If you are under the impression that the NBA is fair, you might want to reconsider. Today on 60 Minutes, former referee Tim Donaghy blew the lid off many things - from his own betting on games to how the league favors certain players. It wasn’t pretty for anyone.
Of course Tim Donaghy is an acknowledged gambler who happened to be a referee in the NBA for decades. He bet on games for years and eventually was busted because the mob had muscled in on his action and they were being wiretapped by the FBI. All very reprehensible. But what happened next was surprising - Donaghy decided to blow the whistle on some bad league behavior on 60 Minutes, as well as in his new book.
Generally when crooks squeal, it’s to save their own hides and their stories have to be taken with a grain of salt. But Donaghy was the oddest kind of cheater - he gambled on tons of games and even on ones he officiated. But he says he never blew a call or caused the outcome to change. The FBI didn’t believe him but they watched tapes of the games and came away with the conclusion he told the truth. They even point to a game when he threw out the coach of the San Antonio spurs, which probably caused the team to lose the game - a team he had bet on. His mob “friends” were not happy but he was never found to have influenced a game.
But the real interesting part was his success rate as a bettor was over 70%. How could that be? Apparently the NBA has some very bad habits. Like playing favorites with players and teams. Refs apparently get pre-game information, the kind of info that helped him in his betting, but also that informed them of who was in and out in the league’s favoritism ranks. Even worse, since Donaghy knew that refs played favorites or penalized players they didn’t like, he had great intell other bettors did not have. For example, Allan Iverson was on the outs with refs - big surprise there - so in some crucial games opposing defenses pummeled him and he never got a foul call. The league apparently went further in the playoffs, encouraging long series and the success of big market clubs whenever possible. The NBA did not respond to 60 Minutes so there is no way to know for sure but it’s long been assumed that this has gone on.
In essence, it seems pro basketball is a stacked game. Favorite players get the benefit of the doubt while other players get poor treatment by refs. Are games fixed? No one is saying that. But they certainly don’t seem to be very fair.