Spent a little time this morning reading the excerpts from Tom Donaghy’s book Blowing the Whistle that currently is without a publisher.
It is important to remember while reading the excerpts — which cannot be described as anything other than explosive and damning, but not totally unexpected — that Donaghy is a convicted felon who seemingly spent a good portion of his career engaged in deceitful, unethical professional acts.
Thus, weigh how much validity his word carries.
It is also important to remember, however, that the NBA has been dogged by claims of rigged games and less-then-objective officiating for years. In fact, I’m sure my friends down here in Dallas will have a thing or two to say about Donaghy’s book as they recall Dwyane Wade’s star-making appearance against the Mavs in the NBA Finals…which was, of course, marred by controversial officiating.
Either way, the excerpts are intriguing enough to pass along, in addition to a terrific music video retrospective on one of the most controversial NBA games ever, and the subject of one of the excerpts: the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the LA Lakers and Sacramento Kings.
As mentioned above, Donaghy’s book does not have a publisher, purportedly due to some intimidation tactics by the NBA.
This could get very interesting in the coming weeks and months.
Look, I don’t know if everything or anything included in these excerpts is true, nor will I try to lead you to a conclusion one way or the other. Read it for yourself, consider Donaghy’s background, and make up your own mind.
But here is the problem for the NBA: not one word in these excerpts seems outlandish to me. To put it another way, if we somehow got verified proof that all this were 100% true, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
And that’s a big problem for the league.
A huge problem.
And it’s been an albatross around the neck of the NBA for as long as I can remember. Certainly, this is not going to help matters.
Here are a few choice excerpts from Tim Donaghy’s book Blowing the Whistle. You can also use that link to jump to Deadspin, where you can read the complete selection of excerpts that have been made available.
On gambling refs:
To have a little fun at the expense of the worst troublemakers, the referees working the game would sometimes make a modest friendly wager amongst themselves: first ref to give one of the bad boys a technical foul wouldn’t have to tip the ball boy that night. In the NBA, ball boys set up the referees’ locker room and keep it stocked with food and beer for the postgame meal. We usually ran the kid ragged with a variety of personal requests and then slipped him a $20 bill. Technically, the winner of the bet won twice-he didn’t have to pay the kid and he got to call a T on Mr. Foul-Mouthed Big-Shot Du Jour.
After the opening tip, it was hilarious as the three of us immediately focused our full attention on the intended victim, waiting for something, anything, to justify a technical foul. If the guy so much as looked at one of us and mumbled, we rang him up. Later in the referees’ locker room, we would down a couple of brews, eat some chicken wings, and laugh like hell.
We had another variation of this gag simply referred to as the “first foul of the game” bet. While still in the locker room before tip-off, we would make a wager on which of us would call the game’s first foul. That referee would either have to pay the ball boy or pick up the dinner tab for the other two referees. Sometimes, the ante would be $50 a guy. Like the technical foul bet, it was hilarious-only this time we were testing each other’s nerves to see who had the guts to hold out the longest before calling a personal foul. There were occasions when we would hold back for two or three minutes-an eternity in an NBA game-before blowing the whistle. It didn’t matter if bodies were flying all over the place; no fouls were called because no one wanted to lose the bet.
We played this little game during the regular season and summer league. After a game, all three refs would gather around the VCR and watch a replay of the game. Early in the contest, the announcers would say, “Holy cow! They’re really letting them play tonight!” If they only knew…
During one particular summer game, Duke Callahan, Mark Wunderlich, and I made it to the three-minute mark in the first quarter without calling a foul. We were running up and down the court, laughing our asses off as the players got hammered with no whistles. The players were exhausted from the nonstop running when Callahan finally called the first foul because Mikki Moore of the New Jersey Nets literally tackled an opposing player right in front of him. Too bad for Callahan-he lost the bet.
I became so good at this game that if an obvious foul was committed right in front of me, I would call a travel or a three-second violation instead. Those violations are not personal fouls, so I was still in the running to win the bet. The players would look at me with disbelief on their faces as if to say, “What the hell was that?”
