Let’s talk about the Pedowitz Report, the recently-released study about NBA refs and gambling and all that stuff. The whole document is 133 pages and is available for download here, but I have read though it and will now bring you the highlights, the SLAM Notes version. Let’s get it started in here…
Right off the bat, we learn this:
We have discovered no information suggesting that any NBA referee other than Tim Donaghy has bet on NBA games or leaked confidential NBA information to gamblers.
I’m surprised that part’s not in bold type. “Move along, nothing to see here…” And just in case you weren’t sure about the integrity of the rest of the NBA refs, the Pedowitz Report makes clear:
While the referees to whom we spoke said that their primary aim was to make accurate and consistent calls, some team representatives believe that some referees on occasion make calls based on personal bias.
You think? The Report kind of skips over this, at least initially, and, a few paragraphs later, notes:
Starting this season, a “hotline” will be available for League and team employees (including referees, coaches, trainers, players and other NBA employees) to anonymously raise questions and report problems concerning gambling and game integrity issues.
Now we’re getting somewhere! A hotline! I’ve got to get ahold of that number. Maybe I could just give out my cell phone number and tell everyone it’s the hotline?
One other early idea in the report is another way to increase trust in the refs…
To ensure that the public is better educated about the scope and import of the referee program and the extent to which referees are monitored to ensure that games are called fairly, we have suggested that the NBA continue to make presentations to media about the key aspects of the referee program, including standards of performance, management, evaluations, training programs and its data collection system. We have also suggested that a publicly accessible website be created, which would include, for example, basic information (including video) about referees, the referee program, playing rules and how they are interpreted. We have also recommended that the NBA make a cross-section of referees available to the public and the media to discuss how they approach their job on a day-to-day basis.
Good luck with that. A few years ago SLAM asked the NBA if we could cover the ref training camp, so we could give our readers a look behind the scenes at all the work involved with being a referee. They said no. (Heck, a few weeks ago when the NBA introduced the new czar of refs, Gen. Ron Johnson, and invited a bunch of media, SLAM wasn’t invited to that press event, either.)
The Pedowitz Report, or the P.R., then goes into the background of the situation, explaining that Donaghy was caught, blah blah blah. Then they lay out the purpose of the Pedowitz Report:
The Commissioner made clear to us that our mandate was a broad one and that we were to conduct a searching review of matters that could affect the integrity of the game. No limits were placed on how we pursued our review. If matters came to our attention that suggested any other wrongdoing, we were instructed to pursue them as we believed appropriate. We were given unfettered access to League personnel and League documents. The referees were instructed to cooperate with us and did so with the understanding that any misstatement to us would result in termination.
As a result of our work, we reached certain conclusions about the nature of the referee program, the ethos of the League and its referees, and the circumstances of particular games that have received scrutiny as examples of potential referee misconduct. Our conclusions are set forth in this report.
The P.R. crew says they interviewed 200 people, including refs, NBA team officials, NBA League execs, as well as…
We also received input from the Executive Director and the General Counsel of the National Basketball Players Association, the President of the NBA Coaches Association and the General Counsel of the National Basketball Trainers Association.
I guess the trainers told them how many time outs they had left? Also, and this kinda sucks, they didn’t speak to Donaghy or anyone from the government involved in the original case:
Despite our repeated requests, Donaghy has declined to speak with us. The government also has declined to share any non-public information from its investigation with us.
So they’re basically starting from scratch. Awesome.
The report then goes through all the public documents from the Donaghy case, laying out what he allegedly did and what he confessed to doing. One of the great bits comes from a letter the prosecutor wrote to the judge prior to Donaghy’s sentencing:
Beginning in or about 2003, and continuing into 2007, Donaghy provided betting recommendations or “picks” on NBA games — including games he officiated — to Jack Concannon, who was one of Donaghy’s friends. Donaghy and Concannon bet on approximately 40 games per season, and shared evenly in any gambling winnings. Donaghy earned $10,000 to $30,000 per year from gambling on these NBA games. (These winnings were offset by losses incurred gambling on other sports, such as football.)
