- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009

Even the dishonest sometimes stumble into the truth.

That is the implicit demand of Tim Donaghy, the fallen former NBA referee turned ex-con and now tell-all author.

And Donaghy is telling tales that have a strong suggestion of truth.

In “Personal Foul,” his recently released book, Donaghy writes how Steve Javie had a grudge against Allen Iverson, how Dick Bavetta was a master at manipulating games and how this kind of insider’s knowledge allowed him to win 70 to 80 percent of his bets.

That winning clip, concurred by the FBI’s lead investigator, is persuasive.

Don’t take him at his word, Donaghy is saying in effect. Believe his betting record.

Donaghy said he could look at which crew was scheduled to referee an NBA game and have a fairly strong idea how the game was going to be called: which players were going to be favored and which ones were going to be shafted.

The NBA, predictably enough, continues to portray Donaghy as a “rogue referee” whose charges are baseless.

“Aren’t you the rogue referee?” Bob Simon asked in a recent “60 Minutes” interview.

“I certainly made some terrible choices to do what I did,” Donaghy said, “but the culture that existed within the game of the NBA enabled me to be able to do this at a very successful rate.”

Once, when the league office sent word that the referees were missing too many fouls in the vicinity of Kobe Bryant, Donaghy knew what the result would be.

It would mean no defender could so much as “breathe” on Bryant without incurring a foul and that he would end up spending a lot of time at the free throw line. It would not take a Mensa candidate at this point to deduce the Lakers would have a high probability of covering the point spread.

Donaghy is touching on something that most NBA supporters see on a routine basis - the preferential treatment of what the NBA deems its meal tickets.

That would be both Bryant and LeBron James.

“Fans don’t pay high prices to see players like [defensive specialist] Raja Bell,” Donaghy writes in his book. “They pay to see superstars like Kobe Bryant score 40 points. … 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.”

Donaghy adds: “As part of our ongoing training and game preparation, NBA referees regularly receive game-action videotape 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.”

Donaghy also accuses the league office of wanting long playoff series, especially if a big-market team is involved.

He quotes Bavetta as saying he is the NBA’s “go-to guy” if a certain outcome is sought.

Bavetta, of course, was a member of the three-man crew that officiated the infamous Lakers-Kings Game 6 in 2002, in which the Lakers shot 40 free throws to the Kings’ 25.

Donaghy writes how the referees would make tiny wagers before a game - the first one to issue a technical foul to one of the NBA’s well-known troublemakers would be excused from tipping the ball boy.

Another wager, Donaghy writes, was dubbed the “first foul of the game” and resulted in referees tucking away their whistles at the start of a game until someone had no choice but to call an obvious foul and lose the bet.

These adolescentlike games obfuscate the most troubling aspects of Donaghy’s book.

To those who doubt him, the league office included, Donaghy is merely repeating observations that have been checked out by the FBI. And it was his cooperation with investigators that spared him from a longer prison sentence.

That is another compelling reason to rethink the NBA’s see-no-evil position with its referees.

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