Welcome to the third and final installment of our exclusive with ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy. In part one we discussed Donaghy’s infamous story, which dominated sports media headlines in the summer of 2007, as well some current issues in the NBA
Part two covers Donaghy’s past and how that’s affecting his present and future.
And now here’s…
…the real meat and potatoes of this interview. What follows is truly both the sizzle and the steak (saving the best for last obviously) as Donaghy lets loose about how much scandal and corruption he claims exists among league officials.
You may wonder what he’s been up to since his release from prison two years ago. Well he did some fantastic work on Deadspin for the 2010 and 2011 Finals. He pointed out numerous blown calls for each game, quarter-by-quarter. I suggest you check it out. He also writes for The Sports Connection, blogging and commenting on the air for an Allentown, Pa., radio show. Additionally, Donaghy makes $5,000 per speaking engagement.
By Paul M. Banks
Here’s his biography from his Sports Connection profile
Tim Donaghy was an NBA referee for 13 years before resigning in 2007 after a gambling scandal rocked the league. After being released from serving a prison sentence Tim has become an outspoken critic of the NBA and the way it enforces the official rule book for referees.
Tim contends that NBA referees have been conditioned to referee “personalities” rather than the game itself. His outspoken views have put him in direct conflict with the NBA and its board of directors. Tim is a strong advocate for enforcing the NBA rules as written in the NBA official rule book.
Additionally, Tim argues that subtle pressure is applied to referees to “extend” certain high profile series for the purpose of financial gain to the NBA by attracting a larger audience. His book, “Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA,” explores these accusations in detail.
Tim’s story has been featured on over one hundred programs, including 60 Minutes, ESPN, Fox’s Your World and on CNN Headline News. Additional media exposure has included the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and countless radio appearances and interviews.
I would just like to further add that the views expressed by Mr. Donaghy are strictly his own, not mine or any other individual affiliated with the website.
PMB: I’ve seen Phoenix Suns fans blame you for “stealing away” their 2007 title and giving it to the San Antonio Spurs.
TD: I write in the book that there’s no doubt I feel the Phoenix Suns were the best team in in the league in 2007. And that whole series was officiated poorly, and I give the reasons in the book as to why I feel it was officiated poorly. And one of the reasons is that Tommy Nunez was the supervisor of officials in that series. And he had a dislike for the (Suns) owner Robert Sarver, and he enjoyed the lifestyle in San Antonio, and liked to get back in the next round of the playoffs and continue to go to San Antonio. So it was a situation that he was steering the series to San Antonio in tape sessions.
PMB: That series, dubbed the “real 2007 NBA Finals” by many league experts, seems to be the one that has received the most scrutiny among games you have officiated.
TD: People don’t realize that at that time we weren’t even betting any more because the guy who was involved in the scheme ended up going into rehab, so we were done betting at that time for about a month. So that was just a poorly officiated series from game one all the way until the last game.
PMB: What about the infamous brawl in that series?
TD: Certainly that was mishandled with the subjectivity of the league office as to whether to suspend somebody for doing what they did. Look at what happened with the Miami-Dallas game. Do you think they would have suspended all those players for a game 7? Had there been a game 7, with all those players leaving the bench area the way they did. The rule clearly states you can’t leave the bench area to get involved in an altercation, whether the time out exists or not. In all reality, I doubt they would have suspended all of those players for a game 7. and I don’t think it was handled properly with Phoenix in 2007.
PMB: You have some controversial beliefs about how the NBA allegedly tries to extend the length of high profile playoff series in order to add revenue, and how that process usually entails favoring the big market team and the high profile players. How is this done?
Is it a set of unwritten rules, or casual unorganized meetings? Are there standard, although not formally discussed practices?
TD: There’s unwritten rules and basically it’s done through tape sessions. During the playoffs, they put the referees in hotel rooms and show them plays from previous games, and it could be 10 or 15 plays that they go over that they want called differently, or plays not called that they do want called. And it’s a situation that always go against the team that’s down in the series, and it programs and train the referees to look for certain things and to put a team like Sacramento in 2003, who had a clear disadvantage; and put the Lakers at an advantage.
PMB: And how long has this practice been in place?
TD: Ever since I can remember, and I was hired in 1994.
PMB: So these practices are just out-in-the-open, the league makes no attempt to cover it up?
TD: I don’t think they do cover them up- that’s why see you an enormous number of questionable calls in games the last 10 or 15 years. So you see a situation like that famous 2003 game 6 in L.A. when L.A. went on to force a game 7 and go to the NBA Finals.
And even though there was a lot of questionable calls in that game, they came out and said three referees did a terrible job and it was a horribly refereed game, but yet all three of those referees moved on to the Finals. If they did such a poor job, why didn’t their year end right then and there?
PMB: What about “star calls?”
TD: There’s always been a double standard in the league, there is still a double standard in the league. Lebron James with some pivotal plays scoring a pivotal basket in a playoff game with a minute to go where he clearly traveled, and they let it go. Unfortunately it still exists and the rule book clearly states you don’t referee personalities, and yet every referee in that league referees personalities. They referee the name on the back of the jersey and that’s all based upon the star status and how many jerseys and sneakers that player sells.
PMB: So the only form of a paper trail here is the tape sessions?
TD: Never a paper trail, it’s always through meetings in hotel rooms and tape sessions. It’s done a lot, there were times I would walk out of a room prior to a playoff game, and I would look at the other referees and say “holy shit, they want Dallas to win tonight, or they want L.A. to win tonight.” It was very clear to the referees what the message was.
PMB: When it comes down to individual star power versus big market team interests, who wins? And along the lines of big stars getting favorable calls, does this only happen when the player has established himself? Or is it part of the process in “making” a star player?
TD: The biggest individual brand names, I had a conversation with a guy who’s involved with tv networks and he basically told me this year they needed Miami to advance so badly because Miami and Dallas would bring so much better ratings than Chicago and Dallas. Nobody on the west coast would watch if it was Chicago and Dallas because Lebron James would bring global attention versus somebody like Derrick Rose who wouldn’t.
PMB: Does the league makes an effort to “make stars?” Or does the star have to be established first and then get the calls?
TD: I think the star has to be there and once he gets that status, the league starts to market him and that’s when the referees jump on board and start to give him special treatment.
Go here for part one
Here for part two