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October 29, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

The book the NBA doesn't want you to read. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was convicted of passing inside information on NBA games to gamblers, for thousands of dollars. He has written a book purporting to reveal many explosive scandals about NBA officiating (detailed excerpts). It was scheduled for publication by Random House (cached Amazon page), then cancelled after an alleged lawsuit threat by the league.

Donaghy's book names names about organized referee manipulation 1) favoring Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers, 2) to extend playoff series, 3) against strong defenders such as Raja Bell, 4) betting with each other on calls during games, 5) makeup calls, 6) feuds with players, etc.

In 2007, when Donaghy was arrested, a league investigation found that every single NBA referee gambled in violation of the rules, half betting in casinos. In response, they relaxed the rules against betting.
posted by msalt (47 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read the first link excerpt yesterday, and to be honest, had the scales removed from my eyes pretty quickly.

Silly me for thinking it was all on the up and up and the referees were totally impartial.
I was pretty shocked with the Kobe Bryant and Raja Bell information.

While I don't put it on the same sort of manipulation scale as, say WWF wrestling, I will definitely look askew at future games as having more than a healthy amount of entertainment, as opposed to 100% fair play.

It's a product. Not a game.

I hope the book gets published.
posted by willmize at 10:54 AM on October 29, 2009


I lost my faith in NBA refs a LONG time ago, when I would compare their calls to the refereeing at the college games I used to attend with my father and realized they NEVER called walking penalties.
posted by hippybear at 10:57 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also read the excerpts on Deadspin, and they were pretty specific and damning. Obviously, the guy's got sour grapes where the NBA is concerned, but I think the league will have to at least address these allegations in order to try and get some credibility back.

Thank God the refs in my precious NFL are all impartial rule-enforcing robots with no possibility of corruption or pre-existing prejudices, amirite?

...right?
posted by joelhunt at 11:00 AM on October 29, 2009


This would be a surprise if your only experience of the NBA was via braille.
posted by srboisvert at 11:11 AM on October 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


I can't see how much of this would be news to anyone who watches any amount of basketball. In a lot of ways, I can't say I really care: I like that basketball is an intimate and human game — you can see the passion so clearly, both on the faces of players and in refs making calls you *know* are personal. Working the refs is part of the game, and I'm okay with that. If you want your sports without the theater, there are plenty of less messy games. Or go pure sport and run or swim, where the clock is the clock.
posted by dame at 11:13 AM on October 29, 2009


Donaghy's a shaky source, clearly. The strongest evidence in his favor, IMHO, is that he was convicted of providing exactly this kind of information to gamblers in return for money. Somebody was willing to pay him money for these insights.

For instance, veteran referee Steve Javie hated Allen Iverson and was loathe [sic] to give him a favorable call. If Javie was on the court when Iverson was playing, I would always bet on the other team to win or at least cover the spread. No matter how many times Iverson hit the floor, he rarely saw the foul line.
posted by msalt at 11:18 AM on October 29, 2009


I really dont think I ever recovered from that sacramento-lakes game 6 in 2002......I still love the NBA but I dont tune in as I did before precisely cause of this reason....This is the only sports in which the refs have way too much power in their hands....i hope the books get published as I would love to get my hands on it.
posted by The1andonly at 11:19 AM on October 29, 2009


Players working the refs is one thing, the league office doing it is quite another.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:23 AM on October 29, 2009


The excerpt is entirely believable until he starts claiming that referees were giving calls to the Knicks as a favor to Isiah Thomas. I think it's pretty obvious that no one was doing the Isiah Thomas coached Knicks ANY favors.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:26 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


really? "blowing the whistle" was the title? a bunch of stories about this ref and that player? that sounds like a lot of sour grapes and not even a very imaginative take on a story we already know about. the "detailed excerpts" were more his impressions and conclusions than hard, indisputable facts, too. does he have evidence it wasn't just him who was on the take? is there anyone this guy doesn't have a grudge against? all I see right now is him saying ref A is latino and liked the latino community, so he must have thrown the game their way.

