especially then through Europe and by the time you wake up on the East Coast, the lines are moved. And now Batista’s gonna bet on the correct side of the proposition and he’s gonna put 2 million down on it. Well, that isn’t happening if Donaghy is calling in the information from right before in the arena. I mean it’s just, it’s a very shrewd way of manipulating the public into thinking ‘Oh, well maybe inside information could have accounted for his success"

Sean Patrick Griffin

So, for those readers unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game, or who have never played or watched basketball, a head-fake is when a player acts as though they’re about to shoot the ball but doesn't. This causes the defender to jump in the wrong direction, giving the player with the ball a clear lane to the basket.

Battista was doing the same thing with his gambling 

Let's take a typical scenario where the Lakers are playing the Celtics:

  • Battista bets $200k on the Lakers

A bet of that size on one side of the line worries the sportsbook and leaves them vulnerable to big losses. Remember their objective is always to get even money on either side of the line to guarantee profit. They need to encourage more bets on the Celtics so, predictably:

  • The sportsbook makes the Lakers a 5-point favourite, instead of a 4

If Battista is faking them out to increase his winnings then Donaghy’s real pick isn’t the Lakers at all, it’s the Celtics. By betting heavily on the Lakers early, Battista causes the markets to panic react and also jump early. Now he’s got that clear lane to the basket and the odds have moved in his favour.

  • The real money is placed on the actual winners

Now, to the likes of most people reading this article, that just seems like the ultimate greed. They already know who's going to win the game if Donaghy does his job properly but that's not enough for them. They even have to manipulate the price to drive that ill-gotten profit even higher. But it pays to remember, Battista was not betting with his own money. He was in bed with some very serious, dangerous people as we heard about from Michael Franzese much earlier in the story.

These are not the kind of people you say 'no' to...

It may be he was being pressured to force the lines to move, even though it was bound to raise suspicions eventually. But if you are so far up the ladder you are immune from repercussions then the paltry issues of the minions below are of little interest or use. We want to make more from each bet. Make it happen. When the amounts involved are so astronomical, many of the vestiges of logic we might apply as law-abiding individuals have no relevance or chance of being applied.

Image Courtesy of Alamy

John Lauro is a prominent, white-collar defence lawyer who had previously worked in the US Attorney’s office and was hired to defend Tim Donaghy during the NBA betting scandal. In the US Attorney’s office, Lauro prosecuted everything from organised crime to international drug rings and he takes his role and the law very seriously indeed. He was never called upon to defend Donaghy in court but he retains reams of paperwork on the case and gave a fascinating interview that sheds light on some dark areas and prompts rather a lot of questions:

John Lauro

John Lauro - "It’s quite a story when you go back and you relive it. I wanna be accurate and I think there’s some stuff that might be helpful. I go to this restaurant, Tim walks in - I didn’t recognise him. He was clearly emotionally distraught and at the end of his rope. Tim was in a confession mode. He wanted to go in as quickly as possible and make amends for what he had done. And, ultimately, we arranged for a meeting in the US Attorney’s office, we went down and Tim spilled his guts. About everything. It was an interesting meeting because I felt that they didn’t have a case yet. And I was right. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if Tim had not gone in. The ultimate reason that the government was able to make this case was because of Tim Donaghy. And, without him, I don’t believe they could have made the case. With Tim, he just laid it out and he was very clear and very precise. I would say 90% of which the government did not know about."

John Lauro

At this point in the proceedings, Donaghy was the only one cooperating with the authorities, effectively acting as a confidential informant. This is a position the FBI takes incredibly seriously (more of that later) but suffice it to say that, if they were to catch him in a lie, he would be in big trouble. It also pays to remember he was also the only one laying out the story for them and without him, there would have been very little, if anything to go on.

You can be 100% honest without telling 100% of the truth…

JL - "On the eve of the trial, when Batista was going to go to trial, Tim had pled, Martino had pled and Batista’s lawyer made a very very wise strategic move. He went public and said ‘Tim’s gonna be on the stand for many many hours and we’re going to cross-examine him about everything that goes on in the NBA. A short time later, the US Attorney’s office did a deal with Batista. Which was the deal of a lifetime. It eliminated the most serious charge and allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser charge. He did not have to cooperate. According to reports that we have gotten, there were high-level people in the Gambino crime family that had, in some way, profited off of what was going on and nothing was done to push that issue, or require cooperation from Batista. Whether or not he had that information, I don’t know. No-one knows. But, at a minimum, and this is prosecutorial science 101, for someone in that position as a defendant, you press them and you press them hard. But for whatever reason, and I don’t know the reason, the government, meaning the US Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York refused to prosecute that case to the fullest. Nor did they share with the judge all of Tim’s cooperation. Including what Tim had to say about the culture in the NBA. The culture of favouritism, the culture of gambling which he proffered and provided a great deal of information about. And none of that was included in the government’s presentation to the judge. And I was livid" 

John Lauro

Donaghy’s broader claims about the culture of the NBA are seismic and damning. If they were proven to be true, they would fundamentally change the way we would have to view not just professional basketball, but sports in general.

Donaghy and his legal team submitted a letter to the judge claiming, among other things, the NBA had ‘company men’ referees. That these men were assigned to the league’s biggest games to ensure certain teams won.

  • Is Donaghy a credible witness? No

  • Does it seem a little far-fetched? Maybe.

Until you actually watch the games themselves.

Is there any evidence to back up Donaghy’s claims about some of the appallingly officiated NBA Playoffs and other important games? The way Lauro words his statements is, of course, very deliberate and careful. But he certainly seems to intimate that something was amiss…

John Lauro - "I have no idea how the decision was made. I have no idea whether or not there were communications from the NBA to the US Attorney’s office. I raised that issue at sentencing. Whether or not there were any communications but, in my view, the last thing that the NBA would have wanted is Tim on the stand. Talking about everything he had proffered on. That cooperation included how, in Tim’s judgment, from Tim’s viewpoint, the league was favouring certain players. Was favouring certain marquee franchises. That in certain instances, refs were carrying out their official duties in order to achieve a result. Favouring one team over another, or one player over another. He laid it all out. And, in my judgment, Battista’s lawyer made a very wise decision by going to the press and saying ‘We’re gonna keep Tim on the stand for days and we’re gonna ask him all of these questions’. Well, I could just imagine the discussions that were taking place in the NBA when they heard that. Because Tim’s credible cooperation would have been a full public airing of all the information that he had provided over the last year to the FBI and to the US Attorney’s office. Battista, who they characterised as the leader of the activity, they treated him with the most leniency. They didn’t require him to cooperate. They didn’t require him to appear at a grand jury. To give statements under oath. Nothing. They left the playing field and, in my judgment, it was a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the US Attorney’s office and, to this day, I don't know the reason why. You know, I’ve been in this business for 35 years. It still doesn’t make sense. So, maybe somebody has a damned good answer - I’ve not heard it yet. But, that case was a no-brainer." 

John Lauro

Lauro doesn’t say directly he feels the NBA was steering the Battista case from behind the scenes. He's a lawyer after all, but he certainly leads us down that pathway in our thinking. 

Battista’s lawyer was a man named Jack McMahon:

Jack McMahon

Jack McMahon - "Not that I was a genius, it was just that any time you’re in a case, you try to leverage whatever you have. And you either have to try to leverage facts or witnesses or whatever you can to try to (…) your client’s best interests. And in this case, the only thing that I thought we had as leverage was I knew that nobody wanted this to become a circus. Because it could easily have turned into that. The NBA didn’t want that. The government didn’t want that. And that was my only ace in the hole here. So, I figured that if I wanted to try and get any kind of negotiation, you gotta leverage whatever strengths you have.  And the NBA, they have an image to uphold and I understood that completely. If that would have gone to a trial, that was high-profile. That would have been all over the media. You would have just continued on with this negative information about the NBA for 6 months to a year. You have a guy that goes rogue like that and does that, you wanna put a kibosh to it as quickly as possible and try to make sure that it doesn’t get bigger than it already was. Uh, and so I made it clear that I was gonna do it! And I would have, if need be. I mean it wasn’t just a bogus threat, that would have been our defence in the case."

Jack McMahon

The idea that Batista’s case was potentially influenced by the NBA is pretty wild. And really, when we talk about the NBA, we’re talking about one man…

Join us again soon as this gnarly, twisting tale moves ever-forwards

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 8: Going public, ready or not...

That man was former NBA commissioner, David Stern. He suffered a brain haemorrhage and passed away on January 1st, 2020. RIP.

Any opinions or observations, or comments that follow are either a direct transcript of what was said by those who knew him, or mere speculations and conjecture. They are in no way intended to be disrespectful or cause any suffering to his family and friends.

  • Stern is, undeniably, one of the greatest commissioners in sports history.  He’s also one of the most influential businessmen of the last 100 years. 

Darren Rovell is a former ESPN/CNBC business reporter and senior executive producer at the Action Network. He was a friend of David Stern’s and followed the former commissioner throughout his career. 

Darren Rovell

Darren Rovell - "David Stern was an outside counsel, lawyer-type of guy. Son of a, I think his father owned a Jewish deli and he was a smart guy and he was a lawyer. And they needed lawyers by then. There really was no intricate business model, uh just the business of sports really started to pick up back then. Sponsorship deals weren’t the way, you know you needed someone who could structure contracts. You needed someone who could get, if people got in trouble, would figure it out. There was soo many people on drugs in sports between 1980 and 1986. You know, these guys were relatively unchecked. So, in the early ‘80s, it was that way. And David Stern took over as commissioner, I believe in 1984 and you know again another perfect timing. Magic and Bird and Dr. J then ushered in the era of Michael Jordan. And Jordan coming in, his rookie year ’84/’85 and really the new age of sports marketing that he brought with him. And just how outrageous it was."

Darren Rovell

When Stern took over the NBA in 1984, the league was suffering and close to insolvency. He almost single-handedly expanded the game internationally and today the NBA generates almost 9 billion dollars a year in revenue. Without David Stern, none of that would have been possible.

DR - "He was the first commissioner in sports who was not a sports guy. Stern was a businessman from day one. And he’s the first commissioner in that role, this is when businessmen started gravitating to sports. And David Stern was a product of that and I think he was very well-read. He would read on technology. I think the old guard would just read sports and read the box scores. Whereas he would understand and he would read all the stuff that business people were reading. I do know he was a ‘stern’ man in terms of being a manager, there have been many employees who got a stern talking to from Stern. It was an appropriate last name. And, you know he was very sure in his ways. I think if there’s anything that he was missing, it was sensitivity to how the outside was talking. Ah, he would be very out of place today with social media. Because he didn’t care what people said. He was sure of what his decisions were and his intuition. And whatever that was gonna be, that was gonna be." 

Darren Rovell

Stern revolutionised professional basketball and changed the face of the NBA forever. He was, undoubtedly a business genius. But there were two sides to the story. Rovell describes his actions during the NBA betting scandal:

From the standpoint of leading a business in crisis; a brilliant tactician. No one was better. In perks of telling the fans what was happening and providing full transparency; a terrible leader. There were systemic problems in the NBA that Tim highlighted and those problems were not fully aired to the satisfaction of everyone, including the fanbase. After all, it’s the fans that drive the NBA. Not the players, not management, not anyone else. It’s the fans. And, for the most part, you would think, that the fans want to see a game that is played honestly with integrity and doesn’t favour anyone. That’s one way of looking at how the NBA operates. Another way is, well no. It’s choreographed ballet. We really wanna benefit certain players. We wanna highlight certain players. We wanna highlight certain, marquee franchises. And we wanna make a lotta money. A lotta money, quickly. And if San Antonio is in the Playoffs, we’re not gonna make as much money as the Lakers. That could be a motivating factor. Tim certainly articulated that and the NBA never fully and completely addressed Tim’s honest cooperation. Instead, they vilified him. Stern, in terms of containing the crisis, in terms of his use of the media, in terms of characterising Tim, just didi a brilliant job. As a tactician. One other area that, to this day, remains a mystery - when Tim went in and talked to the FBI, the FBI made a decision to disclose that to David Stern. So, the only people who knew what was going on, were the FBI, Tim and me, and David Stern at the NBA. 

Darren Rovell
Image Courtesy of Alamy

The reason Lauro mentions that there were only 3 parties who knew about the FBI’s investigation of the scandal, is because one of those parties leaked the story to the press. On July 20th 2007, the New York Post broke news of the scandal with a massive, full-page headline that read:

‘Fixed. NBA ref in a mob betting scandal’ 

The piece was written by crime reporter, Murray Weiss. Here is an excerpt:

Murray Weiss

Murray Weiss - "The FBI is investigating an NBA referee who, allegedly, was betting on basketball games. Including ones he was officiating during the past 2 seasons, as part of an organised crime probe in the Big Apple, the Post has learned. The investigation, which began more than a year ago, is zeroing in on blockbuster allegations that the referee was making calls that affected the point spread to guarantee that he, and the hoods who had their hooks in him, cashed in no large bets. Federal agents are set to arrest the referee and a cadre of mobsters and their associates who lined their pockets sources say. ‘These are dangerous people the referee was involved with’, the source said. NBA commissioner David Stern is aware of the investigation and has a report about the referee on his desk, another source said."

Murray Weiss

Within hours, the story about a corrupt referee was being talked about on every sports radio station across the USA. Weiss’s article revealed there was an FBI investigation into a referee betting on his own games but didn’t name Tim Donaghy directly. Just a few short hours after the story was released, however, Donaghy’s name was public and spreading like wildfir

Torpedoing his ability to spearhead an FBI investigation...

Darren Rovell - "Again, to this day, I don’t know how it happened. Murray, in interviews, says he got a tip. He doesn’t disclose who he got a tip from. I don’t know if somebody in the NBA tipped off the New York Post but I will say this: If they did, it was the most brilliant strategic move you could think of. The fact that it became public completely ended any ability of Tim to cooperate at a high level. And it essentially foreclosed a full and complete investigation.

The bottom line is, when Murray Weiss ran that article, the whole investigation came to a crashing halt. Because there’s no way that Tim could have gone back into the NBA and talked to referees when this all came out. And that was devastating to us because, once Tim made the decision to cooperate and confess, the only thing I had to work with, was his cooperation. In getting before the judge that this is someone who recognised what he did and wanted to make amends. That’s the only card I could play. And, once it came out publicly, there was nothing more we could do. So, I don’t know who leaked it, but it turned out that from the NBA’s standpoint, there was nothing better than what happened. 

Based on what Tim had described, it was very likely that Tim would have interacted with referees and management in a confidential informant capacity. In other words, it wouldn’t have been a public investigation. They would have sent Tim in to maybe make consensual phone calls, gotten more information. That’s how you develop an investigation."

Darren Rovell
Image Courtesy of Alamy

As a confidential informant, Donaghy would have wired up in an attempt to build a case that implicated several other referees and league officials. But it’s hard to be a confidential informant if the entire world knows your name…

As soon as the story went public, Donaghy’s cooperation meant nothing. 

DR - "So, clearly, it was not in our interest to have this investigation disclosed to the public. However, it was, in my judgement, of value to the NBA. Because it would have foreclosed Tim from participating pro-actively in the investigation. So, Tim and I are basically in a bunker right now taking oncoming missiles. And finally, I said ‘You know what? The truth has to come out and the only one who knows it is Phil Scala’. So we’re going to subpoena Phil. We subpoenaed Phil. Phil is like a third-century Christian Stoic. He takes virtue and honour and faith very seriously. And, whatever Phil tells you, you can go to the bank with. So, if he had testified under oath, we would have learned the reason. The government fought viciously and vociferously to avoid him testifying. And I think the judge made an incorrect decision by which he upheld the government’s position that he did not have to testify."

Interviewer - "Do you believe that Scala would have corroborated what Tim had to say?"

DR - "I have no idea. To this day I have no idea. I do know this, we’d get an honest answer from Phil either one way or the other. He would tell it straight." 

After months of reaching out to Phil Scala, I finally got in touch with him. But he was hesitant to say anything more about the case. Also, Scala had absolutely no clue what a podcast was…

In lieu of Scala, we were able to connect with former FBI agent and Donaghy ‘handler’ - Warren Flagg. 27-year veteran of the FBI, Flagg retired in 1999. He now works as a private investigator and security consultant. He was Lauro’s right hand on the Donaghy case, helping guide the disgraced ref through the ups and downs of being a federal cooperator. 

