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May 5th, 2010 HENRY STERN | Q & A
 

Tim Donaghy

Ex-ref says Rasheed was right and small-market teams like Portland are screwed.

     
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WHISTLEBLOWER: Don’t invite this man and the NBA commissioner to the same party.

Here’s some news that may console Trail Blazers fans grumbling about the team’s second straight first-round playoff elimination.

Ex-NBA ref Tim Donaghy says it’s nearly impossible for a small-market franchise like Portland to make the finals. Donaghy says the NBA and its referees are wired to benefit large-market teams such as Boston and Los Angeles, and marquee players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Admitting he traded on knowledge of colleagues’ biases—as well as knowing the grudges refs carry toward certain players and coaches—to bet on NBA games that included contests he reffed, Donaghy pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal gambling charges.

Released from prison in late 2009 after serving nearly a year, Donaghy is far from the $275,000 a year he made as a ref with 13 years’ experience. He’s working for a gambling treatment center in New Jersey called Firststep and in a consulting business—Donaghy & Osborne—he hopes will enable him to speak on college campuses.

But it’s his book, Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal That Rocked the NBA, that grabbed the attention of the league and its fans. With the playoffs—minus the Blazers—now in the second round, WW spoke with Donaghy about his allegations that the impartiality of his profession is B.S.

Willamette Week: Portland fans have long believed referee Steve Javie has had it in for the Blazers. True?

Tim Donaghy: When Portland had Bonzi Wells and Rasheed Wallace and some of those other players who were extremely difficult to deal with, the stronger referees like Steve Javie or Joe Crawford took pride in the fact they wanted to stick it to those guys and give them technical fouls to see what they can do to piss them off. That’s done in the NBA on a nightly basis.

Wallace was pretty pissed off when he got suspended for seven games in 2003 after you gave him a technical; he threatened you after the game.

He and other guys like Mark Cuban and Gary Payton picked up on what goes on with special treatment for special players, and it bothered them. My book supports things they’ve been saying all along. They just couldn’t hold in their emotions and they got fed up. And they were right.

You write about refs gambling on anything, even animated scoreboard contests during timeouts. Given that, how can you believe you were the only ref betting on NBA games?

Deep down in my heart, I don’t think I was the only one passing along information. But because I don’t have firsthand knowledge, it’s not right for me to point out somebody who I think did.

You say you never fixed a game. But if you were a compulsive gambler and you bet on a game you reffed, how could you resist the temptation not to fix that game?

I was winning at 70, 80 percent and that rate is unheard of. When I would lose, that actually relieved me. A loss would take the heat off me.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has said you’re a “rogue ref” and there’s no reason to believe anything you’d say.

I’ve passed a lie detector test. FBI agents did a full investigation and everything in my book checked out 100 percent.

Do you cringe when you see Stern on TV?

I hate him. He tried to squash me. He could have asked me what I did and how I did it. It would have helped the NBA. But instead he tried to throw me under the bus as one rogue referee.

Are players fixing games?

It’s always a possibility. You look at some of these athletes like Antoine Walker, who lost millions of dollars gambling. And if he was still in the game today, he would be a target.

Anybody on the Blazers organization who raises any red flags for you?

Not that I’m aware of.

So who does the NBA want in the finals this year?

I don’t think there’s any doubt they’re hoping for an L.A.-Cleveland matchup, a LeBron and Kobe matchup.

But wouldn’t those teams get there anyway?

Not necessarily. People will argue that Portland was a better team than Phoenix and that Dallas was a better team than San Antonio. But those teams haven’t advanced. When you talk about a Steve Nash and [Amar’e] Stoudemire moving on versus the guys from small-city Portland, what’s better for the NBA? The referees are aware of what’s good for the league.

So are we fools here for believing the Blazers can ever win another championship?

It would be very, very difficult. They would have to be in a position to get a guy with a big name, like a Shaquille or a LeBron, in the draft.

Brandon Roy doesn’t fit that description of a marquee guy the league wants to promote?

No (laughs). Unfortunately not.

 
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