I don't think this is a book someone "doesn't want you to read," which is a marketing-bullshit phrase anyway. they probably just called random house, let them know a lawsuit would be coming their way if they found themselves to be maligned by a convicted felon and someone decided the hassle was worse than the potential payday. another option is that the guy just didn't have anything interesting to say and they were looking for a way out. note that this book was cancelled while "ready to print." what a convenient time for poor little random house to be bullied by the mighty NBA.

conspiracy, shocking, illuminati! yeah, that's fairly effective when it comes to selling a book and I don't begrudge him for trying but I think you got a bit carried away, msalt. this Schmutz is probably going to be self-published and I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be rightly so condemned to that approach.
posted by krautland at 11:32 AM on October 29, 2009


"illuminati"

erm, what?
posted by Space Coyote at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2009


I don't think this is a book someone "doesn't want you to read," which is a marketing-bullshit phrase anyway. they probably just called random house, let them know a lawsuit would be coming their way if they found themselves to be maligned by a convicted felon and someone decided the hassle was worse than the potential payday

How is that not a clear indication that the NBA doesn't want people to read the book? And there's nothing inherently illegal about publishing a tell-all book by a convicted felon.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2009


From the book:
If a player of Kobe's stature collides with the likes of Raja Bell, the call will almost always go for Kobe and against Bell. As part of our ongoing training and game preparation, NBA referees regularly receive game-action video tape from the league office. Over the years, I have reviewed many recorded hours of video involving Raja Bell. The footage I analyzed usually illustrated fouls being called against Bell, rarely for him. The message was subtle but clear-call fouls against the star stopper because he's hurting the game.

From wikipedia:
One of the most notable incidents of Bell's career occurred in the 2006 NBA Playoffs on May 2, 2006, in Game 5 of a first round series against the Los Angeles Lakers. Bell clotheslined Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant on a hard foul, resulting in an ejection (with 7:33 left to play in the game).[4] In the postgame press conference, Bell explained that he was retaliating to an elbow to the jaw from Bryant. "It's a personal thing when someone continually hits you in the face. That's the only way I can put it. I've been playing as hard as I can play. I've been trying to do a good job, I've been trying to be what my team needs me to be, and I continually get hit in my face. There doesn't seem to be any boundaries or limitations for what he's allowed to do to me, and at that point, I kind of lost my cool and I took it into my own hands." Bell was suspended for one game after his clothesline.

I feel for the guy.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:50 AM on October 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's basically confirming every deeply held suspicion about league interference we've (NBA hardcore fans) had for the longest time, which renders the whole thing not so incendiary (except for the gambling/mob ties angle. that's a big one). I mean it got to the point where in the last few years where we could tell almost EXACTLY which way the game was going to go based on the referees that were assigned to a game.

/there are some real, real good referees in the league who got overshadowed by senior not-so-good joey crawford types.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 12:30 PM on October 29, 2009


2002 Western Conference Finals: The Lakers attempted "18 more free throws than the Kings in the fourth quarter of Game 6." In Game 7 "the Lakers shot 40 free throws overall, 27 in the fourth quarter."

I think it was in Game 6 or Game 7 of this series when Kobe Bryant, who had the ball, threw an elbow into Mike Bibby's face, giving him a bloody mouth or nose. A foul was called on Bibby.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:42 PM on October 29, 2009


Donaghy's a shaky source, clearly.

So was Canseco.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:43 PM on October 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't think this is a book someone "doesn't want you to read,"

Well, it is a book I don't want me to read.

Awesome post title, by the way.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:44 PM on October 29, 2009


does he have evidence it wasn't just him who was on the take?

Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals.

I think it was in Game 6 or Game 7 of this series when Kobe Bryant, who had the ball, threw an elbow into Mike Bibby's face, giving him a bloody mouth or nose. A foul was called on Bibby.