Warren Flagg

Warren Flagg - "I was an FBI agent for, I worked only criminal matters ok? I know how to investigate cases. How to have cooperators cooperate ok? I’m sure, I was not in the early de-briefings, but I’m sure that the reason they signed him up was because they wanted to wire him up to go after and get other referees on tape. As proof. The fact that Tim had this information is one thing. It’s another that you gotta make the step to make the arrest. By actually having their voice on it. Confirming Tim’s allegations. And, in this instance, I can almost picture Phil Scala and his team talking ‘You know listen, you gotta be very careful here. We’re gonna wire you up. You can’t talk to anybody.’ There are certain parameters that all criminal agents do. That never occurred because, once Phil Scala went to the NBA and explained that they had a referee that was on tape in a organised crime case, the reality is, literally the next day o’ that meeting, the Post has an article of a referee. The article didn’t have Tim’s name in it ok. I looked at who wrote the article. It was Murray Weiss. I have his number, call him ‘Murray’ and I start screaming at ‘im. ‘You s.o.b. You whore.’ I used every term known to man. He goes ‘Whaddayou talkin’ about?’ And I go ‘Listen, you’re obstructing justice!’. He (…) ‘Oh, I didn’t know, you know, I…’ boom - hangs the phone up. On WAFN that day, bing! Tim Donaghy all over the air, and it was out. When I first saw the paper, and Murray Weiss didn’t put the name in, I was too experience to know that that had to come from the NBA. It didn’t come from Murray. Murray woulda put it in the article. Murray’s that kinda person. I know him intimately, that. I mean you know I know him. So, it’s very important to read between the lines as to what happened. Every time I see him, and we’ve sorta patched things over a little bit, but I always call him ‘The nasty little…’. He knows. He got like a Pulitzer Prize for writing this article or somthin’. He did NOTHING! He got called into the office by somebody in the Post and they said ‘Write this article’."

Warren Flagg

Come back soon as we hear from Murray Weiss himself and dig ever-further into the mire...

Part 9: Ulterior motives...

Murray Weiss was the man who broke the story in the Washington Post. It is fair to say that the article might have been written a little hurriedly, and was not exactly Pulitzer Prize-winning material but it did the job it was intended to do. From more than one perspective as we will come to learn shortly. It garnered massive attention almost immediately and the story was a raging, unstoppable bull within minutes.

Murray Weiss

Murray Weiss - "Sometime late that same morning, I received a tip that a NBA referee was under investigation by the FBI. And that he may have been gambling or betting on games. And, honestly, it was a fantastic possible story. So, I made a call around to somebody I knew in the FBI in New York and asked them: ‘Hey, ah, have you heard anything about such and such a thing?’. And the response was: ‘You know, um, I’ll get back to you’ kinda thing. And about half-hour, an hour later, I got a call back and the answer was ‘We really can’t talk to you. I can’t talk to you about this’. So, that sorta response led me immediately to believe that there was a story there and that there was some truth to this. So I called somebody I knew in Washington in the Bureau and, ah that was a pretty extraordinary call. Because that person didn’t wanna tell me what the story was. But he virtually confirmed the story was going on. And I was like, now it’s like around 4-4:30 in the afternoonish and, um, I’m like ‘Oh my god. This is, you know, this is great’ I mean it’s great. And if I knew how big of a story it was going to turn into, I might have been a little more intimidated by it almost. So, in any event, the FBI got back to me aaand said that they may want to talk to me or somebody at the newspaper about the story. Because people’s lives could be at stake if we reported it. To which I said ‘well just get back to me but you know, there isn’t a lotta time here’. So I hung up the phone and I called the editor of the paper and I told him that I had gotten confirmation of the story. I said to him, however, that uh, the FBI indicated to me that people’s lives might be at stake. And I said, ’At most, you can give ‘em one day, maybe 2 days’ grace’. And he said, ‘I’m not looking to run this story a day or two from now, I’m looking to run this story in 2 hours’ (chuckles) Sure enough, the Bureau called me back and now it’s probably 5:30. And they said, they told me that they’re not going to ask us to hold the story. So I sat down and I wrote the story up, was printed that night on the front page of the Post. And I woke up the next day, my phone was lighting up from news radio and television stations everywhere across the country. Asking me about how I got it, where I got it. What is it? How big is it? I mean, it was an enormous story." 

Murray Weiss

Now, far be it from us to heap massive spoonfuls of scepticism into the mix here but the tip Weiss received does seem to have been extremely timely.

He has obviously never revealed the source of that game-changing tip and is cagey even talking about it:

Interviewer - "The tipster call, obviously it was an anonymous tipster. Did they call the New York Post? How does that process work? They call you directly? They call the editor directly? Who did they call?" 

MW - "I don't know if I really wanna talk about how we got that tip but, you know, it was a tip that came to me and the Post. And that’s about all I wanna say about it."

INT - "Is there a reason they reached out to the Post specifically as opposed to ESPN or a sports outlet?"

MW - "There’s not a, you know I’m not aware of any conspiracy theorists here. How or why a tip like this…there’s all kindsa speculation on motivations here, there, or anywhere else. I don’t really know where the tip came from, being honest with you. It was an anonymous tip. It was a tip that sounded, not too good to be true but ah, you know, it was a pretty amazing tip…"

INT - "With the FBI, did it seem like they wanted to protect an ongoing investigation?" 

MW - "Yeah, they weren’t happy, there’s no gettin’ around it. I would say, to this day, they would tell you they weren’t happy that story got out when it did.  And there are lots of people who, you know if you circle back here and think, you know ‘Who leaked the story?’ Who leaked? Did it come here, did it come there? Was it this? Was it the NBA? Was it somebody in the Bureau? Was it somebody who was a target of that case? You get an investigation into the newspaper and nothing kills it quicker than that."

Murray Weiss and interviewer

After the scandal erupted, Weiss continued his investigation and started asking questions about the NBA system as a whole.

MW - "The biggest question for me was, of course, Donaghy was the story right. There was one NBA ref but from my vantage point, that was only a piece of the question for the NBA. It was sorta like, what kind of systemic situation did they have here and what kinda checks and balances did they have? It’s a gigantic business. It’s a business that does involve gambling. Legalised gambling and you have officials who, I quickly learned, were very close to certain ball players. They didn’t like certain ball players. They travelled with them. It was like ‘There’s something wrong with this picture here’."

The culture Weiss describes and its effect on the integrity of the sport is what Donaghy has repeatedly emphasised over the years. Weiss wasn’t a basketball reporter. He was a crime reporter. And when he witnessed referees fraternising with players and coaches, travelling with them, going to casinos with them, it drew a stark comparison to his years following local and federal law enforcement.

MW - "I would say, human nature is human nature. And I’ve learned this through watching again in law enforcement how they ensure that they have their own integrity within their own departments. And  that’s a place where people are, you know sworn to uphold laws. And yet they have human nature ah, go astray. And they’re gonna fall victim to temptations, they’re gonna fall victim to their weaknesses. So, you know, why would you think that in the world of basketball that, people are people and that some of them wouldn’t be engaged in something that they shouldn’t be? Or in favouring their friends? Doesn’t that happen in normal walks of life? Is that, you know you start looking at the system. What is the system in place? And you wanna investigate the system that’s supposed to protect the integrity of the game. And it looked like the system has systemic problems."

The theoretical checks and balances for law enforcement simply didn’t exist for NBA referees. Weiss talked about the architect of the NBA system, David Stern. 

MW - "It was clear to me that he would a) Do anything to protect himself and the game. And b) Behind closed doors, he was a pretty ruthless guy. And actually, while that may sound, you know harsh and actually cruel, I say that with a bit of admiration too, because to run an outfit like the NBA is a big task. I guess, if you’re gonna have a crisis, you want somebody runnin’ it who’s ruthless. Somewhat you know, iron-fisted who will do everything he can to protect himself and the corporation he heads. You know I was told that he would you know do anything to destroy me if it could help the NBA." 

Murray Weiss

The NBA flat-out refused to confirm or deny whether they were the source of the leak.

In fact, they simply never replied to any questions on the matter at all

But if the NBA did leak the story and the Murray Weiss article was a strategic chess move by David Stern to blow up any deeper investigation, it raises the questions:

  • How far would The NBA go to protect its brand?

  • How far would David Stern go to protect his business?

Tim Donaghy's defence attorney:

John Lauro

John Lauro - "All I know is that David Stern not only saved the NBA but he transformed it. Into one of the biggest money-making machines in the country. Single-handedly, having said all that, Tim exposed, from Tim’s perspective, the truth. About what was going on in the NBA during that period of time. And what Tim was saying was never fully addressed. Instead, Tim was ostracised. No doubt he had done wrong. No doubt. He had sinned. But he was providing information that needed to be addressed. If you believe that this is a true, professional sport, and again it’s not professional wrestling or ballet. If it really is a sport then it has to be played on an even playing field." 

INT - "What are the main questions you would wanna ask Phil Scala?"   

JL - "Number one: Was Tim telling the truth about how he perceived the skewing of the process?

Number two: Did it really make a difference who was reffing a game, with respect to the outcome of the game?

Number three: Were the NBA and the referees cooperative in the process or was there any effort to hinder the process?

And then finally: Why on Earth did Battista get a deal of a lifetime on the eve of the trial? 

Now, what Phil Scala told David Stern, I have no idea but I would definitely suggest that you ask Phil about his conversations with David Stern. Lemme say that, a lot of this is historic. But it has enormous relevance to today. Because of the power of internet gambling and the amount of money that’s at stake, the interests at stake. The nature of professional sports and its hold on society. And the expectations that consumers have when they pay money. Lots and lots of money, I mean just go to a game and you realise, you know you’re not just paying for the tickets, you’re paying for everything else. This is big business. And the question is: Is it being acted out fairly? And do we have trust in the integrity of the game as a game? And that’s the core issue."

John Lauro and interviewer

Basketball fans don’t care about the business, they care about the game. The last thing they want is for the game to descend into some kind of choreographed ballet, designed to propel the required teams into the NBA Playoffs and other scenarios.

Basketball is fast, skilful athletic, and highly competitive when played on a level, fair court. That's what brought the legions of fans to the sport in the first place and it really stinks to think they may be seeing that fair competition reduced to the level of managed corporate money-making. The integrity of the game was rocked to its foundations by this whole mess and it might have been a death knell if David Stern had not been the man in charge?

Did fans want that? No, of course not

What they want is to be able to forget about the worries and BS of the world outside and watch the ir favourite team go back and forth with another set of talented individuals. All they ask is that it's done with integrity.

Is that really too much to ask?

The idea that the NBA influenced Battista’s sentencing and potentially leaked news of the biggest scandal in the league’s history to pin everything on the perfect scapegoat?

Wow. Are we surprised? No. Are we disgusted? Yes.

If those things are true, and the NBA needed to control everything all the time - what would stop them from controlling the basketball games themselves? 

Here is an excerpt from a letter high-profile political activist Ralph Nader wrote to David Stern in 2002. This was brought on by the infamous game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the most controversial game in NBA history: 

Ralph Nader - "Dear Mr. Stern. At a time when the public’s confidence is shaken by headlines reporting the breach of trust by corporate executives, it is important for there to be maintained a sense of professionalism in professional sports. That sense was severely shaken in the, now notorious, officiating during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. As the judicious Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wibon wrote this Sunday: ‘Too many of the calls in the 4th quarter, when the Lakers received 27 foul shots, were stunningly incorrect. All against Sacramento.

I have never seen officiating in a game of consequence as bad as that in Game 6. When Scott Pollard on his sixth and final foul didn’t as much as touch Shaq. Didn’t touch any part of him. You could see it on TV, see it at courtside. It wasn’t a foul in any league in the world. Your problem in addressing the pivotal 6th game situation is that you have too much power. Where else can decision-makers, the referees, escape all responsibility to admit serious error and have their bosses, you, fine those wronged who dare to speak out critically? Integrity, by which we take you to mean professionalism of the referee, has to be earned. And when it is not, it has to be questioned. You and your league have a large and growing credibility problem.

Referees are human and make mistakes but there comes a point that goes beyond just the random displays of poor performance. That point was reached in Game 6. It seems that you have a choice. You can continue to exercise your absolute power and do nothing. You should know, however, that absolute power invites a time when it will be challenged and changed. No government in our country can lawfully stifle free speech and fine those who exercise it. The NBA, under present circumstances, can stifle and fine both players and coaches who speak up. There is no guarantee that this tyrannical status quo will remain stable over time, should you refuse to bend to reason and the reality of what occurred.

We look forward to your considered response.  Sincerely, Ralph Nader."

Ralph Nader
More on that alarmingly-refereed game later in the saga.
Image Courtesy of Alamy

Join us next time as we take a closer look at the inner workings of the NBA and the main man in particular...

Part 10: David Stern

David Joel Stern was born in 1942 and passed away on New Year's Day, 2020 (RIP).

This is not really the place for a detailed life story so we will skip to the relevant parts.

By the age of 24, Stern was working as outside counsel for the NBA and did so until 1978, when he joined the NBA as general counsel.

  • 2 years later and he was the league's executive vice president

  • 4 years more and he was at the top of the tree as commissioner of the NBA

So, Stern went from being general legal counsel for the NBA to its top executive in just 6 years! Now, there is no reason to suggest this was anything other than the rapid rise of a talented, self-confident go-getter. But it does seem a trifle odd that the route to the top of one of the biggest sporting leagues in the world was through the legal profession.

But the truth is that, under the previous commissioner, Larry O'Brien, Stern was effectively operating as the head of marketing, television, and public relations for the league from early in his tenure there. He instigated and oversaw some ground-breaking changes in the structure and running of the NBA, including:

  • Drug testing and team salary-cap

  • NBA social responsibility program, NBA Cares

  • Digital media presence @ NBA.com and NBATV

  • NBA G League

  • WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association)

  • Growing domestic interest and investment

  • Developing the NBA's international exposure and audience through the use of training camps, exhibition games, and the recruitment of more international players

  • 12 NBA offices outside the USA sprang up at his behest and the game began to be broadcast to 200+ territories in a multitude of languages.

He was revolutionary

So, it is clearly no exaggeration to say that David Stern transformed the NBA into the worldwide attraction it is today. But it would also be fair to say this development and change did not come without costs of its own. As a colossal, lumbering behemoth of corporate interests and vast sums of money, the NBA could not avoid becoming beholden to its sponsors and financiers. And the one thing we know about that particular part of our world is that they are always going to want something back in return. And it had better be more than they put in...

in 2014, after 30 years at the helm, David Stern retired as the longest-tenured commissioner in the history of major North American sports leagues. He was later inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the FIBA Hall of Fame.

Conspiracy theories and questions of integrity

The first conspiracy to plague David Stern’s tenure as commissioner took place in 1985. When the New York Knicks were awarded the NBA’s first Draft pick. It was the league’s first-ever draft lottery.

At that time, the draft was determined by large envelopes spinning in a hopper but those envelopes were later replaced by the ubiquitous lottery ping-pong balls. Controversy has continued to plague the process to this day. 

Unnamed, behind-the-scenes lottery worker - "Well this is where the actual lottery takes place, prior to the studio show. In here, we draw for the top 3 picks using the lottery machine over here. And then we still have the remaining teams, 4 through 14. Once the lottery is done, which has just happened now, the next step is for us to go into the back room and Ernst and Young will stuff the envelopes with the appropriate winning logos. Seal ‘em up and then deliver them to deputy commissioner Mark Tatum in the studio for the announcement. 

