NBA Rigging: How One Referee Profited

It happened subtly, it wasn’t 100% guaranteed, and THE NBA PLAYED A ROLE!

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

According to Tim Donaghy, it was not hard to predict the outcomes of NBA games. He didn’t have to call extra fouls. He didn’t have to instigate conflicts with players. He didn’t have to eject players. He just had to do his job.

Tim’s preferred method of cheating was taking advantage of a system already set-up by the NBA.

A system involving pregame meetings, during which the league laid out points of emphasis to the referees. These meetings would play a tremendous role in determining winners and losers.

The example Tim used in his interview with Pardon My Take was Kobe Bryant (RIP) getting fouled while going to the basket.

To focus on this point, the NBA would show tapes of Kobe getting fouled by opponents. These tapes would directly reflect which rules the league wanted enforced for future matches.

After the meetings, the referees would take turns — calling the same foul for the Lakers.

YouTube | “Jailed NBA Ref Tim Donaghy Details How He Knew What Games To Bet On” | Pardon My Take

What would you do?

If your employer wanted you to focus on a specific element of your work by showing you clips, how much leverage would you have to disregard it and act independently? Likely none.

Most people would follow their employers’ exact directions because listening to your boss = greater job security.

Even if the Referees were allowed to act independently, these tapes altered their perception and resulted in subconscious favoritism.

It was enough bias for Tim and his accomplice to accurately predict the outcome of games and make tens of thousands of dollars in profits.

Why did Tim Stop?

Ultimately, the FBI’s investigation into a mob matter led to Tim Donaghy being discovered:

“On July 20, 2007, columnist Murray Weiss of the New York Post reported an investigation by the FBI into allegations of an NBA referee betting on games to control the point spread. It was revealed that Donaghy, who has a gambling problem, placed tens of thousands of dollars in bets on games during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 season.” — Wikipedia

Upon the initiation of the FBI’s investigation into his cheating, Tim resigned and cooperated with law enforcement. Tim pleaded guilty to two federal charges and received a sentence of 15 months in prison.

Where was the NBA?

The NBA claimed to be unaware of Tim’s actions. In fact, it was not the league that uncovered his scandal. The league only found out about Donaghy’s illegal sports-betting after the FBI made an announcement.

In other words, The NBA found out like the rest of us.

Of course, to this day, Tim has been solely-blamed for the debacle. The league has not accepted any responsibility in the matter. Instead, the league’s commissioner claimed they were “betrayed” by Donaghy.

Perhaps, they were betrayed for not keeping their pregame meetings a secret.

Why won’t Bad Referees Get Fired?

This question is an age-old mystery in sports. The same referees that gain notoriety for making bad calls keep making repeat performances.

I’m not referring to Tim, who resigned, served jail-time, and never returned to sports. I’m referring to referees who miss calls on a week-in and week-out basis.

How do they still have a job in pro sports?

Despite weekly outrage by fans, players and the league: the same refs are kept on the payroll to mishandle — yet another high profile game.

To Tim’s point, the only explanation that satisfies this phenomenon is that the referees act at their employers’ discretion.

It’s the league who is directing them on how the games are handled and which teams are favored. Although the league does not outright say — chose team XYZ to win, it does point to certain aspects of a match that substantially favor that team.

Does this rig a game? I vote, yes! If not directly, definitely subconsciously.

Instead of labeling the referees as bad referees, we should consider labeling them “employees of the month” for satisfying their employer’s demands.

Where else is this happening?

Photo by Nathan Shively on Unsplash

It is hard to know which other leagues suffer from the same self-inflicted problems. These issues are often covered up. After all, it can undermine the viewership of the sport.

However, there are warning signs to spot:

  • Referees who make bad calls remain employed. They never seemed to get fired.
  • Camera angles are always conveniently placed — showing a lack of evidence.
  • Players seem to be aware of a setup, and they’re not as outraged as fans.
  • A lucrative extra game (like game 7) remains in the balance.

Entertainment Value

In the end, “professional” sports are a form of entertainment — just like professional wrestling. Most leagues act to make matches more competitive and deliver better value to their customers.

After all, who wants to watch a blow-out Main Event?

As for fans, they innately know something is occurring behind the scenes. It is not a conspiracy but something done for the sake of entertainment value. Just like walking into a “based on true events” movie, you know the writers will emphasize specific circumstances to craft a compelling narrative.

Read More Medium Articles by KR Franklin

Editor of Fellowship Writers

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store