- Mike Fish
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NEW YORK -- After his son called on Father's Day just over a year ago, Gerry Donaghy hung up the phone, crushed. The bond they'd shared was gone. The pride in his adult son, the NBA ref, turned in that instant to embarrassment and anger.
Tim Donaghy cried his eyes out that afternoon as he struggled to find the words in what should have been a conversation full of pleasantries. Finally, with prodding from his father, a distinguished former college basketball referee, Donaghy came clean about his gambling and told his dad he was about to be busted by the Feds for, of all things, betting on NBA games.
"It killed me," Gerry Donaghy recalled softly, shortly after learning that Tim had been sentenced to a 15-month prison term. "Being a ref myself, it just was awful. I knew he was a gambler. I knew he gambled on the golf course and I knew he'd bring friends over to the house and play [Texas] Hold 'em or whatever that poker game is.
"I'd never gambled in my life. I talked to him. I told him he couldn't gamble. When he told me he gambled on basketball games, I couldn't believe it."
On Tuesday, the father was by his son's side at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, amid a gaggle of TV cameras and reporters, his tanned left arm draped gently over Tim's shoulders. Gerry Donaghy and his wife of 45 years, Joan -- joined by a priest and friend from Philadelphia, identified as Father Rob -- listened quietly in the courtroom as U.S. District Court Judge Carol Amon sentenced the disgraced former NBA ref.
Fifteen months followed by three years of supervised release is the price Donaghy, 41, must pay after pleading guilty last year to betting on games he officiated and offering up confidential information to two gamblers -- James "Baba" Battista and Thomas Martino, both high school classmates from the Philadelphia area. Battista was sentenced last week to 15 months, and Martino to a year.
As Donaghy, appearing gaunt in a light green suit, stood before the court, Judge Amon voiced displeasure with, among other things, the tarnish left on the pro game from his role as an official. Federal guidelines called for a sentence of 27 to 33 months, but Amon took into account Donaghy's cooperation with investigators.
"I thought 15 months is a little harsh for a guy who cooperated like he did," Gerry Donaghy said later. "He thought he'd get the same as Martino -- a year."
The cooperation Gerry Donaghy referenced includes information his son apparently offered up on other NBA refs and the culture of cozy relationships -- often between referees and players or referees and coaches -- that was the gist of the inside tips he provided his gambler buddies.
According to prosecutors, Donaghy used his position to learn the identities of officiating crews for specific games, and to gain insight into relationships between refs and players and team personnel, as well as insight into players' physical condition. Although the information is incomplete, investigators suggest Donaghy proved successful at picking winners a staggering 80 percent of the time.
Like his son's attorney, John Lauro, Gerry Donaghy believes the NBA is avoiding responsibility for the scandal. Commissioner David Stern has publicly and consistently cast Tim Donaghy as a "rogue ref" and insisted the rest of the league's officiating system is in the clear.
"If there is nothing wrong with the NBA, then how can an individual [Tim] successfully pick seven of 10 games a week, week after week?" asked Gerry Donaghy, dressed in dark slacks and a white knit golf shirt. "There's something to it. Other gamblers jumped on the bandwagon. That is why Battista jumped on the bandwagon. So what does that tell you about the NBA?
"For Stern to get out there and say there is no problem, that is wrong. Then he wants to put $1.4 million [the amount of restitution the NBA sought from Donaghy] on his head. He did a bad thing. He shouldn't be excused. But he shouldn't be crucified, either. That's what the NBA wants to do."
Amon reduced the amount of restitution Donaghy must pay the NBA from the $1.4 million requested to $200,000.
Lauro, who has been critical of the NBA's officiating system since he took on Donaghy's case, said again that it needs further review.
"There is no question in my mind that the NBA needs to be looked at from top to bottom," Lauro said outside the courthouse.
Asked if he feels the NBA has a problem with its officials, he said, "The fans watch games. The fans can draw their own conclusions."
That kind of talk is doubly painful for Gerry Donaghy -- a referee and father of a ref. Before he retired, he was one of the college game's more highly respected officials, regularly drawing assignments in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Atlantic 10. He worked four Final Fours in the early 1990s, including the 1992 Duke-Michigan title game.
So last year's Father's Day phone call, in which he pulled the truth from his son about his dirty deeds, was especially agonizing.
"He'd already been with the FBI, I think," the father recalled. "He calls me up, crying, upset. He said, 'I got bad news to tell you. I don't know whether I should tell you or not.'
"I said, 'Well, if it's bad news, I need to know.'
"He said, 'I'm going to be indicted for gambling -- betting on basketball. He said, 'Don't tell mother.'
"Well, that's not the way we operate. We've been married 45 years. There are no secrets."
Gerry Donaghy echoed what had been said about his son in the courtroom. The fallout from his gambling is a life in ruin. The father of four young girls is broke, out of a job and recently divorced.
"He has no money," Gerry Donaghy said. "He's living with a friend, sleeping on a sofa. He wants to stay down in Florida so he can be with the kids all the time. But other than that, his life is devastated.
"I told him to go out and get a job. He said, 'Well, what can I do?'
"I said, 'Dig ditches if you have to.' Maybe after this [serving his sentence], he can start to get his life back together."
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim Donaghy will spend 15 months in prison, but his father -- a retired referee himself -- says the NBA shouldn't escape responsibility, writes ESPN.com's Mike Fish.