Here is Darren Rovell again, former ESPN/CNBC business reporter and Stern's friend:

Darren Rovell

Stern, the way to deal with whenever there was questions of integrity, was just to talk about why he thought it was ok. For example, the way he got outta the whole draft thing is, he’s like ‘Ok, I’m not gonna take part in the NBA lottery anymore. Let’s just have it, the deputy commissioner will now do this’ 

That actually doesn’t really lend to changing the dialogue about whether it’s rigged or not. And I was actually part of this in 2002 and 2003 in the Yao Ming draft and the LeBron James draft. I had said to the league ‘You know, you guys like, show the ping-pong balls but it’s a cut video. Like, would you ever let any of us behind the scenes to actually see it? And in 2002 and 2003, I was in the lottery ball room where they confiscated our phones and actually saw how it worked. There’s a million different combinations that 4 balls come up that they look on the wall and then they match it up. I’m thinking to myself, the league could have easily told this like, it was complete luck and you see it is complete luck. Why not show that? And we could have had so many conversations just gone. Because it’s like, ‘Oh, Houston got Yao Ming’ or certainly the LeBron draft. At least they got to the point where they said ‘Well, let’s get journalists access to it’. But again, it was never…he didn’t care about extinguishing public fires because he was sure about how he thought about it and that’s all that mattered to him. 

In addition to the NBA betting scandal and draft conspiracy, Stern dealt with a lot of controversies in his 30 years as commissioner. The move of the Sonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City. A problematic dress code. 2 lockouts. The rescinded ‘Chris Paul to the Lakers’ trade. An ill-fated micro-fibre ball. The ‘malice in the palace’ brawl. And the guns in the locker room incident. To name a few. And if you brought one of these up to Stern, you probably weren’t in line for a polite response.

Sports radio host, Jim Rome found that out the hard way:

Jim Rome - "You know, New Orleans won the draft lottery which, of course, produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed. I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy. Was the fix in for the lottery?

David Stern - "Errrrr, you know, I have 2 answer for that. I’ll give you the easy one. No. And a statement, shame on you for asking. 

JR - "You know I understand why you would say that to me, and I wanted to preface it by saying , respectfully, I think it’s my job to ask because I think people wonder."

DS - "Oh, it’s ridiculous. But that’s ok." 

JR - "I know you think it’s ridiculous but I don’t think the question is ridiculous. Because I know people think that."

DS - "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"

JR - "Yeah, I don’t know if that’s fair"

Jim Rome and David Stern

For the record, Jim Rome was never accused of beating his wife. Stern is employing a rhetorical move intended to put Rome in an impossible position. One where Rome implicates himself no matter how he answers the question. It doesn’t matter if Rome answers yes or no. Either answer implies that he has, in fact, beaten his wife. 

Darren Rovell - "So that’s a David Stern response. Instead of what could have been three or four sentences of “No, it was not rigged’. But then, obviously, since he doesn’t give that response, you’re like well, if it would be so easy to give a response that it wasn’t rigged, well it must be rigged then! He didn't do himself any favours. And I loved the man, by the way. I mean I had a great relationship with him. He has a big heart and, you know but he’s built the way he's built and it’s one of the reasons the nab is where it is. But it’s also one of the reasons why the conversations involving rigging and gambling and everything else, continue to fester."

Darren Rovell

Jim Rome - "You know, I was tryna be as respectful as possible, well I'm just saying that people wonder about that. But that was not a cheap thrill. I got no thrill outta that."

David Stern - "It’s a cheap trick"

JR - "No, flopping is a cheap trick"

DS - "No no. But listen, you’ve been successful in making a career out of it and I keep coming on"

JR - "Making a career of what though? Commissioner, I take great offence to that. Making a career of what?" 

DS - "What offence are you taking? Are you taking offence?" 

JR - "I am. Now I am. If you’re saying I made a career of making cheap thrills"

DS - "(…) taking on the world and now Jim Rome is pouting? I love it"  

Jim Rome and David Stern

One of Tim Donaghy’s primary accusations was that the NBA extended playoff series earned both itself and its TV partners tens of millions of dollars in extra cash for every additional game played.

How did they do that? According to Donaghy, it was simple...

The league simply assigned its ‘company men’ referees to any playoff series that needed extending. According to Donaghy, these referees understood the system and the colossal financial ramifications of the factors at play.

NBA Playoff series are all best of 7 and the refs knew the league wanted to avoid 4-game sweeps whenever possible. And that Game 7 always made more money than Game 6. There was also a financial incentive for the referees in extending a series as Playoff bonus cheques make up a large chunk of an NBA referee’s salary. The more games they officiate, the more cheques they receive.

On top of that, any and all referee assignments throughout the regular season and playoff series were determined by the league itself. If referees thought the league wanted a certain outcome, it was in their best interest to produce that outcome or it was unlikely they were going to get as much work in those types of games in future. 

Rovell on the economics of NBA television deals:

Darren Rovell - "I mean, the main money is the TV money and whether the TV money is, you know is a 4 out of 7 and you have a 4-game series, the TV’s gonna lose money. And there’s gonna be make-dos, make-goods. And then, when it comes time to renegotiate, they’re gonna look at their numbers and so, a game 5 is more valuable than a game 4. Game 6 is more valuable than a game 5 and a game 7 is more valuable than a game 6. And the reason for that is, because usually the casual audience doesn't come in until after game 4. Certainly in Jordan, he’s not a basketball player. He’s like a ballerina that just has a ball in his hand. Or Shaq, and how big Shaq is, you know so there’s certain ‘magnets’ that the NBA had that could draw that casual interest. And as you get into more and more games, you’re gonna make more money.

Basically, from ’84 to 1993, let’s say, we went from double-digits, 20-30 million a year to hundreds of millions of dollars a year. And after Jordan won the three titles, then it just got out of hand because of what TV was doing. After that, that’s when it started getting into the billions…So now we’re talking about, there’s the networks. ABC, ESPN, Disney, and (…) are, you know, signed long-term contracts worth billions and billions of dollars. And so, behind the NFL, the NBA is the most expensive programming. So the NFL, ESPN for Monday night football is paying about 100 million dollars a game. For Monday night football. The NBA is pretty much in the number 2 spot." 

Darren Rovell

When asked about his dream NBA Finals matchup on the Dan Patrick Show in 2004, David Stern infamously responded, ‘Lakers vs Lakers’.

Rovell explained how it affected the NBA’s finances if a large market team (i.e. the Lakers) reached the NBA Finals, as opposed to a small market team.

Darren Rovell - "I mean, it totally depends. It woulda been a disaster in 1986 if The Bucks made the NBA Finals. Total disaster. If The Bucks made the finals now, you can’t really say that. You have Giannis, who’s an amazing player. Um, and people love him and he’s so dynamic and he breaks all the rules of what a human being can do. And Milwaukee has now been, because of their branding, their new owners, their arena. Milwaukee is seen as like one of those 3 or 4 teams that, if you don’t have a team, you take them. So that’s just an example of over time. And you even see it in sports marketing now. It used to be, if you’re, you know and ok player in New York, you’re gonna get more money than a great player in…it’s just not true, I mean look at LeBron’s dollars when he was in Cleveland and how relevant he was." 

The interview turns to the subject of our next chapter, the highly-controversial 2002 Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings. The Lakers had the inimitable duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, who were probably the 2 most marketable players in the game at that time. The Kings had some (ahem) 'lesser' names…

DR - "Vlade Divac. Peja Stojaković. Scott Pollard. Yeah, it’s amazing. And I actually know where I watched Game 6, I can tell you exactly..." 

Darren Rovell

Join us again soon to read about the madness that was Game 6 and see the direct impact it had on some of those involved.

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 11: The 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals

Anyone who has had more than a passing interest in basketball over the last couple of decades has heard about the debacle that was the 2002 Western Conference Finals. As Darren Rovell said he did in our last chapter, many people will remember exactly where they were and probably watched the madness unfold live.

Sacramento Kings’ centre Scott Pollard was actually on the court when it came to crunch time, before fouling out and being forced to watch the final minutes from the bench. Here is how he views what happened: 

Scott Pollard - "Looking back on my NBA and my whole career, college and high school even, there were several teams that I was on that had a chance to win it all. The team that I think should , absolutely and didn’t, as far as my NBA experience was the 2002 Sacramento Kings. We got to the Western Conference Finals and, once again got knocked out by the Lakers. Even though we were the favourite team with the best record in the NBA. The 2002 Sacramento Kings were so special because we shouldn’t have been. You think about it, we got a rookie from Turkey who’s a Muslim, we had guys from Serbia. Eastern Bloc guys that, Peja learned how to speak English in an NBA locker room. Chris Webber had stumbled around and had injuries and had issues with coaches and being coachable and all that stuff and a bad reputation. And he’s our superstar. And then we had like Bibby and Bobby Jackson and then Doug Christie and everybody was so unselfish with winning on our mind. That’s all we cared about. That’s why that team was so special. Because it really boiled down to, are we gonna get along and just win games? Because we have the talent to do it. Or are we gonna worry about ‘My individual touches, my points, my rebounds, my minutes?’ And everyone from 1-15 put personal stuff aside and that’s why we won. I mean, what a carnival of characters! What a circus of personalities and we were able to put all that together and be so much fun to watch."

Scott Pollard

The Sacramento Kings entered Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference Finals leading the series

  • 3 games to 2

The Lakers had won the previous 2 Championships but the 01/’02 Kings had the best regular season record in basketball
  • 61 - 21

A victory in game 6 would not only secure the Kings a spot in the NBA Finals, but it would be against a significantly weaker Eastern Conference foe, the Brooklyn Nets, who were waiting for them there. A win in game 6 would have almost certainly sealed the Kings’ first-ever winning NBA Championship. Or, at the very least put them right in the driving seat to take it if they played to their full potential.

The officiating in the 2002 Western Conference Finals was tough to watch for anyone who loves the sport. Here’s Pollard’s take on the calls in game 6:

SP - "The officiating in the 2002 Western Conference Finals was…questionable and questioned by lots and lots of people. Even Ralph Nader wrote a letter (chuckles). Let’s say, ok, I’m not saying this but let’s just say for discussion’s sake that game 6 was fixed. Ok, people think game 6, which was a very weird game. It was a game where a lot of calls went the way of the Lakers. Kings players, we are experiencing it early. It wasn’t at the end of the game, it was early. There was calls and we’re just going ‘Alright’ raise your eyebrows. Halftime we go in and I distinctly remember our leader Chris lookin’ at us and going ‘You know what? If it’s 8 on 5, (meaning the 3 refs and their 5 starters or their 5 players) then let’s beat 5 on 8. Let’s go’. And we all said, ‘You know what? He’s right. If we’ve gotta beat 8 people out there, we’re that good. We’re that much better than the Lakers and we proved it. 61 wins in that season. We proved we were the best team in the league. We could beat 5 Lakers and 3 refs if that’s what it’s gonna be. And so we kinda went out in the 2nd half with that mentality. I say ‘kinda’ because we were still in foul trouble. 

Scott Pollard

Entering into the 4th quarter of Game 6, the score was tied 75 to 75. Pollard and the Kings’ starting centre, Vlade Divac, were both in foul trouble with 4 apiece.

For those of you unaware of the significance of this, in the NBA, a player is disqualified and must leave the court after a 6th foul. 

SP - "I got fouled out in 12 minutes. Vlade’s fouled out in not much more than that, and Chris fouls out in the 4th quarter. We’re all looking at each other and, you saw it, there’s tons o’ clips of us just looking at each other like, laughing. Like ‘Really? Are you kidding me?’ That, that was a foul. Meanwhile, on the other end, this happened and nothing? No call there? There’s a whole buncha those clips out there and I don’t mean to fuel the conspiracy theories, but there’s a whole lotta questionable stuff that happens. You break down any single NBA game and there’s gonna be questionable stuff. But I don’t know that if you break down an NBA game there’s gonna be as many questionable calls as there were in that game 6 of the Western Conference Finals." 

Scott Pollard

The 2001/’02 Los Angeles Lakers averaged 26 free throws per game during the 2001/'02 NBA regular season.

In just the 4th quarter of game 6, they shot 27. The Kings shot 9

Many of the fouls on the Kings didn’t live in the subjective ‘grey area’ we’ve spoken about previously. There were several ‘phantom’ fouls where Sacramento players didn’t even touch the Lakers players and when Kobe Bryant swung an elbow, bloodying Mike Bibby’s face, it was Bryant who ended up on the foul line not Bibby.

The Lakers won the game 106-102 and set up a game 7 in Sacramento that would determine which team advanced to the finals. 

SP - "After game 6 of the Western Conference Finals 2002, the Kings players, we walk off the court shaking our heads. We’re all saying to ourself ‘That’s some bullshit’. I-it’s complete garbage. We got robbed. Whatever, ok. The sob stories go, we’re in the locker room ‘You know what, we were supposed to beat 8 on 5 today. We didn’t beat 8. We beat 5 of ‘em but the other 3 got us.’ Whether it was 3 players, 3 refs, whatever you wanna call that. That’s when doubt trickled in. And on the plane home from LA back to Sacramento, were we trying to pump each other up in the post-locker room? Were we trying to pump each other ‘Alright, that’s it. They got us. But it’s game 7’. Now we kept sayin’ all that stuff to each other, to ourselves but I don’t know if we believed it…We got guys that are shooting airballs. We’ve got guys that are missing layups. We’ve got guys that not getting rebounds and not boxing out. These aren’t fouls, these aren’t bad calls, these aren’t contested shots. We, we’re blowing it. We’re blooowing it in game 7. We’re making stupid errors. You know what that is? That’s mental mistakes. We talked the talk but I don’t believe we felt it in our souls, in our hearts that we were gonna win game 7 and we played like it."

Scott Pollard

Pollard blames his team for not stepping it up in game 7 but how could they? The thing they’d worked their whole lives for had just been taken from them. The best team in basketball was rudderless and broken by the sheer unfairness of it all. By being cheated. There, we've said it. Sure, they still had game 7. But they didn’t really have a chance. 

SP - "You look at these clips of game 6 and you hear the commentary of Tim Donaghy, like ‘Oh, they’re company men’ and, you know, on the one hand I’m like, dude, this guy is just tryna make money, I’m not mad at him. He can say whatever he wants. Who knows if it’s true? Who knows if it’s not? Only he does. His experience and the people he’s alleging these things uh, about. They're the only ones that know. I don’t know. I don’t go down that rabbit hole because I don’t wanna believe that my NBA Championship with the Sacramento Kings was taken away by the league. I don’t wanna believe that. That sounds terrible. You know, but what I will say is that it looks suspect."

Scott Pollard

The officiating in game 6 was so bad, it has become a running joke in the NBA over the years. Former Lakers centre Shaquille O’Neal and former Sacramento Kings forward Chris Webber chatted about it:

Shaquille O'Neal - "Say, you know what I played against many (…) The worst typa team to play is a team that ain't scared. All the other teams we played were like, every time we met against y’all, y’all really wasn’t scared so we had to work. And that’s why we took y’all to game 7 and we beat y’all on y’all floor. (All laugh)

Chris Webber - "All it took was you and some dirty refs" (laughter again) 

Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Webber

We'll leave the last word from the players' perspective to Scott Pollard, denied his lifelong dream by the avarice and machinations of a money-making machine that was out of control and cared nothing for the right or wrong of the situation:

Scott Pollard - "And so it brings tears to my eyes for sure. Because I remember the camaraderie. I remember my teammates. I remember wantin’ to bust ass. Just for my teammates. That was it. We wanted to win for each other and I’ll never forget that family. We were all locked in on one thing and knew, we just all knew in our hearts we were gonna win and we didn’t. And that frustration is gonna be with me for the rest of my life and I know it is with a lotta the guys on that team. Because we just knew in our hearts that we were supposed to win. I wish we had won one for our team. For the coach. We all wanted one so badly for the organisation and also for the fans in Sacramento.

Scott Pollard

Image Courtesy of Alamy

The fans

The Sacramento Kings are the only major professional sports team in Sacramento and the city lives and dies with the black and purple. Over the years, the franchise has seen a lot more downs than ups which made their reaching the 2002 Western Conference Finals all the more exciting.

And what followed was heartbreaking and even harder to swallow

18 years later and the wounds from that series still haven’t healed. An interview with 3 Sacramento King's fans really shows how it affected the people most emotionally invested in the outcomes. They are: Cassidy, her childhood friend Evan, and father Chuck

Cassidy - "The Kings are the heartbeat of the city and they mean everything. I mean, they’re the only show in town"

Evan -"It’s the lifeblood of the city. I mean, you’re walking around downtown and you see people in Kings gear. I haven’t been in a city where there’s such loyal and crazy and passionate fandom."