From the article:

"In addition, a foul was called against Mike Bibby of the Kings after he was shoved and elbowed by Kobe Bryant, denying the Kings an opportunity to try for a tying basket."
posted by clearly at 12:52 PM on October 29, 2009


This is 2009. Who needs a book publishing company anymore unless the goal is purely profit?

Dump the book into PDF, turn it loose on Bittorrent/p2p. At least use it as a tool for legitimate content. :)
posted by drstein at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2009


Why would the NBA threaten a lawsuit without ever having read the book? That is pretty telling, imo. David Stern is a thug gangster and his buddies in the media will have his back on this. That's evident as there is not even a PEEP about this on any major sports outlet today. If it does see the light of day, they'll just smear Donaghy and tell the world that there's nothing to see here. Sports, especially basketball, like all other big business in corporate America today is corrupt to the core.
posted by GrooveJedi at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2009


Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The Lakers famous 15-point 4th quarter comeback. Officials: Hugh Evans, Steve Javie, Dick Bavetta. To be fair, the Blazers missed a lot of shots all on their own. But:

Donaghy: The 2002 [Sacramento/Lakers] series certainly wasn't the first or last time Bavetta weighed in on an important game. He also worked Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Trail Blazers. The Lakers were down by 13 at the start of the fourth quarter when Bavetta went to work. The Lakers outscored Portland 31–13 in the fourth quarter and went on to win the game and the series. It certainly didn't hurt the Lakers that they got to shoot 37 free throws compared to a paltry 16 for the Trail Blazers.
posted by msalt at 1:05 PM on October 29, 2009


It's a product. Not a game.

Bears repeating. But it used to be a great game.
posted by Zambrano at 1:15 PM on October 29, 2009


Holy shit. It is all rigged! My barber has been right all these years.

Hmmmm. I may have to rethink his claims that Ann Margaret was a Mossad agent involved in the Bobby Kennedy assassination.
posted by tkchrist at 1:21 PM on October 29, 2009


I totally read the FPP as 'The book the NRA doesn't want you to read,' and it still mostly made sense.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:40 PM on October 29, 2009


No wonder the NBA doesn't want you to read this. These excerpts are, frankly, libelous.

It's all hearsay and impossible-to-confirm opinion. For example:

Danny told me that Jordan himself said that everyone in the league knew that Bavetta cheated in games and that the players and coaches just hoped he would be cheating for them on game night.

Danny told me that Jordan said that some other guys said ... are you kidding me? There was a publisher ready to roll with this book? The lawyers would have had a field day.

I don't pretend that NBA refs are lilly-white paragons of justice. But ... DUDE.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:47 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmm. Well, one of the neat side effects of large numbers of HD cameras covering a scene is that there's actually enough data to recover everybody's full position, in three dimensional space, in 1/60th of a second intervals. The fuzziness of umpires will rapidly become a choice, not a technological limitation, within the next three years.

Whether we want that, I don't know. Certainly baseball has had the technology to call strikes and balls for ages electronically but there's still a guy behind the plate.
posted by effugas at 2:01 PM on October 29, 2009


The lawyers would have had a field day.

Might be the point of the book.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:01 PM on October 29, 2009


Actually, having the NBA step in and attempt to prevent the book's publication only lends the appearance of credence to the contents.

I'll be curious to see what happens once the book does hit the market. I don't care about the putative effects on the game - the game was spoiled long ago - but I'm interested in the indirect effects on gambling and celebrity attendance/endorsement associated with the NBA.
posted by FormlessOne at 2:02 PM on October 29, 2009


These excerpts are, frankly, libelous.

It's all hearsay and impossible-to-confirm opinion.