So as good as he apparently was at helping his guys bet on NBA games, Donaghy was just as bad betting on every other sport.
The report then continues the initial case against Donaghy. Later, from the same letter:
[O]n December 26, 2006, Donaghy refereed a game in which the Washington Wizards hosted the Memphis Grizzlies. Donaghy originally informed Martino that he thought the Grizzlies would win. Just before the start of the game, however, an official NBA scorer entered the referees’ locker room and said that the Grizzlies were “all banged up.” Armed with this inside information concerning the physical condition of the Grizzlies, Donaghy called Martino and changed his pick to the Wizards. According to NBA records, the Wizards won, 116-101.
Seriously, Donaghy needed inside information to know the Wizards would beat the Grizzlies? No wonder he got caught.
After examining the case against Donaghy, the Report draws a conclusion that Donaghy didn’t have any affect on the games he was reffing because, basically, that’s what he told the government and Peskowitz trusts the government:
We have no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the government’s investigation on which it based its conclusion. We believe that the government would have been naturally skeptical of Donaghy’s assertion that he did not go beyond exploiting “inside” information and did not intentionally make calls to influence the outcome of games. Before concluding that there was no evidence that Donaghy intentionally made incorrect calls, the government investigators doubtless questioned Donaghy carefully about the specific non-public information on which he based his picks, and his conduct while officiating those sixteen games. Because the NBA provided video of games that Donaghy officiated, the government also would have had the opportunity to review these games and to cross-examine Donaghy — and assess the logic of his explanations and his demeanor. While we do not know what Donaghy told the government, he clearly convinced them that he had not manipulated these games.
I understand the logic here, but still, I thought we’re not supposed to believe the government. Because as of one month ago the government told us our economy was doing great, also.
Still, the P.R. identified 17 games that Donaghy reffed that he had money involved with. They asked “NBA experts” to check the tapes, and the Peskowitz people watched them also. Let’s go to the tapes!
The NBA experts and we found nothing revealing about the way Donaghy conducted or carried himself on the floor. In some of these games, Donaghy appeared to do a good job and made virtually no errors. In others, he made a substantial number of errors, but the errors did not seem to favor one team over another.
These must have been just regular referee errors then?
One interesting note is that Donaghy didn’t actually bet on the games:
It also bears noting that Donaghy’s arrangement with Battista and Martino did not involve Donaghy placing bets on games; rather, he supplied information to others who placed bets. Donaghy was paid a flat fee when the bet succeeded ($2,000 a game) but did not suffer a financial penalty if the bet failed. As Donaghy weighed the financial benefits and risks associated with making intentionally wrong calls, he may have concluded that he was better off simply making betting picks (which would presumably be right more often than they were wrong, because they were based on confidential information), without making any intentional efforts to affect game outcomes.
Given the information currently in our possession, we and the League’s experts are unable to contradict the government’s conclusion that “[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.”
Ever? Ever? Well, I guess Mr. Peskowitz is a trusting individual.
Moving on, we discover that in 2005 the NBA had investigated Donaghy, but it wasn’t related to gambling. Instead, Donaghy allegedly had beef with some neighbors:
In January 2005, the neighbors, Peter and Lisa Mansueto, filed a civil lawsuit against Donaghy for harassment and invasion of privacy. According to the complaint, in the summer of 2003, Donaghy began “a pattern of public harassment and stalking” against the Mansuetos. Among other misconduct, Donaghy allegedly followed Mrs. Mansueto around the country club to which both Donaghy and the Mansuetos belonged while staring at and mimicking her; repeatedly yelled obscenities at them at both the country club and their residence; set fire to a tractor owned by the Mansuetos; and took a golf cart owned by the Mansuetos and drove it into a ravine.
Good grief. So he did all that (allegedly) but kept his job? That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. According to the P.R., the NBA investigated these allegations, but also asked Donaghy if he’d bet on NBA games. He said no, but the League had him investigated anyway:
Notwithstanding Donaghy’s denials, the League retained a private investigative firm to conduct a detailed background investigation of Donaghy, including whether the gambling allegation was true. The investigative firm reported that, according to its sources in the gaming industry, Donaghy had not received lines of credit or “comps” at any of over sixty casinos in New Jersey and Nevada. The NBA subsequently learned of additional allegations that Donaghy gambled at casinos, including a specific allegation that Donaghy gambled at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City in December 2004. In an interview with the League’s head of Security, Donaghy also denied these allegations. The investigative firm attempted to verify these additional allegations but found no evidence supporting them.