Cassidy - "It’s really the thing that people outside of Northern California know Sacramento for. People know Sacramento because of the Kings."

Chuck - "I concur with Cassidy. They’re our only major-league team and major-league sports do have an impact on a community and how they pull together."

Cassidy - "When the Kings lost to the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, I felt absolutely heartbroken. I will say, whenever the Tim Donaghy allegations came out, you know surfaced a coupla years ago, it was like ‘ohhhhh ok’. And then going back and looking back and recognising, oh, he did ref in those really controversial Western Conference Finals games. Um, or at least that game 6 for sure." 

Chuck - "I felt crestfallen. It was a lousy feeling for days. Yeah, I mean it was crushing. And I don’t mean to overstate it. And I was older. I’d been through loss in my life and job change. But you know, sports are sports and they’re big. And they are so big here. It was big for the community, make no mistake. And it wasn’t just big for a day or two. I still think about that, to this day, 18 years later." 

Evan - "Looking back on it, it was just the most terrible thing that could have happened to the Kings at that time."

Now here's an interesting experiment that seems very revealing about how people's perceptions can be altered and their memories corrupted after the fact. The interviewer asks them if they believe that Tim Donaghy was the individual who reffed game 6 

Cassidy - "Ummm, I know he reffed, yeah, er I think he reffed game 6? I know he reffed at least one or two of those, did he not?" 

He did not

Cassidy - "Really? He didn’t ref any of those 2002…"

Tim Donaghy is, assuredly, the corrupt NBA official of all time and it might be natural to assume he had his dastardly paws all over this travesty. But Donaghy didn’t referee that game.

Dick Bavetta did. 

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 12: Dick Bavetta

As we discovered earlier, it was never Tim Donaghy’s dream to become an NBA referee. He had family connections and it just happened. Dick Bavetta?

Dick Bavetta wasn’t going to leave this planet without becoming an NBA official

Bavetta attended regional referee trials for 8 years and was rejected 8 times before finally getting the call to the NBA. Bavetta didn’t fit the mould for an NBA referee, they wanted strong, manly men but Bavetta was a marathon-runner, all skin and bones.

Bavetta’s first game was in 1975 and, from that day onwards, he never missed an assigned game. He refereed 2,635 straight contests until his retirement in 2014, giving him 3 more in total than baseball’s "iron man" Cal Ripken. And Bavetta wasn’t just a referee. He was part of the show. In 2007, he raced NBA legend Charles Barkley for charity.

Tim Donaghy on Bavetta:

Tim Donaghy - "I mean, Dick Bavetta, who was the top ref at the time. You know, he didn’t hide the fact that he said he was the NBA’s ‘go-to’ guy. He was put on game 6s to make sure that game 7s happened. When you look at a lot of game 6s over the history of the NBA, most of them don't get to a game 7. And ah, you know when he reffed ‘em, a lot of times they did."

INT - "What was Bavetta’s reputation amongst referees?"

TD - "You know, people knew that he basically cheated. Spent a lotta time with him but, unfortunately you know he was the top dog in the league and my goal was to be an NBA Finals referee so, he’s like ‘Listen, this is what you have to do. This isn’t rocket science here, you have to, you know create a flow to a game and you have to favour stars and don’t put them to the bench. And do certain things that is marketable for the league. And if you’re not gonna do that, you’re not gonna advance. So I was just following in his footsteps of what he was doing ‘cos he was the top guy in the league."

The Pedowitz report that documented the NBA’s investigation into the scandal looked into Donaghy’s claims about Bavetta and found Bavetta to be a somewhat controversial figure. The report interviewed multiple referees who said that they believed Bavetta was ‘…highly conscious of how he’s viewed and wants to be liked by everyone.’ And that some referees were ‘…clearly put off by his antics.’

The report went on to say ‘A few ex-referees, including those who have held, or hold supervisory positions within the NBA, used harsher words to describe Bavetta’s style. Suggesting that his play calling at times, ‘…reflects an effort to keep games close or to ingratiate himself with a team.’

After the 2002 Western Conference Playoffs, one of the country’s biggest NBA writers, Bill Simmons, posed the question:

Ben Simmons - "What was the most disturbing sub-plot of the playoffs?’ The officiating. Also the most disturbing sub-plot of the last four playoffs. If you examine the last 4 NBA Playoff campaigns, during every situation where the league definitively needed one of the two teams involved to win. Either to a) Change the momentum of the series so that it didn’t end prematurely. b) Keep an attractive, big-market team alive in a series. Or c) Advance an attractive, big-market team to another round, the officiating appeared to be slanted toward the team that needed that game. I use the phrase ‘appeared to be’ because reviewing an official’s performance is purely subjective. Maybe I'm dead wrong."

Ben Simmons

Simmons then named the seven playoff games he found most controversial over the past 4 years. Including, of course, game 6 of the ’02 Western Conference Finals. Of which Simmons wrote:

‘From an officiating standpoint, the most one-sided game of the past decade. At least 6 dubious calls against the Kings in the last quarter alone. LA averaged 22 free throws a game during the first 5 games of the series. They had attempted 27 freebies in the 4th quarter alone of game 6! Rumours that David Stern wanted to pull a Vince McMahon and declare himself ‘Special guest referee’ prove unfounded.’ 

Ben Simmons

At the end of the article, Simmons noted that Dick Bavetta was assigned to 6 of the 7 games he found most controversial. When Bavetta took to the court, controversy always seemed to follow. 

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Carmichael Dave, a revered talk sports broadcaster in Sacramento is known for his irreverence and his incredible, all-encompassing love for the Sacramento Kings:

Carmichael Dave - "My thoughts on Dick Bavetta, are fairly complicated. I am a big believer in ‘innocent til proven guilty’ and we have a lot of circumstantial evidence. That’s what we have. Nobody’s gonna convict Dick Bavetta and friends of a conspiracy. It’s one of those things where you look at it and it’s obvious. Like, is there any reasonable doubt that the refs just had a terrible game? That there wasn’t anything sinister? I guess…

He represents something terrible that happened in my life in sports. But if it ever were to come out that he was complicit in this, I word feel bad for his family, I would feel bad for his children. I would feel bad for his grandchildren. Imagine having your father or grandfather, or, hell, mother or grandmother. Imagine having somebody who was responsible for bringing you into this world, who provides a moral and ethical compass, that they sold out? That they cheated? That they robbed a community of something. And just imagine knowing that’s who your role model is? Imagine having to live under that shadow? It’s gross. When somebody says ‘Hey, how do you even know game 6 was a screw-job? Lakers just outplayed them’ It’s like, ‘Dude, (laughs) look at the box score. 4th quarter alone. The Lakers, it was like  a constant procession to the free throw line. You don’t get that many free throws in the 4th quarter. You could bring a Gattling gun out and like just level the whole bench and you’re gonna get like a flagrant and some fouls. You’re not getting mid to high twenties in the 4th quarter. If the other team’s being aggressive and you’re fouling ‘em, you can get a hundred fouls in the 4th quarter.

There’s no rule saying you can’t shoot that many free throws. But you go back, and it’s on YouTube, go back and look at how, for example, the most famous one is when Mike Bibby’s face fouled Kobe Bryant’s elbow. Like, literally, Kobe Bryant brought his elbow up into Mike’s face. Broke his nose, was bleeding had to have Q-Tips shoved up his nose. And the refs called a foul on that. Go back and look at every single time Shaquille O’Neal got breathed on and they called a foul. If you go back and you watch the 4th quarter alone and you watch it from a non-biased, not Kings, not Lakers perspective, you’re gonna say ‘my god’. Like this thing is not only tilted but you’re also gonna notice, for those who are gonna listen to this, just look for the shots, in the last part of the 4th quarter. Look for the shots. Look for the zooms on Rick Adelman’s face. Look for the close-up. At one point you can see in his face, and when you see it, you’re gonna smile and go ‘Wow. Dave’s right’. You see that he’s saying ‘I can’t even argue any more. Like, I’m in a dream world. I hope everybody sees this. Either I’m batshit crazy or we’re being screwed outta this game’. And he just resigned himself to sitting down. I think he had mentally broken because I I think in any other situation he woulda been ejected a long time ago. He knew he couldn’t get ejected. He knew he had to be there and go with it with his team. So he just sat down and resigned himself to the fact that they were getting’ screwed outta that game. One of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in sports"

Watching the dreams of one of the greatest basketball coaches in history, Rick Adelman, who never ended up winning an NBA title, getting crushed in real-time is as tragic and bizarre.

What made game 6 different from other controversial games?

CD - "It’s a play. It’s a failed (…). It’s a ‘he beat it out at first’. It’s a ‘the foot was on the’, it’s a wha. It’s a bad call. How often do we talk about an entire game and specifically a quarter of bad calls? That’s why this is different. This wasn’t a mistake. Referees and umpires are human beings. They make mistakes. They make horrible mistakes sometimes. And I let them off the hook because they are a human being. The best referees and the best umpires are the ones that you don’t know. You never hear about ‘em. If you’re doing your job perfectly you’re anonymous. Think about that. You don’t get a card. You don’t get a highlight reel. You don’t get, ah drafted to a fantasy team. If you do your job as a referee perfectly, nobody knows who the hell you are. So, when you do screw up, that’s the only time people notice you. I have empathy for that. This wasn’t that. This was 3 referees continually making bad calls for an entire 48 minutes. And very specifically for 12 minutes in the most important part of that game. With a lot of other things going on behind it, that’s why this is different and that’s why that stood out so much." 

How he would feel if something came out that proved, definitively, that this game was rigged?

CD - "Well, I’ll use a really inappropriate analogy, ‘cos that’s what I do and it’s not apples to apples. But it’s almost like if, uh, well, I won’t use a family member. Lemme get silly. Uh, if your dog was kidnapped 10 years ago and you found it brutally murdered by the side of the river, and then 10 years later the FBI told me that they had caught the person, um, that did it. Er, and had found proof that this guy murdered your dog. But he’s not gonna get arrested and there’s gonna be no charges it’s like, ok. I mean I guess. Like, it doesn’t bring my dog back. It doesn’t erase all the pain I’ve had since my dog got murdered by the side of the river. Uh, it doesn’t do anything to anyone else we don't get a ring. Even if they offered us a ring we wouldn’t take it ‘cos that’s janky. Um, I would, it would be sort of a, it would be helpful in conversations. Because then the dumb douchebags who are like ‘There was no conspiracy’. Ok well, here ya go. But they still won’t believe it.

Ah but it doesn't change anything. Other than I guess like maybe 5% peace of mind but, great. 5% peace of mind. Yeah and uh, 9 and 10 and 12-year old kids and adults and families that cried actual tears. That were devastated uh, because they lost the chance at seeing the name Sacramento uh, on the trophy. And the national recognition and civic pride. But listen, let’s not kid ourselves man, nobody died. It’s not cancer. It’s not the end of the world. Uh and I’m aware of that I have that perspective. But as a sports fan, uh it’s as close as you get. If we ever found out that ah, that it was, that there was more proof involved uh, that they nailed down. That Dick Bavetta and everyone involved came out and admitted it. Fine. Great. Um but it…doesn't change anything." 

For Kings fans and all the other fans watching who felt they were victims of a rigged game or rigged system, there’s no happy ending. There’s no pleasure in ‘I told you so’. They never got to experience the jubilation that comes from watching their favourite team, a group of men they’ll never meet but know better than most members of their family, hoist the ultimate trophy.

In that moment, feeling the hundreds, perhaps thousands of losses the team suffered, that they suffered, instantaneously dissipate. The fans of Sacramento had the experience of that feeling stolen from them in 2002...

18 years later and the 2001/’02 season is still the closest the franchise has ever come to winning an NBA Championship. 

But when it comes to Game 6, I mean I’m sorry but saying ‘Hey you think game 6 is a conspiracy’ eh, would be like me going up to somebody and kicking them in the dick and then being like ‘Aww dude, you believe in kicks to the dick?’. Like, yeah dude. It just happened. I literally experienced it, So. People say what they want but Game 6 was uh, Game 6 was a screw-job. 

in terms of wins, George Karl Is the 6th most successful coach in NBA history with 1,175 career victories. Karl is known for being unfiltered and has never shied away from talking about the NBA betting scandal:

George Karl - "So, the conspiracy theories, I think, were awoken by the Donaghy problem. And I think that opened a window up for more conspiracy theories. (…) the NBA was manipulated by the big markets and by the superstars. You know they wanted Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan to be in the finals. We lost to Charles Barkley in a game that Phoenix shot 64 free throws in a Game 7 (of the 1993 Western Conference Finals between the Seattle Supersonics and the Phoenix Suns. Karl’s team, the Supersonics, shot 36 free throws and the Suns shot 64) Early in the game I was thinkin’ about getting thrown out. Like, I thought it was so absurd what was going on that I thought I had to make a statement to my team. And my coaching staff had to calm me down on that.

You know I was pretty aggressive with the referees sayin’, ‘What the hell’s goin’ on here? What’s the story? This is crazy’ There was a lot of crazy about that game but I thought it was, for a better phrase, unprofessional, I thought the referee got out of control and there was just a lot of weird to a game 7. A game 7 should be somethin’ that you always remember and it turned it into a kind of unprofessional what the hell’s goin’ on type o’ game. I think that the conspiracy came up is the NBA might not have been honest. In who they wanted to play in the finals or the NBA championships. 

Who refereed game 7 of the 1993 Western Conference Finals? Ed. T. Rush, Mike Mathis, and Dick Bavetta.

Of course 

Referees can manipulate a game for any reason and sometimes, it’s personal. 

Scott Pollard - "There were certain referees that you just didn’t talk to but, ah, there’s also certain referees that are always refereeing the same games. They’re always reffing the big games. Some of the referees don't ref the big games. Some of ‘em don’t ref the playoffs. It’s a valid argument to say, for the NBA to say, ‘Well, we vet our referees and we only want the ones that have the highest record of correct calls reffing the big games’ right? And so it makes sense but it also lends a little bit of credence to Tim Donaghy’s argument that there’s company men. ‘Well, we got a big game. We need it to go one way, send in the guys that we know are gonna make that happen.’ Now, you can look at it from the NBA’s perspective and their argument, which is a very valid one. Or you could look at it from Tim Donaghy’s perspective which has also got some validity to it. NBA referees can manipulate any game they want to, and here’s why. At the beginning of every season, every NBA team has referees come and speak to them about what the focuses are gonna be that year, what happened the last year, things they’ve been told to work on. And so the pre-season is part of everybody’s getting back together, getting the rust off and focusing on ‘Okay, they’re gonna call 3 seconds’ for example this year, more often. Because last year there was a whole bunch of ‘em violations and they didn’t get called, so that’s a focus. In that meeting, with every single team, they tell you, ‘Hey, we get emails after every single game that tell us what we messed up on and tell us what we did well on." 

Scott Pollard

During the Playoffs, the NBA communicates with its referees before every game. The lead points they focus on are the calls that were missed by the previous games’ officials and outline which calls need to be enforced for that night’s game.

Here’s Pollard using Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals as an example:

SP - "Those 3 referees get an email the night before that say ‘Hey, the big guys from the Kings have been getting away with a lot of fouls on Shaq’. Now let’s just say that happened, that’s not saying ‘Make sure the Kings lose’ is it? But it is saying that the referees have it in their head that the Kings’ big men have been getting away with a lot of fouls and, wow, in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in 2002, 3 of the Kings’ big men fouled out. Shaq didn’t. But Vlade, Chris, and Scott Pollard did. So, huh! Is that the NBA on the one hand telling you, the referees telling you ‘Yeah we can fix any game we want to’? They’re not saying that directly but that gives them every single opportunity. That’s your loophole right there. Now, I’m not sayin’ that’s how it happens. I’m not sayin’ the NBA fixes games. I’m just sayin’, the referees told us every year they got emails before and after every game, letting them know what to work on, what they did well on, and maybe somethin’ that’s comin’ up in a game with a certain player. That gives a referee any opportunity or the NBA, to fix any game they want to." 

Scott Pollard

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Be sure to come back soon and learn more about this extraordinary period in NBA history as we delve ever deeper into the mire...

