Late night callers to sports talk radio have often claimed that the NBA commissioners office were manipulating games behind the scenes to get more favourable match-ups and therefore better television ratings in the playoffs. A claim that has been strongly denied by the league. Then along came Tim Donaghy.
Donaghy, as you may recall, was an NBA referee for thirteen seasons who is now awaiting sentencing on felony charges of taking cash payoffs from gamblers and betting on games himself. Donaghy could also be facing state charges in the near future which were not included in his plea agreement with Federal prosecutors.
It is certainly no coincidence that Donaghy's lawyer is speaking up now on behalf of his client. The NBA has a dream final this year as the Lakers face the Celtics and all eyes are on the league. Donaghy feels he has been vilified and is not getting the credit he deserves for being cooperative with the prosecutors.
Through his lawyer, Donaghy now claims to have "named names" in his first interview with prosecutors and the FBI in 2007. Obviously, these people have been investigated and cleared by the FBI, otherwise they too would have been charged. If the disgraced referee feels someone is getting away with a crime and he is an "honest" individual, then I say; name those names. Stand up with your lawyer and your proof and tell us who! If you have the proof, the league would surely help you defend yourself in any future libel suits. You're the hero. You blew the lid off a scandal never before seen. Oh wait, you haven't come forward with any proof. As commissioner Stern said in his press conference, this man is just throwing things against the wall of public opinion and hoping something sticks.
Game six of the Western Conference Finals in 2002 is now being questioned. Well, let's not forget this was a Laker team that had Shaquille O'Neal in his prime and an emerging Kobe Bryant and won three championships in a row. In game six of that series, Shaq had 41 points and 17 rebounds. I don't care who the referee is, when Big Diesel is playing like that, his team is going to win.
The NBA's reputation has certainly been tarnished by this whole situation but the Commissioners office seems to have been very quick to react and were already keeping a close eye on their referees. Perhaps that's why the Donaghy situation has every major sports league concerned. The NBA didn't discover Donaghy's crimes, the FBI stumbled upon it while investigating someone else. Yes, that's what must have all the leagues scared. They had a dirty referee and didn't know it. As fans, we will always be left to wonder if...
One other note... There is a gold mine waiting in Las Vegas if a league is willing to locate a franchise there. Look for the poor cousin, the NHL, to be the guinea pig. The NHL is the one league of the big four - NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB - that needs the money that expansion would bring. If a gambling scandal hits the NHL team, the other leagues can say I told you so. If it works, look for all four leagues to have a team there in ten years.