- Henry Abbott, TrueHoop, NBA
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At times, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was vague in an interview Monday about his role in gambling on NBA games.
At times he was combative. At times he was indignant. At all times he was controversial.
Donaghy spoke with ESPN on Monday about allegations in his book, "Personal Foul," which was published last week. He talked about the biases of NBA referees and his own career as a gambler.
He called the NBA more of an entertainment show than a true competition. He said that so many referees were so biased that he could win more than 70 percent of his bets simply by knowing which referees carried which grudges.
And to those who doubt that he won as often as he did, he said: "I can tell you that the FBI was brought into this because of the success of the picks that we were giving."
Donaghy pleaded guilty and served a 15-month sentence on federal wire fraud charges. He was released from prison last month. He was an NBA official for 13 seasons before being snared in an FBI investigation of gambling on NBA games.
Donaghy said he was betting $2,000 or so on games when he first started betting. He said the wins came easy and so did the money.
"It's euphoria," he said. "I'm making picks. I'm the go-to guy. And I'm continually winning at an unbelievable rate."
While keeping his bets small to avoid attention, Donaghy said he was making so much money it was hard to hide it all.
"I'm stuffing it everywhere. Suitcoat pocket, card games, golf games, luxury items for the wife and kids," he said. He estimates he made roughly $100,000 betting on the NBA.
Donaghy said his picks were once right 15 out of 16 times, a rate that he and gambling experts agree is nearly impossible with just luck. That streak, he said, "scared the living daylights out of us and almost made us think we should stop, because we were scared that we were going to be detected."
In his book, Donaghy wrote of a number of techniques he used to win at an astounding rate. Among the ways Donaghy said he made money was to bet on big underdogs when Dick Bavetta was one of the referees, because Bavetta liked to keep games close.
"He would instruct other referees to change their style, too," Donaghy said. "He'd say, 'Let's not embarrass anyone.' Get the marginal calls at one end, but not down at the other end of the floor. Not to change the outcome of the game, but to keep anyone from getting embarrassed."
However, an analysis of box scores during the period Donaghy was betting shows that betting on double-digit underdogs in Bavetta games would have resulted in a 17-25 record.
Donaghy insisted that other officials were also predisposed against certain players. He wrote that teams that include Allen Iverson underperform when Steve Javie is one of the referees, yet tend to beat the spread when Joe Crawford is officiating. He wrote that referee Joe Forte also gave a boost to the Memphis Grizzlies when Mike Fratello was the coach.
However, an analysis of final scores and betting lines showed that using that criteria would have resulted in just 35 wins out of 109 games.
"These are some of the criteria that I used," Donaghy said Monday. "I'm not saying I bet every game. ... You can spin the stats any way you want. ... The FBI investigated thoroughly. ... To sit here and say there was a science to how I did this, with the stats you're throwing at me ...
"Based on the information you're using, with your equation, it's not even in the same ballpark," Donaghy said. "There were other factors that came into play. Inside information about injuries. Home game or away game. Home crowd. Many more factors to take into consideration.
"I'm claiming that I picked 15 out of 16, and I'm also claiming that all the facts in this book are true, and it's what I used to pick games."
Donaghy was similarly indignant about a tale from his book involving Charles Barkley. As a player, Donaghy wrote in his book, Barkley stalked into the referees' locker room looking for Donaghy after an on-court dispute between the two in a Los Angeles Clippers-Houston Rockets game. Barkley, Donaghy wrote, then dumped a bucket of Gatorade and ice over the referee.
In a text message to ESPN's Mark Schwarz, Barkley insisted he has no recollection of any such thing. Donaghy said Monday it was true.
"The two refs in the locker room know it happened. I know it happened," he said. "For Charles Barkley to lie like that is troublesome to me. Maybe we both need to sit down and take a lie detector test, and maybe the loser needs to give $500,000 to charity. And I'd like to see what his response would be to that."
Donaghy told Schwarz in a separate interview that he couldn't say for certain that any other NBA officials gambled on NBA games.
He did say that NBA commissioner David Stern "needs to take his head out sand" in terms of Donaghy's accusations.
Henry Abbott writes the TrueHoop NBA blog for ESPN.com.
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