Part 13. Controlling the referees

When it came to Donaghy’s claims about the officiating culture in the NBA, the FBI vetted them and found them to be credible. Donaghy worked numerous NBA Playoff games and has first-hand knowledge of the communication between the league and officials.

Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy - "It was during the Playoffs that there’d be meetings in the morning around 11 am, to where you would sit down and watch a tape of a Playoff series that you were officiating in. And they would show you plays and they wanted you to concentrate on certain plays that night in the game and those plays always went in favour of the team that was down in the series. So if a team was up 2 games to none, in a series, they’d show you plays, erm things they wanted you to look for and concentrate on that were ultimately gonna go against that team that night and help the team that was down in the series. And they would tell you this by saying, you know ‘Look. Look at these plays that were missed by the other referees, that refereed the games prior to you and we need you guys to go in and clean this up and do a better job from what they did’"

Interviewer - "So these meetings took place before every playoff game?" 

TD - "I mean it was, it was something that was done on a continuous basis. Throughout the Playoff series, you were put in a room, you watch a video from the previous games and they told you what to look for and what they wanted called that night and what they wanted you to concentrate on. And based on the fact that you always wanted to progress to that next round of the Playoffs, and those people that were there were grading you, you always put a major play and emphasis on what they wanted you to call. And it was always in favour of the team that was down in the series."

INT - "Do you remember any specific games or series that stand out?"

TD - "Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets were up 2 games to none in a 7-game series that started in Dallas and they were moving on to their home floor and they were definitely in a position where they were in control of the series…"

Tim Donaghy and interviewer
Here is a clip from the New York Times, dated May 3rd, 2005:

New York Times - 'Houston Rockets coach, Jeff Van Gundy said on Sunday that officials were calling fouls more readily and unfairly on his 7 foot 6 centre, Yao Ming. You’ve got to give Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) credit, Van Gundy said, he’s been calling and calling about Yao. He’s taken a lot of fines in his time and he’s been on them hard. And he’s gotten the benefit. Van Gundy said that, after the Mavericks’ victory Saturday in Game 4, which tied the playoff series at 2 games each, he received an unsolicited call from a friend who is a league referee not working the playoffs. The refere, Van Gundy said, told him that referees were looking at Yao harder because of Mark’s complaints. Van Gundy declined to identify the official, saying ‘I don’t wanna get my man in trouble’. Van Gundy ended by saying ‘I didn’t think that really worked in the NBA. But in this case, it has’' 

Van Gundy chose not to identify the league official but Donaghy has no problem naming names.

Tim Donaghy - "Donny Vaden, who was the group supervisor at that time for that series came in and I was an ultimate official in Game 3 of that series. And he came in and started pulling out a lot of things that he wanted us to look for and concentrate on that night."

As a supervisor, Donny Vaden acted as a liaison between the NBA and its referees. When Donaghy says the league told officials before each game which fouls had been missed in the previous game, and which fouls to concentrate on that night, it was Vaden who would communicate those updated priorities to that night’s refs. According to Donaghy, Vaden told the referee to focus on potential infractions by Houston’s star centre, Yao Ming. But he also relayed that information to his friend, Houston’s head coach, Jeff Van Gundy

TD - "Not only did he tell us, but he was friends with Jeff Van Gundy and he told Jeff Van Gundy that these things were gonna be looked at very closely that night. And after, I believe Dallas tied the series up, 2 games to 2, Jeff Van Gundy went public and blew a gasket (…) and was ultimately fined, I believe, 100 thousand dollars because he wouldn’t reveal the name of the league official that told him that this was gonna happen." 

INT - "So Donny Vaden was a referee supervisor?"

TD - "Right, he was a former NBA referee who moved into, ah, working as a supervisory position with the league, ah, to the officials. So he would travel all around the playoff series, basically bringing the message from the league office, what they wanted done and what they wanted corrected. Based on the previous games that had taken place in that playoff series."

INT - "And, for the Houston/Dallas series, you guys had an 11 am meeting, correct?"

TD - "Right"

INT - "So, 11 am meeting, Donny Vaden comes in and, is it just you and the other referees like in a small conference room? What’s the setting?" 

TD - "It was a hotel room. One of the hotel rooms that one of the referees, we would use. And, ah, go over the tape. Plug in the VCR and go over the tape and would point certain things out that the league office wanted the referees to concentrate on that night in the game. And being the ultimate referee that night, I was to be in the locker room in case somebody got hurt and also point out certain calls that were maybe missed in the first half and point them out to the referees when they came in at halftime. And Donny Vaden sat in the locker room with me the whole first half and basically told me that he had told, you know, Jeff Van Gundy to be on the lookout, that these things were gonna be a point of emphasis and called that night. And then Gundy went public and was fined a hundred thousand dollars. I knew it was Donny Vaden because he had told me in the locker room that he was friends with him and that he had told him that, you know, this stuff was gonna be scrutinised. That to try and make sure that Yao Ming knew ahead of time but, you know that wasn’t the case. They went out and kinda called a lot of things that went against Houston in that Game 3. Houston ended up losing that game and ended up losing a 7-game series." 

Tim Donaghy and interviewer

So the NBA gives its referees a directive. To focus on calls that will negatively affect Houston. The Rockets’ coach publicly reveals that he was warned about these calls by a referee. And what does the NBA do next?

They fine the Rockets’ coach 100 thousand dollars for having the audacity to reveal how the NBA works behind the scenes.

As Ralph Nader said:

Ralph Nader - "No government in our country can lawfully stifle free speech and fine those who exercise it’".

Under present circumstances, the NBA can stifle and fine players, coaches, and even owners who speak up. If the rules are the rules, and the rules are the same for every player, every team, Why does the NBA need to communicate with referees at all during the playoffs?

Let alone before every game...

And the ultimate question is, how can that communication not be viewed as manipulative? According to Donaghy, it was Dallas’ outspoken owner, Mark Cuban that worked the system hardest. He complained to the league and compelled the NBA to referee the final 5 games of the series differently than the first 2. 

Tim Donaghy - "Mark Cuban felt that these calls were missed and started to do stuff that Mark Cuban did back then and that was bitch and complain every time he lost. So with that being said, lotta times his complaints were, you know, directed to the league office who passed them down to us and, you know, things got corrected."

Tim Donaghy from his book, The Golden Goose 15:15
Image Courtesy of Alamy

Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban - "Out of a million refs around the world, we have this incestuous group a refs that they’ve hired. Literally, brothers, spouses, ah, I dunno which came first, the spouse thing, but you know, same high school, you know, same cities."

Mark Cuban

His main point was, like on the state of NBA officiating that it needed to improve. That training needed to improve. He put the system for how referees are trained out into the open for the first time and he exposed it for how it’s only run by a small group of people and that it should really be more open. And there should be more perspectives and it’s just outdated. Cuban went on the blast the NBA over its hiring and training of referees for the last 30 years. He also noted that in 1997 they hired a 23-year-old referee with no experience whatsoever by the name of Rashan Michel. Michel, who Cuban claims was hired by the NBA under a fake name with phone credentials, was arrested and charged with 6 felonies for accepting bribes in the college basketball corruption scandal of 2017. The league has improved since the days of Donaghy but Cuban remains flabbergasted that the NBA, a multi-billion dollar corporation hasn’t done more to improve the quality of its officiating.

MC - "And just the ridiculous stuff that we’ve done and just repeat over and over and over. I get it, look, the league doesn’t care who wins or loses games. That’s the way it should be. But, the definition of insanity…"

After Tim Donaghy was released from prison, the disgraced ref published a book which detailed the NBA’s refereeing culture and called out referees who, according to Donaghy, allowed their biases to compromise the integrity of the game. The book was of interest to Cuban for obvious reasons. 

FBI agent Warren Flagg:

Warren Flagg - "So I met a high-school buddy of mine and we’re at Bobby Van's on 46th Street. And so we’re having steaks and the phone rings. And it’s Mark Cuban. He said ‘Flagg man, this is Mark Cuban’. I said ‘Yeah?’. He said ‘What’d Tim write in his book?’. And I said ‘Mark, I’m gonna tell you this ok? You was sued, I believe 400 thousand dollars for your comments about the Finals game?’ I said ‘You need to sue the NBA and you will win triple damages. Tim and I will absolutely testify.’ Words of substance. And his remark to me - he said ‘I can’t do that. It will kill the golden goose’"

Interviewer - "So, in your opinion did Mark Cuban think that the 2006 NBA Finals were corrupt?"

WF - (Scoffs) "Please (laughing) I’m sure he would not have said what he said and got fined by these…that's a lotta money ok? Now he's a rich guy, that isn't your normal 15-dollar ticket ok?"

Warren Flagg and interviewer

Mark Cuban entered the NBA in 2000 and over 20 years later, remains dissatisfied with the state of NBA refereeing. And, according to Warren Flagg, back in 2009, Cuban had a chance to cause a huge ruckus and launch a full-scale investigation that would have forced the NBA to overhaul its officiating.

Precisely the thing he’d spent a decade campaigning for

In short, Mark Cuban had a chance to be the whistleblower but he backed down. The team he bought for 285 million dollars back in 2000, on the heels of a 7.4 billion dollar TV rights deal, was now worth close to a billion dollars. Mark Cuban was a fan who felt he got screwed out of a Championship. But he was also a businessman and he wasn't going to kill the golden goose. 

Image Courtesy of Alamy

It seems there are 2 very distinct sides to Tim Donaghy's character. When doing an interview he was tense, pithy, and deflective. But when he didn’t have a microphone in his face and conversations were off the record he was a completely different person. 

Tim Donaghy, unaware he is being recorded

Tim Donaghy - "We get a check, we get our schedule right? And with the schedule, they would give you first-class tickets over 2 hours for, you know, full-fare coach tickets for under 2 hours. So, they would add it all up and then issue you a check for like 11 grand for your airlines. They say ‘This is what we think it’s gonna come to’. So then, you got the 11 thousand dollar check and we’re fucking using frequent flyers, we're fucking (laughing) driving you know we’re fuckin’ making, plus your per diem we're making fuckin’ 12, 13, 15 grand a month just in fucking, (…) your check!"

Tim Donaghy

Donaghy is talking about a scheme that the IRS dubbed 'Operation Slamdunk’. The ploy involved referees invoicing the NBA for first-class airline tickets. then Downgrading the tickets, pocketing the difference and then not reporting that additional income on their tax returns. When charges were filed in 1994, there were around 55 refs in the league.

The IRS suspected 43 of them were participating in the scheme.

Donaghy said that when he started reffing, his salary was 70 thousand dollars. He had a 20 thousand dollar NBA Playoff bonus and made an extra 50 thousand dollars exaggerating his airline costs. 

TD - "And even if you paid for your airline tickets, you got the cheapest tickets you could get and because we were the elite on the airlines, they’d put us in first class! So I’m spending a thousand dollars a month, for all my trips - getting 12 grand check. And then, sending in fake receipts to the office that you flew on those tickets that they sent you. Lady was giving us fake receipts so you didn’t pay taxes on it. So then, after the scandal, before they sent you the 12 grand they taxed it 25%, so. ‘Cos they didn’t trust anybody not to pay their taxes on ‘em. And when I explained that to Scala, he looked me right in the eye he goes ‘Tim you got this wrong. There’s no way the NBA was doing that’ I said ‘What, are you kidding me? It's public knowledge!’. And he looked into it and he fucking couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe it."

Tim Donaghy

The likelihood of speaking to FBI agent Phil Scala seemed very slim. Everybody else involved in the NBA betting scandal that spoke on the record scoffed at the idea he would accept an interview. He has been interviewed a few times over the years but has never faced any questions that might reveal anything of the true story. The interview team did manage to get a call with Scala, but he made it very clear he was not interested in going on the record. Then, out of the blue, he called back and seemed to have had a change of heart. 

Tim Donaghy, on learning Phil Scala is prepared to give an on-the-record interview:

Tim Donaghy - "I’m telling you, if you do this right, and I don't know how to do it, but this is, this is gonna fuckin explode. I’ll tell ya one way you can really get to him, is, I would say to him something along these lines ‘You know Phil, I just, help me understand how Tim Donaghy thinks so highly of you and has so many good things to say about you. Because in all reality, you were the one that arrested him so it just seems like it’s a strange relationship’. And I think that’ll break, you know him down to wanna help. You know what I mean? Well, er, keep me posted on Scala because I know that somehow, someway I’m sensing he's gonna weasel out but I hope not." 

Tim Donaghy

There are a few more twists and turns to this tale before the mighty Phil Scala goes on the record, so be sure to come back and dive in again soon

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 14:

Phil Scala, according to every person with any objective view of him, is the most trustworthy voice on the subject. He is known as a man of complete integrity and is highly respected as an investigator. Perhaps most importantly in this story of chancers and cheats, Scala has no implicit bias.

He has zero dogs in the fight

Scala has an incredible resumé of fighting corruption that even includes playing a pivotal role in bringing down infamous Mafia head John Gotti. He has been the recipient of numerous commendations and awards for outstanding service, most notably the FBI's Shield of Bravery for leading the SWAT team in the 1993 Al Qaeda bomb-factory raid.

Phil Scala is a total badass

He interviewed a lot of people in the NBA over the course of his investigation and it would be fascinating to know if he thinks certain games and series in NBA history should have an asterisk after them denoting results affected by corruption and foul play. Two people who were more affected by those potential asterixes were:

Rasheed Wallace & Bonzi Wells. 

Interviewer - "After the Sacramento Lakers Western Conference Finals and after the Miami/Dallas 2006 Finals, what were the conversations like with you guys as players?"

Rasheed Wallace - "I mean, it wasn't about just havin' conversations. It was just sumthin' that was understood that didn't have to be explained. I mean we all saw it, I mean it’s plain as day. We were just waitin’ on somebody else to see it. Even when the thing came out about Donaghy with him being a cheat and this and that, I wasn't satisfied. Because, let the referees tell that they do all their homework. That they analyse every game, they critique these referees and that was my whole thing. I was almost like, the assassination of JFK, you know like this one guy you got a lone gunman you know and I didn’t approve a that theory. Sooo, I’m still waitin’ on them to give us the real and I’m lookin’ forward to Donaghy, you know what I’m saying, if he can, rattin’ out the rest a the guys so we can, so we know." 

INT - "The guy that Donaghy alleges was the real fixer for the NBA, and Rasheed you used the term ‘company man’ and this is the same term that he uses, is Dick Bavetta. Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, he refereed Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. Was he one of the company men?"

RW - "Well, yes. I feel like, in my opinion, again people, Dick Bavetta was a company man. But I think the thing that made him different, at least he‘ll talk to you. There’s goin’ be some fouls but, he’s not goin’ give you the, the ‘Stick it up your ass’ file or nuthin’ like that, you know what I mean? But he’s goin’ make his presence known in the game. The other guys, they won’t talk to you at all. They won’t say nuthin’ right. At least you can go to Dick like ‘Damn Dick! Shit, watch the elbow. I mean I know I reached my hand in there but…’ blah blah blah whatever the case may be. At least Dick’d hear you out. I mean, we knew how the game wuz gonna sway but those guys, they weren’t listenin’ at all. They was like ‘Look. I got this power for this next 2 hours, I’m the man’. A lot a them guys’ll just fuck you over and you know just push you on your way. At least Dick Bavetta’ll kiss you while he fuckin’ you know haha (laughing). I mean, stroke stroke you (…) but he goin’ fuck you regardless but at least he’ll do it in a finessed kinda way. You know them other guys’ll just, you know ‘Get your ass outta here, we fucking, you better not say nuthin’, you gonna leave early and lose money’. At least Dick’ll be like ‘Man it’s gonna be ok. I know I gave you a foul and a tech but it's ok. Just do better next time’"

Rasheed and Bonzi are pretty casual about the idea that the league’s best-known official, Dick Bavetta, one of the few referees to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was a company man. What’s even crazier is, they went on to name a handful of other referees they felt were even more company men than Bavetta! There are players who will talk on and off the record about the subject and are prepared to name names, but the NBA betting scandal was almost a decade-and-a-half ago and nobody really talks about it.

The NBA wanted to put the narrative out there that Donaghy was the only one

INT - "What do you say to people that think he was a rogue ref?"

