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Tim Donaghy on D&C, 12/8

12.08.09 at 11:02 am ET
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Disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was a guest on the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning and talked to the hosts about his method of betting NBA games, whether he thinks NBA players gamble on games (he does), why Rasheed Wallace is so hated by NBA refs and his problems with Doc Rivers.

This book seems like a story about a referee gone bad as much as it is an indictment on the lack of neutrality, integrity and fair competition in the NBA. Is that fair to say?

I think it’s fair to say that there are biases that took place and relationships that allowed me to place winning bets on NBA games.

We’ll get into that, but before we do that, you knew what you were doing was wrong. Your former partner James Battista described you as someone who couldn’t bet successfully on college and pro football, but could on the NBA based on your inside knowledge. Was there a moment where you decided that you would step over the line and bet on games that you were officiating?

Obviously, first of all, I didn’t get into betting on NBA games because I was in a big hole that I needed to climb out. I think it was a situation where over the years I realized that over the years these things were predictable and it was easy for me to place these bets on games knowing that I was going to have a high success rate placing winning bets.

Do you remember the night that you placed your first bet? There had to be a jumping off point where you thought, ‘I know this is wrong. I know I can get into a lot of trouble.’ Do you remember that moment in time?

Yeah I do. It was a situation where I was sitting at a country club with a friend. He had a Philadelphia Daily News and he made a comment to me that, basically, do you know who’s going to win these games? I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to say yes. I knew who was refereeing one particular game that night. There was a large point spread and I knew the habits of one particular referee and I told him to bet this game.

That was Dick Bavetta right?

That’s correct.

When you say you know the habits of referees, whether it’s Dick Bavetta specifically or others, tell us what it is you know that allowed you to predict the outcome before the game is tossed in the air?

It wasn’t every night and every game that we bet. But there were relationships that existed, both positive and negative, and I used those relationships to make up my own line on NBA games. I would compare that line to what was in the newspaper and if there was a difference of four or five points I would tell them to bet the game.

What players were on the [negative] list?

There was Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace. Sometimes it had to with an owner. Maybe Mark Cuban [Dallas] or Robert Sarver [Phoenix]. There were situations where I knew personal biases would come into play.

The prosecutor asked you which refs bet on sports or bet on games, horses and went to casinos. They gave you a list of 60 and you fingered 50? Is that correct?

I fingered 50, but I think the NBA’s own investigation concluded that all 60 bet in some form or another over the last few years.

So why wouldn’t they, like you, take advantage of their expertise? Why aren’t they in the same predicament that you are?

I’m not sure. I know there were people on the staff that liked to gamble. But I, unfortunately, crossed a line that I shouldn’t have been near. I know there have been allegations that there are 13 other people who are involved in this through James Battista, but as far as me being to able to confirm that, I’m not able to do so at this point in time.

Did you fix games, subconsciously?

No, I think that’s the big misconception, that subconsciously I did this to make winning picks. Obviously I didn’t want to be detected. Going out and making calls that were wrong to help a bet win is something that I tried to stay away from because the goal was not to be detected. Certainly if I was making incorrect calls in purpose to help my bets win I would have been detected by the NBA which scrutinizes most of the calls.

But you’re saying you made incorrect calls to settle scores?

No, I’m not saying that.

But other officials made calls on Allen Iverson for palming or Rasheed Wallace for something just because they didn’t like them?

I think you have to look at the problem the NBA has, is that there is too much subjectivity in calls. Allen Iverson palms the ball every night, but it’s not called. If there’s a situation where some people want to start calling the palming violations they can be justified.

You didn’t want to make calls that would expose you. I would suggest that the other thing you didn’t want to do was tick off the mob either though, correct?

Obviously I didn’t want to. There was one situation where I did and I received some phone calls.

You threw out a coach.

I threw out a coach in San Antonio, who deserved to get thrown out, in the first quarter. I had told them to bet San Antonio and they were upset that I did that.

What did they do about it?

They just called and lectured me at the beginning. That was the first sit-down. They wanted to know why I would do that when I told them to bet that team.

Was that Battista?

No, I never really had much contact after that initial meeting. There was always a go-between. He wanted to keep himself distanced from me, so there was someone who relayed the message from him.

Bryant Gumbel asked Battista if you were fixing games, and he paused and he thought and he said, “No comment. But I will say this. Every time Tim Donaghy said this team was going to win I was pretty sure that team was going to win.” He pegged it at 78-79 percent of the games you bet on, you were going to win.

Right. I would say that I had the same winning percentage on the games I didn’t bet. As far as him trying to sensationalize the story and insinuate that I fixed games, I think he’s trying to put the pressure back on me.

Let’s talk about games that you did not officiate. You would call refs and try to pick their brain prior to the game and that would help you figure out what you were going to do with your bet that night, correct?

Yes. I would basically fish for information to search for problems or vendettas that were existing and use that information to put a new line to a game and research it in the newspaper and see if the line should be changed by four or five points. If I felt that it was I would tell them to bet the game.

My guess is that’s not a common practice for an official from somewhere else calling an official in Boston to see what they know about the Celtics game on a particular night. How did they not know what you were fishing for?

It was common because we were all friends. When you talk about down time on the road, being in hotel rooms with nothing to do, you basically speak to each other on the phone. Stories come up, vendettas are discussed, games are discussed, players are discussed. If there’s a situation where I felt like I had information I would use that information to place winning bets.

I’m sure David Stern must be throwing up in his mouth, hearing you on “60 Minutes,” hearing you on HBO, reading this book. It seems like for all the inside view on you and your problems and what you decided to do; the neutrality and the integrity and the fair competition most people thought existed in the NBA, according to you Tim, doesn’t really exist at all.