What investigative firm did they hire, Simon and Simon? Also, that the previous investigative firm hired by the NBA found nothing doesn’t really reflect so well on the NBA’s ability to mount effective investigations, does it?
The Peskowitz Report then looks into the possibility that Donaghy wasn’t the only ref involved in such spurious behavior. Guess what? Everyone’s clean!
While it is, of course, possible that one or more referees was not completely truthful with us, the referees appeared sincere in their denials and, as noted, nothing has come to our or the League’s attention suggesting otherwise. Moreover, the referees were told that if any were found to have lied to us, they would be terminated by the NBA for the lie alone.
The report then goes into this whole thing about ref Scott Foster, who was mentioned in a report as having received a bunch of calls from Donaghy. The report notes that all refs end up calling each other all the time because they don’t have anyone else to talk to.
One weird thing: We’re on pg. 47 of the report, and thus far there’s no mention of text messages anywhere in this report. I never talk on the phone anymore — I just text or email people. Do NBA refs really talk to each other instead of texting?
Foster requested that we ask the NBA if he could be allowed to meet with the media to explain that he has done nothing wrong. He also offered to have a reporter follow him for a week during the next season so that the reporter could understand the life he leads as an NBA referee and why and when he is on the phone with fellow NBA referees. We have asked the Commissioner to allow Foster to respond to future media inquiries.
OK, I’m volunteering right now for Foster duty this season. Someone hook this up.
For now, let’s talk about the other refs some more. According to the NBA’s referee work rules, “the referees were prohibited from ‘gambling,’ with the exception of betting at a race track during the off-season.”
Seems pretty straight-forward, right? Remember that. Moving on:
Of the fifty-seven referees we interviewed, fifty-two acknowledged that they had engaged in some form of betting while employed by the NBA. Below is a summary:
• Thirty-three referees acknowledged gambling at a casino at least once.
• Twenty-one referees acknowledged gambling at a casino two or more times.
• Thirteen referees acknowledged gambling at a casino during the off-season but while on NBA business.
• Four referees acknowledged gambling at a casino during the NBA season.
• One referee acknowledged maintaining a credit line at a casino.
• Three referees acknowledged betting at a race track during the NBA season.
• Sixteen referees acknowledged participating in betting pools on sporting events (such as Super Bowl pools) or making other low-stakes, friendly bets on non-NBA sporting events. All referees denied using bookmakers to bet on sports.
• Seventeen referees acknowledged wagering on card games (including two who also played poker online).
• Thirty-five referees acknowledged wagering while playing golf or pool.
• Thirty-seven referees acknowledged purchasing lottery tickets.
• Five referees said they had not engaged in any form of gambling.
Seems like a lot of gambling for a group of guys with pretty simple rules banning them from gambling. (I thought everyone was clean?) According to the report, a lot of the refs claimed they didn’t really understand the rules about gambling (even though it seems pretty basic, right?). So maybe these guys just aren’t good at interpreting rules. But isn’t that their job?
Hey, David Stern, you come back here! We’re not done with you yet!
We provided the Commissioner with our specific findings about referee gambling and briefed the NBA’s Board of Governors on our findings in October 2007. We advised that the referees’ conduct in no way resembled Donaghy’s criminal violations or suggested to us that the referees lacked fundamental integrity. That said, we informed them that we believed that the referees should receive some visible (though moderate) form of discipline for their rules violations so that they would be reminded that NBA rules needed to be followed, not ignored.
After considering the details of the violations and our recommendation, the Commissioner decided not to discipline any of the referees.
Nice. I guess he didn’t allow Stu Jackson to be a part of that decision, or else the whole staff would have been suspended for the entire season.