RW - "I don’t think he was, in my opinion, but, course, they had to say that you know, they’re a billion-dollar company man. So, yeah they gonna, you know what I’m saying, he’s the only one, he’s the one that got caught. He’s the one that we have on tape, da da da da da da, so. The other guys who, as you said, were allegedly down with him, “quotes”, allegedly did it with him, they just totally fade to black…"

Rasheed Wallace

The reason why no other NBA referees have corroborated Donaghy’s allegations against the NBA are pretty simple. When referees retire, when they ‘fade to black’, they are often kept on the NBA payroll in some shape or form.

  • Monty McCutchen is the NBA’s vice president of NBA referee development and training

  • Joey Crawford is a referee performance director

  • Steve Javie became a rules analyst for ESPN

Keeping referees in supervisory positions, on TV, keeping them quiet forever isn’t coincidence.

It’s smart business 

Bonzi Wells - "With everything about that money, they had quite a few other scandals. I’m pretty sure they were involved with the whole airline ticket scam. I’m pretty sure these same referees probably somehow, some way were involved with that. And Donaghy, I’m not as mad as I was at Donaghy because he’s taken a lot of slack for this shit and I think he’s paid his debt to society. I just hate the fact that he’s the only person that they put on front street. I may be a fool but I ain’t no damned fool. There’s too much technology out there, they woulda caught that. His colleagues woulda caught that, they woulda ratted him out. You know what I’m saying, nobody said nuthin’. It was just like ‘Okay, here’s our guy, we’re gonna parade him in fronta everybody, he’s goin’ be our scapegoat. You know it’s almost like the magic trick, you know ‘Look over here’ but the trick is really goin’ on over here. So that’s basically what they did to us. They did some old Houdini-assed shit to us."

Bonzi Wells

The Houdini in the analogy was former NBA commissioner David Stern. One of the biggest things we need to grasp from Phil Scala, is how the FBI viewed Stern. Did the NBA leak the story? Was Donaghy the scapegoat? What other magic tricks, if any, did David Stern have up his sleeve? 

INT - "David Stern is a very controversial figure as far as the NBA goes. Obviously he helped make you guys a lotta money as professional basketball players, he brought the league up. Whadda you guys think about David Stern?"

BW - "Man, to be honest, I’ve only been around David Stern a few times. One of the real times I remember is the time when all the Trailblazers’ shit was just at the peak and I remember he came to our locker room. And I remember he just came in the locker room and he start talking just gettin’ on our ass a little bit. And I watched him talk to Paul Allen, the great Paul Allen the zillionaire. He was talkin’ to Paul Allen like he was a little boy you know ‘Get your team together, get your shit together’. He just come here and I was lookin’ at this little man like ‘Damn, he got that Napoleon shit too’. And I get you got all the power and all that typa but, you know, guys like us are from different worlds like. You can’t be talkin’ to us like that, like you know what I mean like, we‘ll kick your ass! Like that’s how we, you know, we look at it like that and when you look at a little 5’7” dude talkin’ slick and grimy and grizzly to you, you kinda’ just go tone deaf you know so I wasn’t really feelin’ David Stern my whole career. He was just a guy who’s name was on a basketball, he ran the league but he wasn’t a personable person to me. So, I just looked at him as a little Napoleon-type fuck and, you know what I’m sayin’, he got the power, he got the juice and he know it, he goin’ use it and I don’t really like dudes like that. Like I like humble guys I mean it’s ok to have power but don’t be tryna flex it on people and try to belittle people and I that’s the way I felt in the few chance times that I did meet him. But I could be totally wrong ‘cause I’ve heard some great things about him but that’s just what I seen."

RW - "In my opinion, when I was playing, it was someone who was abusing their power. You could tell. And I’m not just sayin’ this just to be saying it. You can look at it, he wasn’t a fan favourite. Why do you think that, when he goes to these games, he has more security than we do?!? You know what I’m sayin’ so, he’s not a fan favourite because of some o’ the things he do. Some o’ the things he says and then for me, I’m not, I guess I was never one to be a big fan o’ his because you already got guys proven guilty before you even hear anything. You comin’ with suspicions, you comin’ with fines before you even hear my side! And you always rollin’ wit the side o’ the referees. Which is supposed to be a whole separate company!" 

Bonzi Wells and Rasheed Wallace with interviewer

The idea of referees not being governed by the NBA isn’t a new one

Legendary former player/coach Phil Jackson coached the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. He probably benefitted from favourable refereeing as much as anyone, if not more. He said after the NBA betting scandal broke: 

Phil Jackson - “A lot of things have happened in the course of the Tim Donaghy disposition. I think we have to wait as it comes out and we all think that, probably referees should be under a separate entity than the NBA entirely. That’s what we’d like to see in the NBA” 

Phil Jackson
The interviewer asks Donaghy what questions he should ask Phil Scala

Interviewer - "I mean, do we want to ask him about what he thinks of the notion of ref-accountability? What he thinks about the way the NBA keeps refs on the payroll in supervisory positions forever and the way they engineered their system as to avoid any sort of scrutiny?"

Tim Donaghy - "You know, the referees in the NBA are just a necessary evil for the league. Like baseball, I’d say within 5 years you don’t see umpires any more. They’re done. They’re gonna use the strike zone, they’re gonna have somebody just on the field, look up at the monitor or relay somethin’ to the guy on the field that’s gonna make a call, but it’s all gonna be computerised. If the NBA could do that, they’d do it in a second."

The conversation moves on to how the NBA treated him after the scandal

TD - "They shouldn’ta treated me that way. We called up David Stern and said ‘Listen, let’s come together and talk and, so Tim can explain what he did, how he did it’ and they fucking said: “Fuck you”. And then took my pension like that, now I had 4 kids, you know I got lucky and recovered but, you know I could be fuckin’ homeless somewhere. If I didn’t have parents and good friends and they didn’t fucking care."

On the toll the job took on his colleagues

The names have been redacted for legal reasons but they are referees that officiated over some of the most important games in NBA history

TD - "Look, there were so many alcoholics and drug addicts on the staff, and they didn’t fucking care. And then (…) got caught in a crack house in Miami, so he finally went for rehab. They put (…) in rehab ‘cos he was fucking drinking and fucking, he’d have a bottle of Gatorade and vodka at the scores table. Smashed into a fucking toll-booth with me coming back from Milwaukee with (…) She told on him, then they made him go to rehab. But they don’t fucking care about anybody. I mean, he was drinking, literally, at halftime, he’d walk out with fucking vodka and Gatorade and have it at the scores table. And every timeout in the second half he’d fucking take a hit of it! Yeah. Then he finally, they made him go to rehab.

You know, I was in the back seat, (…) was in the front seat, he hit the fucking tollbooth - BOOM! She looked back at me and said “Ah, do something”. I said “You do something, you know. What the fuck’s he driving for? Why aren’t you driving?” But he wanted to fucking drive. I was in the car with (…), he almost fucking, he had a DUI. He was another one that was a bad drinker. (…) fucking alcoholic, (…) bad alcoholic, lotta bad alcoholics. (…) bad alcoholic. He was always a good dude but he’s an alcoholic. Loved the game but he’s an alcoholic. I went to a casino with (…) and I swear to god, not exaggerating, he had 25 Miller Lites. We left Seattle and drove to Vancouver He drank from the fucking, like I’m not a drinker so I drove. From the time we left at like lunchtime, ’til 3 in the morning, and got up the next day, looked like shit but refereed the fucking game. 25 fucking beers. (…) tells a story - he got all fucked up and didn’t know he had a fucking game at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Went to bed at like 4 o’clock in the morning. They woke him up outta the hotel, he says he fucking reffed drunk. He was drinkin’ chasin’ pussy.  But it was chasin’ to go out and, you know see if you got lucky. Every fucking night you were on the road. Every fuckin’ night. There was only one guy that didn’t cheat on his wife, that was (…) He was the only guy I know that didn’t cheat on his wife. Everybody else from the minute you got into your fucking car and went to the airport was fuckin’ chasin’ pussy. 27 days a month. Whaddya gonna do? Whaddya gonna do you know? And I was just so bored you know I just fucking got into the gambling. And that was my you know time, I worked out, I’d sit in my room and fucking look at the lines. And then me and (…) went into Harris one time, baseball hats and everything. And there was like 7 players and we were like ‘Oh fuck’ so we drove like an hour and a half down the highway to another casino just to gamble. That was one o’ the reasons why Scala liked me, because he realised that, although I did sumthin’ fuckin’ stupid, the atmosphere there was like a fucking circus…

Tim Donaghy and interviewer

It's finally time to meet the man who might be able to shed a wider beam of light onto this mess. Phil Scala next time. Don't miss it!

Part 15: Phil Scala

It’s time to meet Phil Scala

Phil Scala - "You know I’m kind of motivated only by duty to make sure that the right story is told because you know I really don’t have any motivation to be part of any bigger and better thing. You know this thing over here, if I can help you a little bit I’ll help you. It’s 12 years ago. 12 fucking years ago, are you fucking kidding me?"

Interviewer - "Well you know we talked about the investigation, you never got to do your job and so people are still interested…"

PS - "Yeah but you know what? We were ok with it because you know what? It, it, it gave them pause. It gave the NBA pause. It gave them pause to know that we suspect something was going on and Congress knew about it. It was national news. The nation knew about it. They were this close (holds fingers a short distance apart) to having their brand become like the WWF (World Wrestling Federation). And we knew it. And they knew it and they fought like hell. I could really give a shit. You know, we’re putting away murderers, drug people, and international cartels.  This was like, not a big deal to me so - could we have pushed forward? We weren’t interested. Could we have gone into the NCAA? Yeah. Could we have pressed some of the other refs? Yeah. Could we have tried to make the case against the front office of the NBA? Yeah but, the harm had been done. When they leaked in the New York Post, the front page with Murray Weiss. And Murray didn’t even know who it was but he was their puppet and they put a gag order on all the owners. And everybody we subpoenaed came in with a 900-dollar attorney. Had that not happened, and the agents put a wire on Tim, it woulda been a different story. 

INT - "What do you think would have happened if you guys were able to wire up Tim?"

PS - "Well, I mean listen. We listen to cooperators. We trust cooperators. But, you know once they lie to us it’s over. Outside of that critical philosophical difference we had with Tim when he says he never deliberately…and I said ‘in judgement calls you did’ - he admitted in judgement calls ‘yes’ but it was always that little divide. I wasn’t gonna do anything for him unless he acknowledged that his judgement was tainted. He came to that but he always went back and forth. But Tim is a flawed character as well. When we were evaluating and utilising him, he had lotta problems. But, he cooperated and we believe that what he said was the truth."

INT - "About the NBA?"

PS - "Yeah. But you know, you know what you’re going up against. You’re going up against a commissioner who was, like the number one commissioner in the United States. You’re going up against a brand and (…) that had big money and they were not going to allow this to basically morph into something that was going to diminish the brand and the credibility. Not gonna happen."

So the FBI believed what Donaghy said when he told them that, in order to increase TV ratings and boost figures, the NBA was prepared to manipulate games using the referees. That they had ‘company men’ referees who always acted in the interests of the NBA and did as they were told. Those refs rigged some of the biggest games in NBA history, the 2002 Western Conference Finals being the pre-eminent example.

If Scala believed what Donaghy was telling him about the NBA then he believed both of those things to be true. And if the FBI believed those things to be true, the NBA wasn’t close to becoming the WWF.

It was the WWF...

Scala is asked about his meeting with David Stern at the NBA. He puts on his reading glasses, reaches into his briefcase, and pulls out a notebook from 2007. 

PS - "You know I can’t you know, I wanted to give you a little, based on your questions, I have my archives is…it would take me half a month to go through it. But this is what basically stopped the undercover, stopped the Title 3 investigation. The date is important. The meeting took place, June 22nd, 2007 at the commissioner’s office. Then this broke, July 20th."

Phil Scala and interviewer

Scala has notes from his meeting with the NBA which took place on June 22nd, 2007. He also has a clipping in his notebook of Murray Weiss’ New York Post article. Published on July 20th, 2007. Between those dates, the NBA did something else that went almost completely unnoticed. 

PS - "So, we believe, we suspected he hoodwinked the major networks out of billions of dollars. And nobody ever did anything about it. Because it was the ‘Good old boy’ club. But how could the stockholders not do anything? He basically re-negotiated it much too early. This happened on June 27th when he pushed it forward. June 27th was 5 days after our meeting."

5 days after the FBI told David Stern the biggest scandal in the league’s history was coming their way...

...the NBA signed a 7.4 billion dollar TV rights deal

A year before the previous agreement was set to expire!

The NBA’s range of viewership had been in decline since 2002 but Stern still managed to procure a 20% increase over the previous TV rights pact.

Needless to say, they neglected to mention that the Donaghy scandal was about to break…

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Here’s what ESPN and Turner Sports had to say after the scandal erupted:

ESPN’s Vice President of Content, John Skipper:

“We believe the NBA acted in good faith. We don’t expect this to have a material impact on our agreement.”

John Skipper
Turner Sports’ Al Petrucci added:

“We weren’t made aware of this investigation prior to the renewing of the deal. We’ll continue to support the NBA”

Al Petrucci

But what could the networks really have said?

They had been lured into a brilliant trap by David Stern and they knew it

If they admitted that they hadn’t done their due diligence before agreeing to a multi-billion dollar deal they would look like buffoons. They only had one option, Smile politely. Keep paying the NBA and hope that Stern could right the ship…

Scala was shocked that the league would do something so blatantly unethical and that nobody did anything about it. 

Phil Scala - "It was huge and nobody got excited about it. SCC (State Corporation Commission) told me, he said “Phil, this is not right” - I’m like ‘Give it to the white-collar people’"

INT - "So the SCC didn’t contact you?"

PS - "No! I told my boss, I says ‘Go talk to them’ so, you know. We were part of the organised crime branch, it got crazy because once it started leaking out it was a frenzy. All the news reporters knocking on doors, these people understood. Stern’s people sent people to Congress. Congress wanted an enquiry. They wanted to enquire about it. He sent troves of people to Congress to basically calm it down. Calm it down he did."

After the NBA betting scandal broke, Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois sent a letter to David Stern saying he was monitoring the situation and considering holding a hearing. Stern, in response, sent lobbyists to Washington and no enquiry ever took place. 

So, according to Scala, Stern was informed of the impending scandal, signed a TV deal 5 days later, leaked the story to the Washington Post the following month to kill the investigation, and then sent an army of people to Washington to prevent any further action or enquiries.

2007 was quite the eventful summer for the former commissioner 

PS - "I heard he sent people to Washington, to calm it down. Lobbyists, whatever they do. That’s how that happened. We looked at his stories, the, you know (reading from his notebook) Dick Bavetta, Joey Crawford, Mark Wunderlich, other people. We had three areas of associates who were meeting owners and players. There was a list of people who did that. People who violated the code, the NBA code, were going to casinos and gambling. And people who were actually betting on sports like he was. People in the NBA, refs betting on sports when that was prohibited. And then we interviewed all the NBA observers, the people that Stern had out there and they says ‘We never threw a game. We never threw a game. We watch. We do this, we did that.’ I didn’t believe a word they were saying. ‘Cause they were biased. They weren’t independent." 

An observer’s job is to watch a game and grade a referee's performance. Because observers were employed by the NBA, Scala questioned whether they could do their job without bias. He didn’t know if any other referees besides Donaghy were betting on basketball but the fact some of them were betting on other sports seemed to indicate Donaghy was just a small part of the problem…

And the fact that observers were receiving a pay-check from the NBA meant they were motivated to disregard anything suspect

Only observing things that denoted a clean, fair game. 

Phil Scala - "We did a profile of Tim Donaghy. His father was a college ref. Stories about his wife. Cardinal High School. The incident he had with Rasheed Wallace. A number of different things you know he was not a good person in these things. And then his relationship with uh, Tommy Martino. I interviewed Martino. Nice kid. And then we were involved with, you know, Stern got Pedowitz involved and he had retired assistant US attorneys who worked on that case. Real 900-dollar guys, high-priced attorneys. Every time we did an interview they were there and uh, you know Pedowitz kinda acknowledged some of the things we had about gambling you know, smoking marijuana and this and that and they changed some of the rules. But they stayed away from the bigger thing…Because they were a connection between the front office and the supervisors and people that basically put their thumb on the scale to make sure that the Championship games were going to be in areas that were (rendered?) high advertising revenues."