On the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Kings:
Studying under Dick Bavetta for 13 years was like pursuing a graduate degree in advanced game manipulation. He knew how to marshal the tempo and tone of a game better than any referee in the league, by far. He also knew how to take subtle-and not so subtle-cues from the NBA front office and extend a playoff series or, worse yet, change the complexion of that series.
The 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings presents a stunning example of game and series manipulation at its ugliest. As the teams prepared for Game 6 at the Staples Center, Sacramento had a 3–2 lead in the series. The referees assigned to work Game 6 were Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney, and Ted Bernhardt. As soon as the referees for the game were chosen, the rest of us knew immediately that there would be a Game 7. A prolonged series was good for the league, good for the networks, and good for the game. Oh, and one more thing: it was great for the big-market, star-studded Los Angeles Lakers.
In the pregame meeting prior to Game 6, the league office sent down word that certain calls-calls that would have benefitted the Lakers — were being missed by the referees. This was the type of not-so-subtle information that I and other referees were left to interpret. After receiving the dispatch, Bavetta openly talked about the fact that the league wanted a Game 7.
“If we give the benefit of the calls to the team that’s down in the series, nobody’s going to complain. The series will be even at three apiece, and then the better team can win Game 7,” Bavetta stated.
As history shows, Sacramento lost Game 6 in a wild come-from-behind thriller that saw the Lakers repeatedly sent to the foul line by the referees. For other NBA referees watching the game on television, it was a shameful performance by Bavetta’s crew, one of the most poorly officiated games of all time.
A quick interlude here for a little more on that Lakers-Kings game. In the comment section of the Deadspin post I found this sublimely done video retrospective of that game. It’s worth the 4:30 to watch it.
More on Dick Bavetta:
The 2002 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.
Two weeks before the 2003–04 season ended, Bavetta and I were assigned to officiate a game in Oakland. That afternoon before the tip-off, we were discussing an upcoming game on our schedule. It was the last regular-season game we were scheduled to work, pitting Denver against San Antonio. Denver had lost a game a few weeks prior because of a mistake made by the referees, a loss that could be the difference between them making or missing the playoffs. Bavetta told me Denver needed the win and that it would look bad for the staff and the league if the Nuggets missed the playoffs by one game. There were still a few games left on the schedule before the end of the season, and the standings could potentially change. But on that day in Oakland, Bavetta looked at me and casually stated, “Denver will win if they need the game. That’s why I’m on it.”
I was thinking, How is Denver going to win on the road in San Antonio? At the time, the Spurs were arguably the best team in the league. Bavetta answered my question before it was asked.
“Duncan will be on the bench with three fouls within the first five minutes of the game,” he calmly stated.
Bavetta went on to inform me that it wasn’t the first time the NBA assigned him to a game for a specific purpose. He cited examples, including the 1993 playoff series when he put New Jersey guard Drazen Petrovic on the bench with quick fouls to help Cleveland beat the Nets. He also spoke openly about the 2002 Los Angeles–Sacramento series and called himself the NBA’s “go-to guy.”
As it turned out, Denver didn’t need the win after all; they locked up a spot in the playoffs before they got to San Antonio. In a twist of fate, it was the Spurs that ended up needing the win to have a shot at the division title, and Bavetta generously accommodated. In our pregame meeting, he talked about how important the game was to San Antonio and how meaningless it was to Denver, and that San Antonio was going to get the benefit of the calls that night. Armed with this inside information, I called Jack Concannon before the game and told him to bet the Spurs.
To no surprise, we won big. San Antonio blew Denver out of the building that evening, winning by 26 points. When Jack called me the following morning, he expressed amazement at the way an NBA game could be manipulated. Sobering, yes; amazing, no. That’s how the game is played in the National Basketball Association.
Once you’ve read this post, and the rest of the excerpts from Tim Donaghy’s book at Deadspin, chime in below. Are you buying it?