From here we move on to a “broader review” of the NBA’s officiating program. According to the P.R., there are two refereeing philosophies, “old” and “new.” After explaining that the “new” philosophy calls for a “literal interpretation” of the rules, they spell out the “old” philosophy for us:
Referees were also conscious of game circumstances and considered them when making judgments about calls. For instance, we have been told that some referees maintained an awareness of substantial imbalances in foul calls against teams. Also, if a referee recognized that he or his crew had made an incorrect call, a referee might whistle a “make-up” call soon thereafter. Finally, some told us about giving consideration to the number of fouls called on “players of consequence.” Before making a call that would put such a player in foul trouble, some referees would make sure the foul was a “good one.”
Why is this in the past tense? You’re telling me this doesn’t happen anymore? Really? Because if you think so you must not be watching NBA games.
Anyway, the P.R. goes on to talk about how refereeing was forced to change in part because of a rise in technology: With more replays available to more people, more criticism followed, so the League bowed to a “growing sentiment” that “officiating should be more of a science rather than an art — that the League’s referees should be a consistent group of play-callers striving to make the same calls regardless of circumstance.”
Next, to demonstrate what goes into making a great referee, we see 16 performance standards that the NBA set up for their refs. The accompanying flow chart is here.
My favorite part of being a ref isn’t the “Physically Fit” bubble, but the “Athletic Appearance” section. So it’s not only important that you’re in shape, but you also have to have an “Athletic Appearance,” which I guess means you need to look like you could also work in a health club. (Not sure how, say, Dick Bavetta jibes with that standard.)
How do the referees prepare for the season? Let’s find out:
In September each year, the referees meet for five days at their pre-season camp. Rookie referees complete a self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement; returning referees are also encouraged to complete these self-assessments.
I would LOVE to get my hands on some of those self-assessments. “Gee Mr. Salvatore, I’ve always wanted to be an NBA ref, but I just can’t seem to develop an athletic appearance!” The P.R. then goes on to detail how the NBA keeps track of the ref’s calls during the season:
During the game, courtside statisticians (employed by teams) record calls reported by referees to the scorer’s table and enter them into a courtside system. This system, in turn, is uploaded into the ORS. The ORS links the courtside data to the League’s extensive digital database of games, enabling each call logged to have a corresponding video clip linked to it.
When the observers file their observer reports, they use a form populated by the courtside system of call data and rate each referee call as correct or incorrect. They also enter correct and incorrect non-calls which are plays where no whistle was blown. Over the course of a given season, between 65,000 and 70,000 officiating events are entered into this proprietary statistical system.
Nothing like micromanaging. But wait, there’s more!
The NBA employs an additional level of reviewers (including former League general managers and coaches) who audit, review and critique the observers’ reports; approximately 150 games per season are subject to this additional review. The League has replaced about two to three observers per year; approximately fifty percent of these replacements are aimed at improving observer performance.
It goes on like this for pages and pages. At this point I’m starting to wonder if refs actually have any time to, you know, referee. All the different officiating objectives have abbreviations, too, so when you talk about all the different programs, you end up with paragraphs like this:
Management posts weekly web tests on the OIW, which are five-question tests on specific rules. Web plays are also posted on the OIW for review; these videos highlight referee mechanics or request input in a “you make the call” type question. As noted, referees also receive numerous emails from their group supervisors and management stressing points of emphasis and individual points of focus. DVDs with POEs are sent to the referees (and teams) every few months, and these POEs are reinforced by the group supervisors during their meetings and communications with referees.
That paragraph gave me the ZZZs.
Next is an entire section on recent improvements to the referee training program. Right now, I feel bad for the refs. There’s so much red tape and policy involved that it has to be counterproductive.
Aha! So I’m right?
While the referees as a whole appear to derive considerable satisfaction from their jobs, some indicated that their morale needed improvement. They described a few root causes. Some referees explained that their job is difficult and stressful because of the level of scrutiny and criticism to which they are subjected. Although the staff gets the vast majority of its calls correct, referees are frequently critiqued by teams who lodge complaints with the League and are criticized by the media for missed calls. Some referees also said that they rarely received positive feedback from the League. Much of the feedback is critical, and their training and development often focuses on missed plays and areas of performance that need to be strengthened.
