While listening to NPR on my way home from work today, i heard yet another story about NBA ref Tim Donaghy. He pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce. He bet on games that he refereed and all that...most of you know the story (if you don't, you can read here, here, and here.)
Here's the quote from the NPR story that really stuck out to me though:
The picks, the government said, included information about games that Donaghy officiated - information that was not public. Donaghy had "unique access," including what crews would be officiating games, the interaction of different officials and players, and the physical condition of certain players.From the ESPN video here:
[Donaghy] said that he would know the referee schedule in advance, something that is confidential, the general public was not privy to. Knowing the refs, knowing their dynamics with the players involved, Tim Donaghy would tell his two co-conspirators who he thought would be the winner of that game.He wasn't just telling them which games he reffing. He was telling them who was reffing where, and what the bad-blood history between refs and players was - and who would win based on those factors.
More than betting on games he actually worked, he is mostly being charged with is giving bookies and others inside information. Insider trading on NBA games if you will. The most important part of this though wasn't mentioned in the AP article - that is, what the specific information was. He told them not only who was hurt and who wasn't (which was relatively public knowledge most of the time anyway) but also what crews would be officiating games and the interaction of different officials and players.
That is huge.
Donaghy's information was valuable not because he was a crooked ref, but because the NBA has a systemic problem with referees and players. Personalities are far too involved, and impact the outcome of games, even when gambling isn't involved. Vegas and Donaghy knew it, and made good money by knowing who would be covering which games. Don't you think David Stern knows it too?
It got so bad in one case last year that Joey Crawford challenged Tim Duncan to a fight and was later suspended as a ref, probably (hopefully) never to return to the league. But it isn't just limited to him. It is so systemic that a gambling ring setup with an insider to take advantage of it on a large scale.
Everyone is so caught up in one ref (who knows, maybe more) that could have thrown games that he called. Is that big - yes. But what is much more important is what every solid NBA fan as known for years - there are few if any impartial refs left in the business. They may not be being swayed by money, but they are swayed by personalities, conflicts, and ego.
If the league doesn't get this under control fast, one gambling ref will be the least of their problems.