I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I know hearsay is only a factor when deciding what evidence can be submitted in court. At least in the US, a defamation lawsuit can only hold up in court if it can be proven that the publisher knowingly published false information with intent to defame, so Random House wouldn't have to prove that any of the book's content was true.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:09 PM on October 29, 2009


Unfortunately, the star-powered-phantom-foul has been around for years. While I love the game, I can't deny that it's not perfect. In the Kings-Lakers series, the most egregious foul wasn't on Bibby. Doug Christie (back when he was almost kind of decent) was defending Bryant, and Bryant was holding the ball with both hands, above his head, and swung his elbows to clear space. If you took it out of a basketball game and put it in, say, a bar brawl, you would swear that he tried to remove Christie's nose with his elbow. Christie went down, bleeding profusely. Kobe went to the free throw line.

And of course, Dwayne Wade and his Finals experience. When he drove past Nowitzki, and Dirk literally stepped to the side, trying to avoid picking up another foul, Wade leaned in and shouldered Dirk's chest, and went to the free throw line. Gah.

I don't need to read a crappy book from a guy who's trying to get some revenge to know that things are bad. But even as bad as it is, it's still a great sport.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:55 PM on October 29, 2009


Can you bet on the odds of this being leaked into the darknet?
posted by sien at 2:58 PM on October 29, 2009


At least in the US, a defamation lawsuit can only hold up in court if it can be proven that the publisher knowingly published false information with intent to defame, so Random House wouldn't have to prove that any of the book's content was true.

Yeah ... no. You're thinking of criticisms of a public official. Absence of malice is not a defense for the average joe.

Libel is identifiable (i.e. we know who were talking about), defamatory, published, a false statement of fact and someone specific is known to have done it. Those are the five basic pillars.

Now, you can claim that the information you had a reasonable belief that your story is true. But you have to go in front of a judge and show why you thought it was reasonable. And you have to defend every single part of the allegation separately; you can't just say "Well, on this one point, I'm right, so everyone knows that so-and-so is on the take..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:14 PM on October 29, 2009


Yeah ... no. You're thinking of criticisms of a public official. Absence of malice is not a defense for the average joe.

Isn't it just public figures rather than public officials though, which could arguably include publicly-known referees of nationally-televised games? Anyway it's very possible that I have no idea what I'm talking about, but it seems like a lot of similar tell-all books have been published without incident.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:46 PM on October 29, 2009


I was a long time NBA fan, but came to view NBA playoffs as somewhat scripted. The most recent offense (that I paid attention to at least) was the Celtics run in 2008. The C's were the big story in the league that year, and I think the NBA wanted to milk it for all it was worth. So, surprise, surprise, the first 2 rounds they end up going 7 game series with teams that were big time underdogs. If you looked at the box scores, there was a pretty big free throw disparity in the first 2 series against the Hawks and Cavs. Game 5 in Atlanta, the Hawks took 22 more free throws than the C's. Game 6 in Cleaveland, the Cavs doubled them up. Game sevens were called oddly even, both teams had roughly the same number of attempts. In the Finals that year, it looked like the Lakers might steal game 2. Same thing happened, only this time the Celtics got 28 more Free throw attempts. (yeah, I know, the Celtics were winning the whole game. Look at the final score, and then the FT attempts!) I felt like the NBA would have had one of the best Playoffs in years, but they ruined it. I don't watch it much anymore. I'm hopeful these kinds of accusation will change things, but the 2008 season was after Donaghy got busted.
posted by MetalDog at 5:08 PM on October 29, 2009


Someone could probably do a hard to refute addendum backing up Donaghy's allegations, just using the recorded stats from recent playoffs
posted by MetalDog at 5:11 PM on October 29, 2009


While I don't put it on the same sort of manipulation scale as, say WWF wrestling

I do, if anything the NBA refs are worse than the pro wrestling ones. A superstar like Jordan could run halfway down the court without dribbling once as long as his sprint culminated in an entertaining dunk. I'd say the NBA crossed over from sport to WWE level "sports entertainment" years ago. I no longer attend NBA games or even watch them on tv. If I want to watch basketball I'll tune into a college game or even the occasional prep game at least at those levels there's some level of honesty remaining.
posted by MikeMc at 6:14 PM on October 29, 2009


Thanks for this, msalt; it's great stuff.
posted by mediareport at 7:19 PM on October 29, 2009


If I were not a female, I would have gotten my ass kicked at a bar about eight years ago for saying that the league pays the refs to stretch out play-off series so they can sell more ads.

