Tim Donaghy was a referee in the National Basketball Association for 13 seasons, officiating 772 regular season games and 20 playoff games.
In 2007, he resigned after reports surfaced Donaghy was not only betting on NBA games he was refereeing, but also making calls to affect the outcome and disrupt the point spread in favor of his bets.
Now 48, the Philly native is appearing in a new CNBC documentary titled “(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies,” a program that examines why lying is an inherent part of human nature.
During a recent interview with the Guardian, Donaghy stressed that his rogue, isolated characterization asserted by the NBA is far from accurate, and that organized crime is more widespread in professional sports than anyone could imagine.
Pack of Lies
According to his own testimony, Donaghy placed bets on NBA games through a close friend who was also a gambler, often described as a professional bookie.
His friend, unbeknownst to Donaghy, then gave the insider info to low-level mobsters who wagered extraordinary amounts on the games, eventually prompting the FBI to investigate.
Although he says he would later feel guilt from betting on games, Donaghy insists he isn’t the only insider who has actively gambled on sporting outcomes.
“Any time that you have a sporting event with a Vegas line to it, there’s always going to be somebody involved in organized crime trying to make a dollar off of it,” he says. “So I think that they constantly are trying to get to that referee, to get to a player, to get to somebody, a trainer, or a coach who can give them inside information to where they can take advantage of it.”
Unsurprising to any NBA fan, Donaghy also says stars get special treatment by way of preferable calls.
“The craft of officiating is taught that people come and pay top dollar to see people like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, all the stars, and you have to make sure when you blow the whistle against those individuals that it’s a foul that you basically can’t let go.”
Donaghy’s claims that professional sports are closely tied to organized crime don’t seem too far-fetched, but the case could also be made that the former ref’s track record warrants skepticism.
With the NBA Finals set to begin on June 4th, the league will surely detest the CNBC documentary and Donaghy’s media comments, but not the notion that gambling is a bad thing.
Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the league, has recently said he would support legalized sports betting on the games he oversees.
“There is an obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events,” Silver wrote in a New York Times editorial last fall. “In light of these domestic and global trends, the laws on sports betting should be changed.”
Of course, that won’t change the ban on refs from participating in sports betting, but it would allow fans to finally place wagers on their favorite teams.
Considering outside the United States betting on professional sports is commonplace, Silver’s suggestion signifies he’s a leader that isn’t afraid of taking a bold position if it’s going to improve the health of his organization.