This goes on and on for pages. Trust me, you’re not missing anything. And then, just when you’re starting to feel bad for the refs, you get this:
The referees acknowledged that there is a perception among some teams and fans that referees favor certain teams or superstars or call “make up” fouls, but they all said that this was not the case today. All denied making calls other than on the merits.
Right. Or rather, wrong. Come on, we all know certain players get certain calls. Does Jeremy Richardson really get the same calls as Kobe Bryant? The P.R. goes on to say that they really believe superstars don’t get calls based on an interview with Bernie Fryer, who said, once he started working for the NBA, he realized that “there was not an actual basis for this belief.”
Who does he work for again?
The P.R. people then detail their interviews with various team officials:
Certain of the team representatives expressed the view that biased calls were a product of a lack of discipline and leadership. They told us that they believed this problem could be addressed by hiring a professional manager for the referees, perhaps from a military or law enforcement background.
Ten hut, General Johnson!
Anyway, this goes on and on and then we get to the following subhed:
H. Dick Bavetta
What? The man gets his own section of the P.R.? Wow! This should be good. Apparently, the P.R. is focusing on Dickie B because the government interviewed him in conjunction with the Donaghy stuff:
It appears that Donaghy prompted the government’s questions about Bavetta. As discussed in the next section of our report, several of the allegations of game manipulation contained in Donaghy’s June 2008 letter appear to refer to Bavetta. Given Bavetta’s prominence among referees, we viewed it as important to understand the nature of the government’s review and to assess whether it raised issues about Bavetta or referees generally.
I like how they threw that last disclaimer in there, “or referees generally.” Yeah, like this isn’t going to be about Bavetta.
As it turns out, most of the people they interviewed like Bavetta, but they also think that Bavetta wants to be liked:
…a number of referees told us that they believe Bavetta is highly conscious of how he is viewed and wants to be liked by everyone, including team personnel. Some referees are clearly put off by what they describe as antics and his hugging and kissing of team personnel. Almost all who commented on this desire to be liked said they did not believe it affected his play calling.
OK. But then, this:
One referee — who has refereed many games with Bavetta and is clearly fond of him — made it clear that Bavetta is unlike any other referee in the NBA. His personality has endeared him to many but also engendered negative feelings among some of his colleagues. This referee told us that in his view Bavetta’s success as a playoff referee has created some professional jealousy. We also learned that there are political factions among the referees and that there is a group that dislikes Bavetta. We were struck when one ex-referee who expressed strong negative views about Bavetta’s refereeing told us that his views were based solely on negative comments he had heard from others.
Political factions! I’m joining the Swift Boat Refs!
We interviewed Bavetta on a number of occasions and found him to be personable and highly intelligent.
Oh, so he made the P.R. people like him, too? That’s our Dickie!
From here the P.R. makes an abrupt swerve into looking at the specific games Donaghy mentioned:
We first address four sets of allegations made in the letter that we are able to relate to a specific game or playoff series: (i) the 2005 playoff series between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks; (ii) Game 6 of the 2002 playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings; (iii) a 2000 regular season game between the Seattle SuperSonics and the New York Knicks; and (iv) a 2004 regular season game between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors. We also address allegations regarding fraternization between referees, players and observers, and claims of nepotism.
I’m going to save everyone a lot of time here and summarize each game, quickly:
i. Houston/Dallas — This was the series where Yao Ming was supposedly setting illegal screens and Jeff Van Gundy got fined or something for saying there was a conspiracy against Yao. According to the P.R., after Dallas lost games one and two, Mark Cuban sent a video and an email to the League complaining about 29 moving screens set by Yao in the two games. Twenty-nine! NBA ref supervisor Ronnie Nunn went to the tape and decided 9 of the 29 screens were, in fact, illegal. Nunn talked to the series supervisor, Donnie Vaden, and Vaden talked to the refs working the series, though nobody says anyone was asked to change the way they were calling Yao, specifically.
