Stan Hochman: Ex-ref Donaghy blows the whistle

From the cover of 'Personal Foul,' Tim Donaghy’s memoir on his life as a former NBA referee and his basketball gambling.

TIM DONAGHY is the ultimate whistle-blowing whistle-blower, calling a flagrant foul on the NBA, accusing it of encouraging a "culture of fraud."

Or . . . Tim Donaghy is a pathetic loser, a gambling addict, his life in tatters, throwing other referees under a bus belching carbon monoxide in an effort to sell a hiss-and-tell book. You lay 6-to-5 either way.

It's a tough book, a nightmare for the NBA, because it names names, at least two dozen referees Donaghy says allow feuds or friendships to influence the calls they make.

Donaghy knew the referees, knew the vendettas, knew who owned the eat-free card in a coach's restaurant. Knew what directives were churning out of the league office, emphasizing certain calls that would favor one team over another. Knew which superstars earned special treatment, which big-market teams got all the breaks at playoff time, which referee loved to keep games close, which meant you always bet the double-digit underdog when that guy was out there.

Used all that inside information to predict the outcome of games against the spread, including games he officiated. Shared that information with a heavy-handed gambler.

If Donaghy's pick won, he got $2,000. If Donaghy's pick lost, he got nothing but a dirty look and some grumbling. Says he was right 70 to 80 percent of the time. Says he once ran off a 15-for-16 streak.

His gambling buddy got so rich and so spoiled, he squawked when Donaghy lost two in a row. Bingo, Tim picked San Antonio yet threw out coach Gregg Popovich early in the game. The Spurs won but didn't cover. Says that shows that beneath that addicted gambler exterior there was an honest man.

The book was originally called, "Blowing the Whistle." The would-be publishers dropped it like a red-hot anvil on advice of counsel. The book is now called "Personal Foul." What did Shakespeare say? A prose by any other name would smell as rancid. Close enough.

Donaghy is the son of a respected college ref, a Villanova grad. Had some other kid take his SATs. (The FBI found that out when it was trying to establish his credibility after he ratted out his partners.)

Bet on other sports, hit the casinos hard, played high-stakes blackjack at the country club. Drifted into betting on NBA games, for the thrill of it, and, oh yeah, to cover the losses from his compulsive gambling. Knew it was wrong, but couldn't resist "the rush" that came with the wagers.

Got caught. Confessed to wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit wagering information. David Stern, the NBA commissioner, did what he could. Called Donaghy a rogue referee, working alone. Commissioned a study of the league's refs. It came up clean.

Hmm. Donaghy says the prosecutor gave him a list of 60 refs and asked him to point out the guys who bet on other sports, who bet the horses, who patronized casinos. Donaghy says he fingered 50 names.

Donaghy says the league allowed those refs caught in an airline-ticket scam decades ago to keep working. Says bad refs become supervisors. Says games are "manipulated" all the time. Will probably say all that when he's on "60 Minutes" Sunday.

There's one episode in the book that is so timely it's remarkable. Donaghy says one well-known ref hates Allen Iverson. Says that when A.I. got traded to Denver, first game against the Sixers, the bitter ref called two technicals on A.I. and tossed him out of the game.

Iverson said it was "personal" and got fined $25,000 for his remarks. Some other refs felt the fine was too lenient, so they called palming on A.I. four times in his next game. Rattled him into a 5-for-17 shooting night. Now, here comes Iverson, the prodigal son, back with the Sixers, facing Denver in his first game.

All that juicy stuff about a ref who liked Isiah

Thomas working a Knicks game. Knicks went to the line 39 times that night, Miami shot eight free throws. Knicks won. The book says Thomas sent a clubhouse guy to get the ref's home address so he could send him some sneakers he'd promised him.

There's even some frivolous stuff about refs making pregame wagers among themselves about who would call the first foul, who would nail a pest with the first technical.

Me, I kept waiting for an explanation of how Donaghy could do an honest job of officiating when he had 2,000 "apples" riding on the outcome. That's what they called his reward, 2,000 apples.

Says he had an epiphany during the national anthem early on. Said he would not make phantom calls just to cash a bet. Says it's one of the first things his father asked when the scandal broke. Says he told his dad he did not shave points.

Let's see if we've got this straight. Donaghy was able to predict the outcome of games because he knew all the gossip, which refs hated which players, coaches, owners. He was counting on their petty grievances to affect the outcome of games.

But he, with 2,000 apples riding on a game, he was Mr. Integrity, calling it by the book. Believe that and maybe your next book ought to be "Goodnight Moon."

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