I don’t know if the fair competition really exists from the fan perspective. I think they’re well aware that stars are treated differently on the floor. That’s my claim here, is that if it is a show then we should claim that it’s a show. If it is a fair competition then we should allow the referees to make calls based on the rules in the rulebook and not an eye on the bottom line or not an eye on what the fans need to say and have certain players remain in games.

All the integrity goes out of the window if indeed Dick Bavetta is the NBA’s manipulation referee. If they want an NBA series extended, it’s not on the level, Tim.

I would agree with you. I would tell you that I wrote about it in the book. I had many conversations with Dick Bavetta and he claimed that he was the NBA’s go-to guy and he was put on certain games to make sure a certain team win.

You don’t seem like a stupid man, a little ethically challenged perhaps, but when you knew the mob was making millions why did you settle for two grand?

At the time it was a situation where I didn’t want to be detected and I was trying to get through a season hoping that this whole mess would go away after they got involved and I would still be able to retain my job.

And you ended up with a hundred grand?

Over four years, I profited roughly about a hundred grand. It was used to go to casinos, pay off other bets and buy luxury items for my wife and kids.

That was only about a third of your income, per year, correct?

Correct.

You were bringing in only about 25 grand per year, correct? That seems like a bad risk-reward, Tim.

Obviously it was and obviously looking back, there was certainly some bad choices and decisions that I made in my life. If I could turn back time I would. Again, when you’re talking about being involved in an addiction you do things that you know rationally are wrong and you do things, where after the fact you can sit back and say, ‘Why did I do that?’

So you are a gambling addict?

I think that’s something that’s obvious and I continue to go to treatment today. I’ve been going to treatment over the last few years.

Is the urge still there? Do you have to fight it?

I don’t think the urge is there. When you talk about having four daughters and the damage that you did to their lives. That’s deterrent enough not to step back into that area.

You don’t think other officials are gambling on games, but do you know that for a fact?

No, I don’t know that for a fact and obviously you talk about James Battista he’s made claims that 13 other referees are involved and are on his payroll. I don’t have any knowledge of that, but I know there are other statements that other people are involved.

We have Rasheed Wallace in Boston. What should we look for? How would we detect that other refs have a vendetta?

First of all, with my whole situation, a lot of these biases are staying in the closet and being controlled. Because they’re going to be exposed a lot easier and a lot quicker then what they were before. I can’t give you any hints on what to look for with Rasheed.

I assume the NBA is trying to stop you now. Did they try to keep you off “60 Minutes”? We know they tried to stop the book.

What’s been relayed to me is that they went into the offices of Random House and actually had a sit-down with the executives there. They also went into CBS and had a sit-down with them and try to deter them from running the segment on me.

Do you think any players gamble on the games?

That’s a tough question. Players make a lot of money. I was asked that [Monday]. They also spend a lot of money and they’re also involved with heavy card games, so, you know, if I was to make a prediction, I would say yes. I would think that along the lines of passing inside information to people they’re associated with, I would say yes, that some players gamble on game.

Which NBA star is most loathed by NBA officiating crews? This A.I. story comes to mind. Is he the one?

I don’t know if he’s the one because there were both positive and negative relationships associated with A.I. There was one referee that actually kissed him at a captain’s meeting before each game. I would say, unfortunately, I know he’s on your team right now, but Rasheed Wallace was someone I don’t believe anyone cared for. Looking back, it’s probably because he’s one of the smartest players in the league. He was outspoken about how there were biases and how relationships affected the refereeing.

So they got mad at him because he was telling the truth about their biases?

Exactly.

But they were mad at A.I. because he threatened an official and you guys didn’t think he was punished severely enough?

Correct.

You write that it works the other way as well. That one official liked Isiah Thomas so much that he gave the Knicks 39 free throws in one game and at the end of the game Isiah sent him a pair of sneakers?

There were relationships both positive and negative. I actually refereed that game. It was a situation where I told the associates to bet on New York because I knew a referee didn’t like Pat Riley. He had problems with him in the past and that he spoke on the telephone with Isiah Thomas in the past. After the game someone knocked on the door and asked him for his home address so he could send him the sneakers and jersey that he asked for before the game.

You didn’t get the jersey?

No, he got it that night. I can’t tell you in the past that I’ve never gotten any because a lot of us have done that.

Do LeBron and Kobe get special treatment or extra scrutiny?

Obviously they get preferential treatment. When you talk about the stars of the game and letting them stay on the floor at all costs, they’re definitely given preferential treatment.

I’m guessing Doc Rivers does too, because everyone likes Doc, right?

I certainly had my share of problems with Doc, so he wasn’t high on my list.

You’re not high on his list either.

That’s OK. That’s understandable.

What didn’t you like about him?

I thought he was one of those guys who put a lot of pressure on referees, especially young referees, to try to manipulate them into giving him the benefit of the calls.

It’s called coaching.

That is called coaching, and the better coaches can do a better job of manipulating the referees.

He wasn’t good at manipulating?

He was good at manipulating, but I think he took it to a whole new level of the way he whined and complained. I think the stronger referees had enough of the way he acted.

What happened in prison? Did you get knee-capped?

There was guy who claimed to be associated with the mob in New York and took a stick and whacked me in the knee a few times.

Are you OK?

I’m in the process of determining how I’m going to get an operation. I have some damage to my knee that I need to get fixed.

Are you in this by yourself? Did you have people tell you this is how you get out of this? You write a book, you say you’re sorry, a cry on “60 Minutes”?

Obviously I have support from friends and family. I was encouraged to write a book not only from them, but also from law enforcement officials because I think there’s an important message here. Before we cross that line we should take a step back and realize that our actions will not only affect us, but also the people we love the most, and that’s our family.

Who do you like tonight?

[Laughing] What’s the line? And who’s refereeing? Nah, I’m joking with you.

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