Nobody wants to believe Tim Donaghy. Nobody wants to think that the disgraced former NBA referee has one ounce of credibility left in him. Everyone wants to believe that the air with which he once used to blow whistles is all hot. For to believe otherwise cuts at the very core of the trust that is placed in professional sports.
Yet Donaghy isn’t going gently into the night.
In a filing made Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York thru his attorney, Donaghy alleges that certain referees conspired with the league to force a seventh game in the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. While the series itself isn’t mentioned by name, its identity has been fairly easy to deduce from the details Donaghy provided. Game 6 of that series was highly controversial to begin with, and Donaghy’s allegations have re-stoked that fire.
Here’s a portion of Donaghy’s statement (Team 5 is Sacramento and Team 6 is Los Angeles):
“Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. 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. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees’ favoring of Team 6 led to that team’s victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.”
The Lakers attempted 40 free throws to the Kings’ 25 in that game, and in the fourth quarter alone, Los Angeles made 21-of-27 from the line while Sacramento converted just 7-of-9.
It nags that Donaghy’s accusations are more than just the desperate bleatings of a condemned man.
The timing of all this couldn’t be worse, either — the NBA Finals droning on, and in the very same city where Donaghy alleged the wrongdoings happened back in 2002.
I must admit to believing there might just be something to Donaghy’s words — some shred of truth to what he’s alleging. And the Lakers-Kings thing is hardly the only act of impropriety Donaghy makes reference to. You can read the laundry list here.
Let’s not give the NBA a free pass here, either. Shame on them if even a quarter of what Donaghy alleges turns out to be fact, not fiction. Don’t automatically brand Donaghy the pathetic, desperate man and the league a besmirched innocent. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, the line goes, and Donaghy is blowing more smoke here than a greasy grill on Memorial Day. Again, it causes one to shift uncomfortably in his chair to think of the ramifications, the domino-like effect, that some of this stuff would cause if it actually occurred the way Donaghy claims.
So what to do?
Nothing, really — except to let the legal process take its course. No doubt the NBA office’s spinmasters are working overtime, preparing for counterattacks to the onslaught of bad press and bad mouthing that is sure to deluge them. Some of it already has, of course. The NBA has to be prepared should this nastiness grow some credibility. We simply would not be able to watch another NBA game again in the same way as before anyone ever heard of Tim Donaghy. How could we? How could we walk out of an arena, or turn off a TV, NOT thinking that other, grander forces were at work if our team didn’t come out on top during a close, crucial game?
This is bigger than just Tim Donaghy. He’s not the only one facing legal and public opinion judgment. This is about an entire league and its foundation.
So, back to the Finals, huh?
Not so easy to do.