Stern’s cunning saved the league and saved his integrity.

He would stop at nothing to protect the brand

Including trying to manipulate Scala. Stern knew Scala was approaching the FBI’s mandatory retirement age and wouldn’t want to stop working. The best way to silence someone that could hurt the NBA brand? Put them on the payroll…

Interviewer - "Did he openly, or subtly enquire as to whether you might be interested in working with the NBA?"

Phil Scala - "Well, yeah, yeah. I’ve told that to people. Lemme see if I have… (flipping through notes) At the meeting, at that meeting was myself, Kevin Hallerman who was acting ASAC (Assistant Special Agent in Charge) and would have been one level above me. Good guy. Paul Harris was the FBI case agent who worked with me and at the meeting was David Stern, Adam Silver, Joel Litvin, who was president, and Bernie Tolbert" (ex-FBI, VP of security for David Stern)

Interviewer and Phil Scala

The only reason the FBI even went to meet with the NBA was out of respect for Bernie Tolbert who once headed up the Bureau’s Buffalo office. Stern ripped his VP of security ‘a new asshole’ but if Bernie Tolbert didn’t spend 20 years in the FBI, the NBA wouldn’t have found out about the scandal early and this whole story would likely have played out in a far less satisfying way for Stern and the league.

PS - "And so, at that meeting, before we went up Tolbert led us downstairs and he said, ‘This guy ripped me a new asshole, he says he wanted to know, I got all these checks in Vegas, what do I have you for? I gotta have the FBI come knocking? How come you don’t know what the fuck is going on?’ He was telling us the brief and I said. I said, ‘Listen to me, we don’t have to do this. And when I go up there I’m gonna tell him that  we’re here because of you. If it wasn’t for the fact that you’re a retired ASAC from Buffalo we wouldn’t even fuckin’ be here, so…you know, don’t try and quench those vibes.’ But I could see that the guy was upset. We went up there. We gotta wait a little outside of his office. You know it was all choreographed." 

Scala's highly-detailed account of what took place in the meeting sadly has to remain off the record. But it is safe to say it wasn’t just the basketball games that were choreographed.

Every detail of the meeting was staged.

Interviewer - "You’ve made a career off of reading people, what was your read of Stern in that meeting?" 

Phil Scala - "He’s good. You know he came across as professional. He came across as a powerful man. Didn’t make us feel uncomfortable.Wanted us to basically believe that, whatever we wanted, no matter what. Records, books, interviews, he was going to do that. He was going to cooperate 100%. What we didn’t know is that the leak would come out to stop it and that he put a gag on it. ‘Cause, there were some owners wanted to talk to us, he put a gag on everybody. Gag order so all the owners couldn’t talk."

INT - "Have you ever spoken with Mark Cuban about it? He was, in my opinion, the most outspoken."

PS - "Yeah, no, he was somebody who was, you know, we heard, open. Didn’t go anywhere. We spoke to people who worked with him. Listen, if they cooperated and this thing got bigger they’d all lose money. ‘Cause they went from credibility in professional sports down to…wrestling. And a lotta people lost interest in the game I mean it’s more like the Harlem Globetrotters than it is, you know the way it should be."

Scala offered to testify on Donaghy’s behalf during the trial but made it clear their relationship was strictly professional. 

PS - (Speaking about Donaghy) "First of all, don’t call me your fucking friend. I’m not your fucking friend. (Laughing) I’m really not your friend. You know, I stood by this guy when everybody wanted to throw him under the bus.I stood by…Eastern District wanted to throw him under the bus, I stood by the guy. They were gonna subpoena me ‘cos they were gonna, John Lauro wanted me to testify about his credibility, and I was gonna stand. I will stand by a cooperator so long as he doesn’t lie to me. Listen, I was with Sammy Guevara who killed 19 people until he got caught. And then we say ‘Enough is enough’. So what am I gonna do? You know the FBI is about getting reliable information and when people put their reputations and lives at stake, the FBI has always stood by these people. Until they lie to us. Or betray us. And I felt, well, our relationship was, before he went to jail, I don’t think he ever lied to us. 

(When asked about one of the government attorneys working on the case) (…) prosecutor. He was involved with Tim Donaghy. They wanted this thing stopped and they wanted it stopped quick. I didn’t like hearing that. 

Who wanted it stopped? A handful of the country’s most powerful lawyers. What Scala says next has to have the names redacted again but it is crucial to the bigger picture. He suggests the cover-up didn’t end at the NBA.

That it went right up into the highest reaches of government... 

PS - "(…) was best friends with (…) who was The Southern District assistant that was working with Pedowitz. He was not supportive of this case going forward and the other guy (…) They’re the ones who didn’t wanna see me testify for Tim…"

INT - "Because you had credibility?"

PS - "They didn’t want it. And I said I would. I don’t know what happened with that. I was working with John Lauro on it, I wasn’t looking for anything it was just, I felt that the government was begin excessively hard on this guy. I know what the government does with cooperators, they like to cooperate, they give ‘em a fucking break. They didn’t give this guy a break. I said ‘This guy never lied to me so why are you doing this?’ I don’t wanna suppose what was going on but, uh, there were these questions. I mean, John and I discussed it. I think that John knew that I put my reputation at risk by going against those guys at the end. But I was gonna do what I thought was right. But ah, you know listen, he’s an excellent litigator. I just had questions about why was this handled poorly? That’s politics…"

Phil Scala and interviewer

It was never about basketball

It was always about money and power, and powerful people making problems disappear. 

Come back soon as this tale winds towards some kind of conclusion, albeit a rather unsatisfactory one...

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 16: Jimmy 'Baba" Battista

Jimmy Battista likes to talk but he’s been burned too many times and is cautious and guarded in what he will say, certainly on the record.

Jimmy Battista - “I already knew in my mind that Donaghy was a degenerate bettor and couldn’t fucking win. The only games he could win was the games that he had the whistle in his mouth. And that was the games that he was officiating, which he was pretty damned good. No one better on the face of the Earth that I ever seen. I was betting on Scott Foster’s games. He went 1 and 6! But he sucked. Listen to me, I never orchestrated a deal with Scott. I never met him personally. But through Tommy, through Timmy…Timmy could control the fouls. He knew what the line was. He even knew the tempo of the game. My guys that I’d be working with like ‘What the fuck’s goin’ on?’ We went from fucking, clear picking ’til it was like, we was getting greedy, trying to get more games we figured we had another NBA referee working with us.”

Jimmy Baba Battista

Battista is referring to the games that Donaghy gave them to bet on that were not his own.

Martino swears that there were 5 Scott Foster games and that they were all losers.

He intimates that they were intended to be deliberately losing games in order to ‘Throw off Vegas” 

The group were 40-2 in terms of the games they bet on and won. Foster’s games put them at 40-7. That means that 95% of his own games that Donaghy gave the group to bet on, were winners.

Foster and Donaghy talked on the phone 134 times during the 5 months of the scandal

Donaghy insists that there was nothing amiss, and that it was just part of their ritual before games. But Battista is saying that Donaghy gave them 7 games and that they went 1-6 against the spread.

JB - “The fact that he is fucking still in the NBA, that’s another evidence of the cover-up of the NBA. Cause, they had his phone records. We had his fuckin’ phone records!” 

Interviewer - “So, did Donaghy tell you that Scott foster was a part of it?”

JB - “Oh yeah, he did, he did. If you take The 2006/2007 season you have his fuckin’ phone records and you see that he called every game that he worked they were matched with the schedule prior to the game and after the game. And a few times, during halftime.” 

Jimmy Battista and interviewer

Tim Donaghy has been open in saying that Scott Foster was a part of his scheme but the question remains - did Scott Foster know that he was part of Donaghy’s master plan? Did Foster have any idea that Donaghy was betting on his games? Did Foster do anything on the court to aid those bets? Now, the best person to answer questions like that is, of course, Scott Foster. The NBA wrote back to say that Foster:

‘…respectfully declined to participate.’ 

And that:

‘The situation with Mr. Donaghy concluded over a decade ago. Scott had to deal with a lot of unfair treatment at that time (and since) and it’s not something he chooses to revisit. Like all of us, he has moved forward.’

NBA official response
But when it comes to Scott Foster, the past is still the present as he continues to referee NBA games. 

Battista and Martino aren’t sure about the exact number of games, but they’re sure that Foster’s games were all or almost all losers. And that Donaghy provided Foster’s games to Battista in order to “…throw off Vegas”.

Now, it might seem obvious, but maybe not. What exactly does that mean?

Well, Donaghy and Martin began to notice around January that the betting lines on Donaghy’s games were fluctuating wildly. Odds-makers are pretty shrewd and observant. They don’t miss many tricks. When they put a betting line out, even if sophisticated, professional bettors moving big money bet one side of the line aggressively, the line still only tends to move a couple of points at most.

Because Battista and his crew were putting so much money on Donaghy’s games, millions upon, millions of dollars per game. The betting lines on Donaghy’s games would often move by 4 points, 5 points, or 6 points. Sometimes more. Afraid that the NBA or betting regulators might see that line movement, and start asking questions, Donaghy wanted Battista to put millions on Foster’s games and create chaos in the market. Donaghy wanted to give regulators, the league, or anyone paying attention, something else to look at. He wanted to distract them.

He wanted to throw them off his scent. 

Image Courtesy of Alamy

After not talking for a number of years, Martino and Battista have recently started talking and become friendly again. Battista belonged to a group that called themselves ‘The Animals’ and that’s where he earned his nickname ‘the Sheep’ 

Jimmy Battista - “Bad choice. I made a good living just doing what I was doing. Just book-end betting and movin’ money and I just, ah, you know. It was a bad decision. I look back ‘cause of the people that got involved (indicates Martino), that got hurt from it. His family, him. Kids, my kids. My parents. If they were in the game and tryna make money off it, you knew what you were doing (…) That’s a risk you were takin’. And everybody wanted to make money. I didn’t need to get into bed with Timmy (Donaghy). Here I am working with the best handicappers in the world. I got the Chinamen. I got the Greek. I got the computer. I got the Curtis brothers. I can make a million a year like nothin’ just movin’ money. I never graduated college, I quit college. I was a waiter, I was a bartender, I was a busboy, and now I’m (…) all of a sudden, I can make 50 grand a fuckin’ week. Are you kidding me? Moving money. Like nothing. I didn’t need Timmy.” (Gets emotional, waitress with the world’s worst-timing interrupts) 

Interviewer (to Martino) - “Have you seen him cry when talking ago the scandal before?”

Tommy Martino - “No. It’s been hard for everybody. And I know like, we rebounded from it. Some of us not as good as others. And I had to look away because I get choked up too. I don’t know what he’s holdin’ back…”

Jimmy Battista, Tommy Martino, and interviewer

Prior to getting involved with Donaghy, Battista spent three decades in the sports betting world. 

JB - “I would say that, over the past 30 years, there has been rogue officials between NBA, collegiate, 25 to 30 people.” 

INT - “25 to 30 referees?"

JB - “Yes, have messed around.” 

He clarified that those 25 to 30 referees included all sports, not just basketball. But 25 to 30 across all pro and college sports, basketball, baseball, and football is a lot of referees. Who are they? What does Battista mean when he says ‘messed around’?

How many games were compromised? 

Interviewer - “Did Donaghy become aware that too much money was moving in these games? Did Jimmy or you ever alert Tim? ‘Cos this goes back to Scott Foster right, where he was tryna throw off Vegas with Scott’s games?”

Tommy Martino - “Yeah, he didn’t know"

Jimmy Battista - “He was winning in the high 70s, right? 77.7, which is pretty fuckin’ damned good”

INT - “But that includes Foster’s games?”

JB - “Yes” 

TM - “He knew that it would raise a flag eventually. But at that time, he didn’t know, because he intentionally told me ‘I’m givin’ Baba Scott Foster’s games because I want Foster’s games to move like mine are so when they get on the list to see all the games that moved, it’s not just Donaghy’s, it’s Donaghy’s and Foster’s. And that’s when I went to you (indicating Battista) after he lost 5 of Foster’s games and I said ‘He’s got another Foster game’ he was ‘Give Baba this Foster game’ Phew. They don’t fuckin’ want it.” 

JB - “And now the people I’m working with, they don’t want it. They were mad. They’re furious. Now they’re fuckin’ mad. Because, and then, we’re watchin’ the game and Scott’s callin’ it…”

INT - “Foster went 1 and 6”

JB - “Right, that’s correct. Listen, I looked at the game. I watched every game. I watch every game that we bet. I had to because I was more concerned about the calls they…Timmy made some calls that were just unbelievable…

The games weren’t close

When Donaghy placed a bet with other partners, like Jack Concannon, he was just like any other bettor. If he won, he won. If he lost, he lost.

But that wasn’t the case with Battista

What made the Battista deal unique was that Battista allowed Donaghy to bet risk-free. With Battista, Donaghy didn’t have to pay a dime if his pick turned out to be a loser.

So, was Donaghy intentionally giving Battista the losing side of Foster’s games?

He could accomplish his goal of throwing off Vegas and then give the winning side of Foster’s games to Jack Concannon and his other betting partners to still make money off those games. But Battista insists he was in close contact with Concannon’s bookmaker during this time, Pete ‘Rhino’ Ruggieri. And that Donaghy and Concannon were betting the wrong side of Foster’s games with him as well…

Interviewer - “So, if he’s losing, was he making calls that favoured the other team? Do you remember that? Did you have a gut feeling?” 

Jimmy Battista - “Did I ever pay Scott Foster? No. Do I think that Timmy made a deal with him and that if he wanted to go run with it now that he was just doing it for…no fucking way. ‘Cause he was too much of a greedy fuck. If he wasn’t a greedy fuck, then I would say ‘yes’. But he was a greedy fuck, it was all about money. So if he threw away close to 30 thousand on getting paid out, no fucking way in the world because he was always concerned about making more money. So he’s throwing away 30 thousand? No fucking way.” 

INT - “So, why is he concerned about throwing off Vegas? You knew these were Scott Foster’s games at the time. (To Tommy) You’re 100% sure that he told you he was trying to throw off Vegas?” 

Tommy Martino - “100%. And we laughed about it.” 

JB - “But he also laughed about me sending the Gambino’s down to whack Kim and his kids! So, one lie doesn’t answer for another lie, ‘cos he was bullshitting about that to cover his fuckin’ ass. So he’s gonna cover his ass that he was really working with Scott."

TM - “Apples and oranges”

JB - “Nah, ain’t no apples and oranges, we’re talkin’ about a lotta fuckin’ money here. And what he did, he pissed off a lotta people. He was gettin’ fuckin’ paid no matter what. So, if he didn’t fucking, if the phone records don't fucking lie. And I saw the phone records like, what the fuck? He, so he’s picking 54 games and he talks to Scott pre and after first fucking call. And 3 games at halftime?”

INT - “Why is he calling Scott right after the game?”

TM - “He would call me when he was in bed and say ‘Good boy’ ‘cos he won. So, why was the phone call to Scott Foster before me? I don’t know, I’m not a mind-reader but I was there several times in the room with him in Arizona and Toronto where I would see him on the phone with Scott foster. And he’d walk into the other room. He’d start the conversation in fronta me and then walk into the other room. I don’t remember if he walked into the other room so I wouldn’t hear you know?”

That is incredibly suspicious

What is he talking about with his ‘other’ best friend that he doesn’t want his best friend to hear? 

Foster has never had to speak publicly about his relationship with Tim Donaghy. He has never had to defend himself. Instead, his defence came from his employer…

The Pedowitz report, commissioned by the NBA in the aftermath of the scandal, devotes 6 pages to the Foster-Donaghy relationship. In the end, Pedowitz concludes that the relationship was ‘innocent in nature’. 

The Pedowitz report states:

Scott Foster.

Several factors lead us to conclude that Foster was not involved in Donaghy’s misconduct. And that there are innocent explanations for the calls made in the phone records. 