If I’m reading all this correctly, Donaghy claimed the series supervisor called Jeff Van Grumpy and told him the refs were going to target Yao. HOWEVA!, Stu Jackson says he was the one who talked to Van Grumpy and told him to keep an eye on Yao’s positioning. The series supervisor says he and Van Gundy talked, but it was after Stu Jackson had tipped off Van Grumpy.
Whatever, Van Gundy says he was just mad he didn’t know about Cuban’s complaints and wasn’t able to respond to them point by point, which makes sense. But then Van Grumpy put everyone on blast:
What is not in dispute is that Van Gundy was upset at the turn of events. The day after his call with Vaden, Van Gundy gave a media interview in which he alleged (i) that the NBA was biased against and had “targeted” Yao; (ii) that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had been calling the NBA about Yao; and (iii) that Van Gundy had received a call before Game 3 from a non-playoff “official” “that I’ve known forever” who said that the NBA was looking harder at Yao because of Cuban’s complaints.
The P.R. verdict?
We have found no evidence of any inappropriate conduct in this playoff series.
Just a grumpy coach.
ii. Lakers/Kings Game 6 — Sacto was up 3-2, and the Lakers ended up winning Game 6 to tie the series. According to Donaghy:
However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew Referees A and F to be “company men,” always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series.
So, who are the nefarious refs A and F? The P.R. deduces that they’re Dick Bavetta and Bob Delaney (the third ref was Ted Bernhardt). In the fourth quarter of this Game Six, the Lakers were called for 8 fouls and the Kings for 16. Scot Pollard even fouled out, which is amazing, considering any team left him on the floor long enough to pick up 6 fouls.
Two plays in the fourth quarter, both of which favored the Lakers, were particularly controversial. First, with two minutes and fifty-six seconds left in the game and the Kings leading 92-90, Vlade Divac of the Kings was erroneously called for a loose-ball foul, for which two free throws were awarded to the Lakers’ Robert Horry. The foul was Divac’s sixth of the game, resulting in his disqualification. Second, with 12.6 seconds left in the game and the Lakers leading 103-102, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant struck the Kings’ Michael Bibby in the face with his forearm but was not called for a foul.
The report points out that the reffing in this game caused critical commentary in the media, and then cites, of all people, a column by Jay Mariotti as evidence. Serously.
The P.R. folk asked the NBA officiating people to check out the tape of the game, and it broke down like this:
• Bavetta made nine errors in the game, five of which favored the Lakers and four of which favored the Kings. None of these errors occurred in the fourth quarter.
• Bernhardt made six errors, four of which favored the Lakers and two of which favored the Kings. In the fourth quarter, Bernhardt made one error favoring the Lakers.
• Delaney made four errors in the game, two of which favored the Lakers and two of which favored the Kings. In the fourth quarter, Delaney made three of his errors: two favoring the Lakers and one favoring the Kings. The two errors favoring the Lakers involved the controversial plays discussed above in which Divac was incorrectly called for a sixth foul and Bryant was incorrectly not called for the forearm to Bibby’s face.
At the end of the day:
We have not seen or heard evidentiary or logical support for Donaghy’s allegations about this game.
And I agree. The only reason the refs would’ve extended this series would’ve been to help the NBA. The refs wouldn’t have made extra money for having another game, and if anything it would’ve just extended the workload of the refs to cause a Game 7. And nobody, I don’t care how much of a company man you are, likes to work more than you have to.
iii. Sonics vs. Knicks (2000) — In this game, Donaghy claimed the refs ejected a star player and the ref was reprimanded by an NBA official for throwing one of the League’s stars out of the game.
Looking back, in this game ref Ted Bernhardt tossed Gary Payton in the first quarter. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it completely believable that Gary Payton could’ve said something worthy of being ejected. After investigating and talking to people involved with this incident, the P.R. reports that while everyone agrees that Payton probably shouldn’t have been tossed…
We have found no evidence supporting Donaghy’s charge that NBA referees are asked not to call technical fouls on or eject stars, or that the League’s focus on Bernhardt’s ejection of Payton was as a result of Payton’s status as a star.
