After more than a month of fevered tapdancing by both sides, disgraced pro-basketball referee Tim Donoghy appeared in Brooklyn federal court Wednesday to cop pleas to a pair of felony charges directly related to his gambling activities over the past few years.
Specific to the most-recent NBA season, Donoghy acknowledged passing along his "opinions" on a goodly number of NBA games to a couple of old high school buddies - James Battista and Thomas Martino - who'd gotten wind of Donoghy's previous activities in this area. Hinting blackmail was involved, Donoghy consented to pass his wisdom along to Battista and Martino in return for specific cash rewards when individual games landed in a satisfactory manner to all parties involved.
This on the heels of Donoghy acknowledging that he'd been venturing out on NBA final scores, going back to 2003.
Friday's stories appearing in most major dailies were largely a rehash of events exhaustively aired, earlier in the week. But the weekend USA Today featured a story that raised the possibility that a laundry list of many or all of the games Donoghy bet could eventually be made public -- especially if Donoghy's cooperation with the federales made for a more airtight case against Batista and Martino, down the road. If such a list were to even suggest a pattern of participation by additional NBA officials . . . Katy, bar the door.
"But, but," you say, "what about all the alleged game-fixing we've been hearing about, over the past month? What about the mysterious multiplying foul calls, designed to produce overs? What about shady foul pronouncements favoring one team or another? What about Game III of the Spurs/Suns Western Conference semis? Huh? Huh?"
Well, Bunky, we agree that there was a good deal of circumstantial visual and statistical evidence produced along the way to support every bit of such levels of indignation.
But Donaghy copped to none of that in his Wednesday statement, merely noting that he was in possession of and had absorbed the master referee schedules which reflected precisely who was working each game, while also noting that "(he) was aware of the manner in which officials interacted with players and called games, as well as the condition of players, prior to a game. By having this nonpublic information, I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games."
This was the precise equivalent of a cold bucket of water, emptied directly into the disingenuous face of NBA Commissioner David Stern -- who has long denied the veracity of the hard-earned/rueful knowledge of serious NBA gamblers that certain referees have long demonstrated tangible levels of animosity towards certain league players and coaches.
As we noted in our first column on this subject, dated July 23 of this year: "Rack one up for the cynics. Most sports who follow the NBA closely have long observed certain style tendencies of league refs who have been around long enough to be profiled, and knowing what referees might be working a particular game can be most-useful information, in conjunction with knowledge of such tendencies . . . individual referees and their quirks have always been relevant to the flavor of NBA matchups . . . a notion further legitimized, today . . . "
This can be good-to-the-last-drop information -- if known in time by people with an understanding of just how to weigh it. But I harbor doubts that anyone using this stuff is going to go 70%+ in ATS selections over the course of a season, never mind the 93%(!?!) alleged by at least one print source.
Portions of the text of the wire-fraud count against Donaghy is more revealing about what it DOESN'T say, directly. We quote, from paragraph ten: "It was part of the conspiracy that as to certain NBA games, INCLUDING GAMES HE OFFICIATED (caps ours), DONAGHY provided a pick to his co-conspirators as to which team should be bet."
And from paragraph thirteen: " . . . DONAGHY would rely on, AMONG OTHER THINGS (caps ours), nonpublic and other information . . . DONAGHY also compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games . . . " Ding, ding, ding.
In our humble opinion, all this is far from validating anything resembling an overall 70% success rate - especially when factoring in games in which the indicted wasn't involved in the officiating.
But from this launching point, it's a Grand Canyon-scale leap to get where our fictional prototypical fan would like to go . . . i. e.: "Where the hell are the gamefixing charges?"
Well, Bunky, old sport, you need a smoking gun for that. Did Donaghy directly tell the Feds that he was into making shaky calls for the sake of assuring a specific side/total result? Would appear not! And if nobody else possesses such evidence, videotaped and/or recorded, your chance of getting a sports-bribery conviction ranges from slim to none -- and Slim left the building, a while back.
So, while awaiting further developments, we will use up our self-quotation quota for the calendar quarter, reiterating our final statement in our July 23 piece:
"And while we're attending to the current mess, we must again ask: Is the NBA finally willing to absorb yet another lesson about not assigning league officials with axes to grind, to games featuring coaches and/or players with whom said officials might find it a strain to play fair? Let's get it ALL done, the right way, in one fell swoop, shall we, Mr. Commissioner?"
No more Steve Javie working Heat games, huh? Is this too difficult to grasp?
There's plenty of time to get into likely fan reactions to run-of-the-mill garbage calls when the 2007-08 season begins in earnest. Can hardly wait.
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