Trust Me

You know things are bad when, as of Monday afternoon, NBA.com had no news about Tim Donaghy, the recently retired referee and alleged mob connected game fixer, save for a two-paragraph Friday press release from Commissioner Stern. Not one story. Not one column. The news that a NBA referee is alleged to be involved in fixing games should not be a surprise to the NBA. According to a story in the New York Daily News, the league hired a private investigator a year and a half ago to look into Donaghy and gambling. They looked. They found. One local reported that "Donaghy bet on golf games, neighborhood poker games and at an Atlantic City casino."

Tim Donaghy

Even if that turns out to be neighborhood gossip and untrue, placing the word "bet" in the same sentence as "Donaghy" is more than enough to get your attention. Then add a 2005 lawsuit by neighbor Peter Mansueto, who claimed he was harassed by Donaghy for, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer , yelling obscenities, setting fire to the Mansuetos' tractor and crashing the family's golf cart into a ravine. I have to admit that sounds like fun, but it is considered a crime in many jurisdictions.

Donaghy was suspended from Radley Run Country Club in 2004 for chasing his neighbor's wife around the golf course while shouting obscenities. Again, sounds like fun.

Donaghy was charged in June 2002 with disorderly conduct and harassment of his postman. Apparently Mr. Donaghy looked on as a federal employee carelessly knocked over a bin of recycled trash in front of, or perhaps on, his property. This caused Donaghy to emit a mighty scream, mount his car, and, according to postman Charles Brogan, "He kept cutting me off... At one point he got out of his car and started threatening me face to face."

In 1995, Donaghy was charged with harassing and stalking Dennis Van Zandt in Haverton Township, Pennsylvania.

But I'm starting to repeat myself and that's unbecoming since everybody is working so well together. Tim, (we can call him Tim now) resigned from the NBA on July 9, and it's good timing that he did because now, when all the stories are written, Tim will be referred to as a "former referee." That sounds so much better and is factually accurate to boot!

I wonder if Tim began his resignation letter with, "I want to spend more time with my family," a reasonable explanation given his salary of $260,000 for a part-time job. Media reports say that Tim's arrest is scheduled for sometime this week. And isn't it nice to schedule these things in advance what with our busy lives? And reports say "two mob associates" may be arrested this week. Or maybe not. We'll check our calendars.

We're talking two years, two seasons of basketball. The feds overheard Tim's name while wiretapping the mob on another matter. That's how this started. The NBA did not initiate anything. Stern said at his Tuesday news conference that the first time he heard about this was June 21 of this year.

But they had to know, at least parts of NBA World. The NBA records every call a referee makes. They have an observer at every game. There is a supervisor of officials. NBA refs work in three-man teams. Referees working with Tim would know something was wrong because they were there when he made his phantom calls. There must have been rumors.

Tim worked into the second round of the playoffs this year, which is considered an atta-boy from the league. It's the official stamp: "You had a good year."

Tim officiated 139 regular season games, eight playoff games and four preseason games over the last two NBA seasons. Various reports have said that the point spread moved two points or more in 28 of them. Not enough to be convincing. It's the free-throw differentials that stand out.

The January 2, 2006, Phoenix-Knicks game in New York. Knicks had 54 free throws, Phoenix 16. November 19, 2005, Memphis at Utah. Memphis had 30 free throws, 11 for Utah. The December 18, 2006, Washington at Denver game. Denver shot 44 free throws, Washington 18.

And so on. But any decent lawyer could dredge up games that point in the opposite direction. So the feds must have something more. Wire reports state that Tim will surrender on Thursday at the Brooklyn Federal Court and cop a guilty plea. That would solve a lot of problems for the NBA. No trial, no witnesses, no messy cross-examinations. The story is contained.

I will say Stern earned his money on Tuesday. But within 30 minutes of taking his last question, Stern's story was being picked apart, starting with NBA auditors and their backgrounds. Stern is betting the league on "one rogue official," and that he did not know anything until June 21. If either statement proves false, the NBA is ruined. For a while.

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