And while I don’t think the refs are explicitly told not to eject a LeBron or a Kobe, at the same time refs understand where their bread is buttered, if you know what I mean.
iv. Golden State vs. Toronto — According to Donaghy, a ref (Bavetta!) had a friendly relationship with Garry St. Jean, then the Warriors GM, and he called less fouls on Golden State and more on Toronto as a result. The P.R. people talked to St. Jean and Bavetta, and decided nothing strange was afoot, especially after they analyzed the tape and found that Bavetta had made seven incorrect calls in the game, six in favor of Toronto.
OK, enough with the particular games, which all seemed rather flimsy anyway. Now we get into broader allegations from Donaghy, such as NBA refs having improper “fraternization” with team officials. The P.R. report pooh-poohs this pretty quickly, because nobody wants to admit that they’re friendly with the refs. These guys must have cooties.
There was, however, one Donaghy allegation that was correct:
As to the allegation that a referee played tennis with a coach, referee Ron Olesiak recalls playing tennis once with a coach, John Lucas, over five years ago. Lucas recalls that he was in Sacramento for a game and Olesiak had a layover. Lucas recalled that they played while he was coaching Cleveland (which was around 2001-2003).
Tennis? These guys are just so darn edgy. And considering Lucas went 37-87 while coaching the Cavs, it’s a safe bet (ha!) that there was nothing fishy going on.
Moving on, let’s talk about nepotism. According to Donaghy, “nepotism played a far greater role than qualifications in a number of referee hirings.”
There are four current NBA refs whose fathers were refs: Ronnie Garretson, Tommy Nunez, James Capers, Brian Forte. In a general sense, I can see an allegation of nepotism having some legs, because there’s only so many referees in the world, and to have four sons of NBA refs currently in the NBA seems a little strange. But at the same time, how many sons follow in their father’s footsteps? A lot. If you bring that into consideration, it makes a little more sense.
Also, from the P.R.:
Donaghy’s allegation of nepotism is a bit ironic given that his uncle, Billy Oakes, was an NBA referee at the time that Donaghy was hired.
OK, we’re winding down now. I promise. The P.R. moves on to Donaghy himself. They asked for an interview, he said he had to wait until the government signed off on that. The government signed off, they asked Donaghy again, and he said no two more times.
So the P.R. people eventually just gave up on him:
Donaghy’s criminal conduct over many years while working as a referee demonstrated that he is quite capable of prolonged and self-serving deceit. There are also the self-serving lies that he told the NBA when questioned about his gambling in 2005. We believe that some of the allegations he has made to the government in this case reflect at a minimum an inclination to make relatively minor conduct sound quite serious.
Summing it up, the P.R. says:
Having spoken at length to the leadership and professional staff of the NBA, we believe the culture of the NBA is entirely inconsistent with a core thesis of Donaghy’s allegations — that the NBA puts a thumb on the scales of certain games or series. To a man and woman, referees tell us that the unequivocal message from the top of the NBA right through the supervisory ranks is to be accurate and consistent and to favor no team or player. And we find these statements credible.
And I agree. If there is some vast NBA conspiracy, word would have leaked out by now. Guaranteed.
Now we get into recommendations of how to fix things. The P.R. people have a couple of ideas they’d like to share. A lot of what follows is semantics, just wording things more explicitly so that there are fewer loopholes. I will spare you the legalese, but basically there’s a lot more rules for refs now than there were a few years ago.
So, what did we learn? Well, for one thing, the P.R. does a good job of backing up Stern’s statement that Donaghy was a “rouge, isolated” individual. If anyone else was involved in this scheme or a similar one, the P.R. didn’t find out about them.
But more interesting to me was the NBA basically admitting that there were dozens of refereeing errors in the games they viewed on tape. The NBA is so closed-mouthed about the refereeing that they seem to foster a belief that the refs are perfect, which they obviously are not. (They’re human, after all.)
Yet by keeping the refs sequestered from the media pretty much at all times, the NBA also fosters conspiracy theories. As the Pedowitz Report suggests, making the refs more accessible would help nip a lot of the conspiracy talk in the bud.
And then maybe no one would have to wade through a 133-page report on NBA refs ever again.