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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Other Shoe Set to Drop in Donaghy Case

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, "Disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy and two Delaware County men who have been linked to him in a gambling probe are expected to turn themselves in Wednesday morning at federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y." Donaghy is expected to plead guilty to betting on NBA games that he officiated; he may also admit to other related charges. The Daily News reports that the other two men are James "Baa Baa" Battista and Tommy Martino. Donaghy, Battista and Martino all attended the same high school in the early 1980s. Battista and five other people were prosecuted in 1998 for criminal conspiracy and bookmaking.

This is the moment of truth for the NBA--or at least it is the beginning of the moment of truth, since the likelihood is that the "moment" will be dragged out over a period of time. Once Donaghy officially enters his plea more information will come out regarding what exactly he did and how he managed to evade detection by the NBA; after all, published reports indicate that his misconduct was discovered by the FBI as a result of wire taps that they used to investigate the Gambino crime family--it does not appear that the NBA had any idea that Donagy was doing something wrong when he officiated games. All of the gory details will not be revealed at once but at a minimum we will start to get at least a rough outline of what specifically Donaghy did. It will be interesting to see how the NBA reacts to these developments, both from a public relations standpoint and from the standpoint of taking action to minimize the chance that something like this ever happens again.

There also is still a possibility that the NBA's nightmare scenario will unfold and that Donaghy will implicate other NBA employees. Hopefully, Commissioner David Stern is right when he suggests that Donaghy was a "rogue criminal" acting alone. Once Donaghy has his day in court, the NBA must do the best that it can to completely inform the public exactly what happened, how it happened and what will be done so that it never happens again. There can no longer be any rhetoric about how great the NBA's referees are--even though they are better than their counterparts in the NFL and MLB--nor can the NBA simply brush this off as the actions of one lone offender; even if that is the case, the NBA must prove that it is taking vigorous steps to prevent other "rogues" from trying to do the same thing. We have seen many examples of how people and organizations are often brought down not so much by their misconduct as by their inept attempts to cover things up afterwards. Once David Stern knows which games were involved, he needs to have another press conference and lay everything out there, make whatever apologies are necessary to the teams/fans involved (if the outcomes of games were altered) and pledge to clean this mess up. Under no circumstances can he do the equivalent of sticking his hands in his pockets and making the face that Bud Selig made when Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron's home run record.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:35 AM



At Wednesday, August 15, 2007 12:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am afraid that's reinforcing the conundrum outlined by Bill Simmons: if the official line is that all that Donaghy provided to those mobsters blackmalining him was a list of ref assignments, then it logically follows that ref assignments have a direct influence in the outcome of games. Which is not the kind of inference the NBA would want fans to make.

After all, if mafia types went into blackmail for them, they must be pretty valuable.

At Wednesday, August 15, 2007 2:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's pick on the league office for a moment. David, do you see Stu Jackson coming out of this unscathed?

I ask because I cannot recall a single example in which he has distinguished himself, whether it was running the Knicks or overseeing the league's referees. To show good faith the league must make dramatic changes, and if they'd start with Jackson's office the fallout could be enormous.

At Wednesday, August 15, 2007 4:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is more precise to say that if that is all Donaghy provided then it logically follows that whoever was paying Donaghy believes that such information has a direct influence on games. It came out in court today that Donaghy only got paid if the gamblers won, so evidently whoever was paying him was not certain that the information he provided was a "lock," which also suggests that Donaghy was not actively fixing games himself. After all, if he was fixing games then wouldn't the gamblers be assured of winning?

At Wednesday, August 15, 2007 4:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Whether or not Jackson did a good job running the Knicks does not really have much to do with whether he is qualified to do his current job.

I certainly think that there will be a lot of outside pressure from fans, media and current/former referees to get rid of Jackson; in fact, we have already seen this. I would like to know more about what Donaghy did and how he got away with it. That information is starting to come out and will provide a better basis to determine how much of the blame should be put on Jackson.

It would not surprise me if Jackson and/or director of officials Ronnie Nunn are fired at some point but I'm not yet convinced that this would be the right action to take.

At Thursday, August 16, 2007 3:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand corrected.

Still, I am not sure of the significance of Donaghy being only paid if they won: that may mean that the information was not considered to be a sure thing, but in any case even if he was making bad calls on purpose it would still not be a "lock" unless the other two referees went along (and also if the score of game itself remained within "striking distance" so to speak).

At Thursday, August 16, 2007 4:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Don't forget that Donaghy was also providing information about player injuries that was not publicly available. That would certainly be valuable to a gambler. We still have to know more about this whole situation before we can make definitive conclusions. Also, certain referees tend to call a "looser" game than others, just like certain baseball umpires have a larger strike zone. That in and of itself does not constitute wrongdoing, as long as calls are the same for both teams, but it could affect things like the over/ under or could possibly "favor" a team that benefits stylistically from a "looser" game (in terms of marginal contact not being called a foul). Ronnie Nunn has been trying to get all officials to call games exactly the same way and get rid of some of these variances--and in response, as I noted in some previous posts, referees are coming out of the woodwork and saying that he is turning them into automatons. Of course, fans cannot have it both ways--if fans don't like Nunn's way of managing things then they will have to accept that different refs have different styles. I like Nunn's approach, at least in theory, and nothing that has come out about the Donaghy case has reflected poorly on what Nunn is trying to do in this regard. In fact, if all officials call games the same way it should be easier to detect anyone who is stepping out of line, whether because of incompetence or sinister motives.


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