A pointless comment, yes, but...well...people were really mean to me about it, and damn, it feels good to be a gangster.
posted by nosila at 7:25 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


On one hand, this is so validating. If you ever listen to Tommy Heinsohn, this is all old information. On the other hand, I really love basketball. Expectant melancholy for the eventual publication of this book. The NBA is a product that I wish had honest competition. Anti-trust exemption much?
posted by Arquimedez Pozo at 8:29 PM on October 29, 2009


How is that not a clear indication...
the phrase was chosen to suggest the NBA had any power in suppressing this book. they don't. random house decided on their own not to publish it.

there's nothing inherently illegal about publishing a tell-all book by a convicted felon.
there is nothing credible in a felon telling why everyone surrounding his felonious acts was a terrible person, too. he is bitter he got caught and not protected.

No wonder the NBA doesn't want you to read this. These excerpts are, frankly, libelous. It's all hearsay and impossible-to-confirm opinion.
correct.

Actually, having the NBA step in and attempt to prevent the book's publication only lends the appearance of credence to the contents.
you don't know what happened. they just said that. I only didn't win the miss america pageant because I my check didn't clear. prove me wrong.
posted by krautland at 11:57 PM on October 29, 2009


krautland: if you keep grinding your axe that hard, it's going to be down to wood before dawn.
posted by msalt at 12:04 AM on October 30, 2009


These are pretty strong accusations, but it should be possible to go back and look at some of the data to see if say a certain ref makes more foul calls on a certain player etc.
posted by caddis at 7:50 AM on October 30, 2009


Personally, I think the publishing company made an excellent choice in choosing to withhold this book from publication. I honestly do not think I could trust anything that is written in this book--the source cheated to get where he is, so there's no reason why he wouldn't do the same in writing this book.

People like Tim really ruin the sporting experience for the public. It's very unforunate that this happens, because I really love basketball.
posted by tobe at 10:29 AM on October 30, 2009


When the criminal case in Colorado was dropped, due to the refusal of accuser Katelyn Faber to testify in court (the case was settled quietly), Dick Bavetta appeared out of nowhere and whistled a two-shot foul on Faber.
posted by Danf at 7:48 PM on October 30, 2009


From this academic study, college refs appear to do some of the same things.
Refs favor the home team, the academics say. They're big on "make-up" calls. They make more calls against teams in the lead, and the discrepancy grows if the game is on national TV.

The professors studied 365 college games during the 2004-05 season and found that refs had a terrific knack for keeping the foul count even, regardless of which team was more aggressive.
posted by caddis at 2:21 PM on November 24, 2009


Refs favor the home team, the academics say. They're big on "make-up" calls. They make more calls against teams in the lead, and the discrepancy grows if the game is on national TV.

I don't have a problem with any of those things, as long as they are applied consistently. Makes for more enjoyable viewing for everyone. Make-up calls are the standard solution to maintaining the point that you don't argue with the ref, allowing refs to quietly admit their mistakes with the make-up call.

The professors studied 365 college games during the 2004-05 season and found that refs had a terrific knack for keeping the foul count even, regardless of which team was more aggressive.

Now that sucks. But doesn't it contradict favoring the home team, and more calls against the team in the lead?
posted by msalt at 1:19 PM on November 25, 2009


msalt:if you keep grinding your axe that hard
the only axe I have to grind is that with righteous, self-indulgent, superficial ... oh, what's the word? oh yeah, fucks.
posted by krautland at 7:27 PM on November 27, 2009


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