1st: No information suggests that the government has ever believed that Foster engaged in any improper conduct with Donaghy. The government, at no time, has indicated in their questions to the NBA or requests for documents, that Foster has been under any suspicion whatsoever. The government contacted Foster only once during its investigation when the FBI interviewed him in August 2007. During this interview, which the FBI conducted by phone rather than in person, the FBI asked Foster about his relationship with Donaghy. Foster explained his long-term friendship with Donaghy and told the FBI that they spoke almost every day during the season. It seems that the purpose of this interview was simply to confirm that Donaghy had accurately described his relationship with his friend Foster. 

2nd: Although Donaghy’s attorneys submitted letters to the court in June 2008, alleging misconduct by referees, those submissions contained no suggestion that Foster was involved in any improper conduct. Or that any referee, other than Donaghy was involved in betting on NBA games. This point is worth emphasising. 

Pedowitz offered 8 factors in total that led him to conclude that the relationship between Tim Donaghy and Scott Foster was innocuous. 

Interviewer - “But, if it’s innocuous talk right…they had the most insane rationale for why they wanted to ref games a certain way. In a way that affected the outcome and fucked one team over. They had vendettas and those were acted out over the course of 48 minutes. So, according to Tim, those calls with Scott, he was just trying to figure out, you know ‘Hey Scott, you don't like…’ Which, but the way, Tim already knew that information. Tim knew if Foster didn’t like this player on the Nuggets or didn’t like Shaq. So Tim’s claims are kind of, even more unbelievable.” 

Tommy Martino - "Why would Timmy protect Foster? Somebody gimme that answer now.

Jimmy Battista - “Because he already made a deal with the NBA and the FBI.” 

The FBI never looked closely into Foster or any of the other suspicious numbers that popped up again and again on Donaghy’s phone records. 

JB - “We called with Tommy’s lawyer and I had another person call to find out who they were. When I found out it was Scott Foster - ‘Ooh that’s convenient’”

INT - “And you saw that number over and…”

JB - “Over and over again. Transmitting information”

INT - “So you made all these calls and deduced that 7 or 8 people Tim’s betting with. And that’s not public. According to Tim Donaghy, Battista pressured him to bet…”JB - “No. According to Timmy, I forced him to bet. He said on 60 Minutes and whatever it was, I forced him to bet or I was gonna send the Gambinos down to fucking whack his wife and his kids. That’s what Timmy said! I was forced. I had no other choice what to do.” 

INT - “And, you contend that’s not true?

JB - “Tommy, you answer that question. Did I ever threaten him?” 

TM - “I never saw you threaten him"

INT - “So what is Tim’s prerogative in protecting Foster? He can’t let anybody know that he was betting with 7 or 8 other guys. That’s more money that’s coming into his pocket that he has to account for. That, if Foster was involved and there was any sort of monetary relationship between the 2, that not only makes Tim look way worse, it’s more money he has to account for.” 

JB - “It says ‘Holy shit, besides me running my operation, Timmy’s got his own companies. I’m getting g a few thousand from Baba on the games. They’re paying me and if I don’t win I’m getting paid no matter what. But I know my games are good and I’m betting somewhere else too.’ He is a greedy motherfucker and he only cared about money. If he didn’t care about money like he did, then I would say ‘Alright, you know what, maybe it (…) but he’s the greediest motherfucker I ever met in my life. He only cared about money. Tom? You wanna answer that or you know?”

TM - (laughing) “Well, he’ll tell you he is…”

JB - “No. I didn’t say what he said he is. I’m asking your personal assessment. Like you can, someone can say to you ‘Do you think Baba had a drug problem?’ ‘Yes, he did’. Do you think Timmy is greedy motherfucker?”

TM - “Can you reword that?” (all laughing) 

INT - “Don’t make Tommy answer that Jimmy!”

TM - “We’re all greedy Jim, we were all greedy…”

JB - “No, I didn’t ask…the question was ‘Is Tim Donaghy a greedy motherfucker?’ Yes or no?”

TM - “I don’t like these curse words Jim, I’m…tomorrow is Sunday…”

JB - "No, tomorrow is Wednesday”

TM - “I disagree”

JB - “We’ll leave it at that”

INT - “The record will show that Tommy Martino still believes, as the only one that heard him talk to Scott Foster, knows Donaghy better than anybody, thinks that the relationship was innocuous and he would have told him. Tim’s gonna be really mad that we’re sitting here having this conversation without him being here and able to defend himself…”

JB - “But he’s gonna be mad no matter what. His story is the same. From the day one. And the only thing I was gonna say is that people forget. Once you make a deal with the government, ok, you gotta stick to it."

TM - “‘Cause they’ll call you a liar if you change it”

JB - “Right”

TM - “They won’t believe a word you say, and that happened to Timmy. That’s why he didn’t get the deal and he went to jail. I know he coulda done a shit-more time but…”

JB - “But that’s a great cover-up for him because when the focus or the attention’s on you for doing something wrong, what do you do? You attack your employer. You go after them. You go after them and you know, then he looks at everyone that he hates in the company, that gave him a hard time for what he was. That’s natural. So, to me, in that he’s attacking David Stern, he’s attacking these fellow referees. He’s attacking all the wrong he did to cover up for what we did. And that makes a lot more sense to me.”

Donaghy got caught because the scheme got out of hand and grew too big. But Battista talks about 25 to 30 refs that he worked with across all kinds of professional and collegiate sports.

How many of them are still out there affecting the results of games unfairly for their own personal gain?

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Part 17: The end?

It seemed fairly obvious Tim Donaghy would be displeased with certain aspects of the interviews we have transcribed here, so the interviewer approached Tommy Martino to gauge Tim’s thoughts on the results.

Tommy Martino

Tommy Martino - "He, ah, I think he’s a little pissed off. We knew that was comin’ though right? He likes the fact that it’s comin’ out about the NBA. And the thing is that, I knew this other shit was going on because Timmy told me and I believed it. But ah, I didn’t know to that extent and that it was that organised you know? You know what I mean? It’s fucked up. And the thing that pisses me off is that ah, I know for a fact that nobody was doin’ what we were doin’ but they were doin’ it at a different level. And we had one referee and they have all of ‘em. So after I got outta jail, went to jail you know I thought I deserved it. I fucked up. But after listening to your podcasts, I’m thinking ‘Holy shit. I was like a little bit of a scapegoat here.’ You know the NBA was just as bad as I was. If not worse. 

There’s a lotta stuff that I didn’t know about. You know, went far beyond my reach ah, like I didn’t know about the airline thing with the referees and shit. That’s ah, pretty revealing. I mean, holy shit. Like look at the NBA, gets away with all that shit man. That was amazing about all the refs…of course I’m sure that, he said only one didn’t cheat on their wife…"

Interviewer - "Do you know who it was?"

TM - "Yeah it was that (…) guy. So I know all the other guys that he was bleeping out and I know them all so if their wives were listening they’re gonna be (laughing) pissed off."

INT - "So what’s our game plan? How are we getting Tim Donaghy to talk to us again?" 

TM - "Me. I’ll get him on. I’ll talk to him tonight. I’m gonna say ‘I’m gonna do it Tim. I want you to do it with me.’ You guys have been good to me so, you’re my friend. So I’m gonna help you out."

Tommy Martino and interviewer

Image Courtesy of Alamy

In a somewhat surreal twist, Tim Donaghy emerged from the shadows back into the limelight and agreed to appear as a referee for major league wrestling! 

Donaghy told Sports Illustrated magazine:

Tim Donaghy - "Pro-wrestling is entertainment and I always joked the NBA was a form of entertainment and I compared it a little bit to pro wrestling behind the scenes.

When I was growing up I always enjoyed pro wrestling. Guys like Hulk Hogan and Ivan Putski. I thought it would be fun to get involved and if there’s a good response, who knows where it can go from here? I’m willing to do whatever I can to make the show entertaining and fun for everyone watching and I’m excited to be a part of it."

Tim Donaghy

Everything comes full circle…

As we reach this final episode in one of the most sordid, deep-running sagas in American sports history, something becomes abundantly clear:

Donaghy was not the problem

He never was.

He was an almost inevitable product of the system that created and nurtured him. It only took a certain weakness of character to drive a man who had the means, motive, and lack of moral fibre to realise there might be a little something in it for himself. Or rather a lot of something. He had effectively been told to manipulate certain games in order to further the ambitions and financial needs of the NBA by the league itself. Clearly, they had no issue with affecting the outcomes of games and using power to their advantage...

He was groomed by the entity that sustained him to believe his actions were perfectly acceptable

Sure, we'll have to bend the rules a little bit, but the league is fine with that. We do it every time we take to the court.

Mix that in with a proclivity to gamble to excess and the hedonistic, possibly narcissistic attitude of a guy living a rock and roll lifestyle on the road and you have a recipe for certain disaster. And that's before you even throw the attention of mobsters and other undesirables into the mix. Donaghy comes across as a somewhat arrogant, less-than-intellectual dufus who failed to understand the situation he was getting himself into and ended up way over his head.

What about the league? What did they learn from the scandal?

Under the stewardship of Commissioner Adam Silver, most NBA fans would probably agree that things feel different. But one person who does not share that sentiment is Tim Donaghy’s attorney:

John Lauro

John Lauro - "Well, one of the biggest things for me is kind of looking at this story, not just in a historical perspective, but also, what lessons we’ve learned. What kind of long-term takeaways do we get from it because, doing criminal work for the last 40 years, one thing that is so apparent to me is, these scandals repeat themselves. Time and time again. And the characters may change, the personalities may be a little bit different, the circumstances are always there. And one of the things that I’ve been struck by is, you know looking at the NBA now as an institution and what it represents and what’s happening in the current environment. And what I see is an organisation that’s run by pure greed. That only cares about money and profits. Doesn’t really care about its fan base. And that, I think, can set the scene or set the stage for something like this to happen in the future. Because there’s such a focus on profit.

You look at how the NBA really deals with some issues, whether China or other issues. And it’s an organisation that is, in my judgement, essentially amoral. And it cannot regulate itself. It’s simply focused on making money at all costs. And when you look at that, in terms of what’s happening with gambling right now, gambling has become like a marketplace. It’s an international market that has enormous amounts of money available to it and people are gambling, not just in the United States but around the world. And they’re gambling on NBA games currently. And then the question is, is it a transparent system? Is it a system that people can see play out fairly? Or, is it a system that’s really hidden behind a lot of layers? Of, you know, a lack of transparency. When you look at the circumstances of how much discretion referees have, And how much the rules really allow for the manipulation of games. Whether it’s by the league or by a referee. I think all the circumstances that led to this scandal are still present. And no one has really addressed that going forwards.

What’s going to happen in the future? Is the NBA capable of righting itself? Is the NBA capable of self-regulating? Does it have the ability to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again? Or as a matter of corporate preference, is it still engaging in the kind of conduct that Tim suggested it is? I mean, that’s an open question that needs to be looked at. And right now, the NBA is still chugging along in a very profitable way, but is anybody taking a look at what is happening right now? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. One of the things that Stern did, and I think they still do is that he really has had, and I think the league does, strong political ties. Very very strong political ties. So when this issue developed in 2007 and 2008 there was, at least initially, a call for congressional hearings. That got shot down so quickly. I mean, that didn’t even have a chance to get out of committee. So no government regulatory body took a look at what was happening. Which is quite shocking

One thing that you’ll notice, in all big organisations in this country. All powerful organisations in this country is that they recruit heavily from the department of justice. Either directly or indirectly through the major law firms that represent them. And that, that may be the biggest area of concern of all time. And again, you know from our standpoint, even the most powerful law enforcement agency in the United States didn’t take a complete look at it. So what does that tell you? There are powerful forces out there, in my judgement, that don’t want the NBA to be regulated. Under any circumstances. And certainly the league doesn’t either. So the question is, who’s gonna look after the game to ensure that it’s being played fairly? And at this point, no one is. And, look how many people in the public are affected by paying hundreds of thousands, millions, billions of dollars to see a fair sporting event. And are they getting that? Are they getting their money’s worth? Or are they getting something else? That’s what we need to know. And then the other question, does anybody really care? You know, maybe the public is fine with the NBA as, sort of professional wrestling." 

John Lauro

We'll leave the final words to someone suitably qualified to comment:

Professor of media studies and urban education, Marc Lamont Hill

Marc Lamont Hill - "Referees are supposed to be above the fray. They’re supposed to be outside of the game. They’re supposed to be people who simply enforce the rules, impose the rules, play by the rules. And they draw their money simply by doing their job effectively and objectively. In reality, referees are like everyone else. They’re human. Referees have egos, they have habits, they have vices. They make mistakes. Some of them are natural, human mistakes, some of them are character issues. And what we’ve seen in the last decade with the rise, at least in the case of Donaghy, but others as well I’m sure who have succumbed to the temptations of the world that shaped their decision-making on the floor and it’s undermined the legitimacy, to some extent, of the game itself. Of the sport itself.

There’s a mantra in sports that we should never be talking about the referee after the game. We should never know the referee’s name in the middle of a game right? We shouldn’t be like ‘Oh my god, John Smith over there made another charging call. He always does that’ If we have the referee in mind it’s because the referee is a problem. The referee is supposed to be non-existent. When we look at the corruption scandals in the NBA, what we’ve seen is that referees have made themselves known. And they’ve made themselves known, to our detriment, by not following the rules.

If the principle of society is that police are the ones that keep us safe and impose order and justice and police are corrupt and police don’t follow the rules then everything in society goes out of whack. Who can we trust? And similarly, if in sport The referees aren’t honest, if the referees don’t play by the rules, if the referees aren’t fair, then how can we trust the sport? How can we make sure that the best team won? How can we invest, how can we bet? How can we put our hearts on the line? It doesn’t work if the referees don’t play right. 

If you look even outside of sport today, what people are fighting for is justice. When I advocate for justice I often use sports as the metaphor. I say we want a world where the playing field ls level. The goals are clear, the rules are public and the referees are honest. And the idea is that sport represents the perfect space, the ideal space for human achievement to be fairly measured. The idea is that sports is the place where the best person wins. Because everybody’s playing by the rules. And who enforces the rules? In society, it’s supposed to be the state. That means the courts, the judges, the lawyers and, of course, on the street, the argument is that the police are supposed to impose the rules, enforce the rules. Oversee daily life. The police are the ones who are supposed to make sure that everything is ok. That’s the idea they tell us. And in sport, it’s the referees! The referees are supposed to be the ones who tell us what’s right and wrong. They’re the ones who are supposed to be the arbiters of good and bad. They’re the ones who are supposed to make sure that the best person wins, that fairness prevails and talent prevails. The idea is that the referee should never be in the way.

You know, when we talk about bad police, people are quick to throw up the idea that it’s just a few bad apples. Because the idea of the bad apple allows us to blame individuals and not systems. We can believe that, as long as we can pick out those bad apples, we can save the barrel. The barrel’s not the problem, the barrel being society. The barrel being the system. Well, it’s the same thing in the NBA. If we say ‘oh, there’s a rogue referee here. There’s a bad actor there, We can just toss them out and the system works’, that lets us off the hook. It lets the league off the hook. It lets the system off the hook. But if we were to ask more fundamental questions about the role that these arbiters play in society we might get somewhere deeper. Somewhere harder to wrestle with but somewhere better.

And with the police, if we ask the question, what role do we want police to play in society? What are the reasons that make certain people get arrested, certain people get beaten, certain people get overcharged? How does this happen? What gets us there? Getting at that thing might help us fix the problem and realise that the problem is the barrel itself not a particular apple in it. Similarly, in the NBA, we have to ask ourselves not just ‘why did this ref make a bad choice?’ We have to ask ourselves, what are the systems and structures in place that make it easy to make a bad choice? That incentivise the bad choice. And that help people hide the bad choice. Until we get at that we’re going to continue to have these kinds of controversies and scandals in sports."

Marc Lamont Hill

Thanks for joining us on this epic, twisted journey. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did writing it and that it does not spoil your enjoyment of the greatest sport on Earth.

Look after yourselves and each other

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Here at The Jump Hub, we love to make mistakes and talk nonsense at times.

Hit us up and give us your views

Follow Andrew D on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewDNBA

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Enjoy this article?

Join our newsletter for more NBA news and betting tips!
The Jump Hub

NBA news, opinions, analysis, tips and stats