Bottom line, David Stern got the finals he needed — Lakers vs. Celtics — and people are watching. Mediaweek reports fat times in NBA World, Playoffs Subcontinent. ESPN ratings are up 35 percent, TNT ratings up 16 percent, ABC ratings up 28 percent. The NBA Conference Finals numbers are even better: ESPN ratings are 41 percent higher than last year.
Commissioner Stern got Tim Donaghy to go away. When the gambling scandal broke last July, newly “retired” NBA referee Tim Donaghy was portrayed by Stern as someone who acted on his own, a “rogue, isolated criminal” who occasionally provided information on some games to old high school pals. A month later, Donaghy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting wagering information through interstate commerce. He’s scheduled to be sentenced next month, on July 14. I put the odds on that happening at 6 to 5, pick ’em. Donaghy’s sentencing date has already been postponed four times.
And fits nicely with the NBA’s statement of last summer: “…the league won’t comment further on the Donaghy investigation or any changes in its officiating policy until the federal probe is finished.”
Or until you forget about this very small, isolated, unimportant indiscretion.
Here is a court filing submitted to United States District Judge Carol B. Amon by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Goldberg: “The government’s investigation revealed that Donaghy provided picks for anywhere from 30 to 40 such games for each of those three seasons (2003–’04, 2004–’05, and 2005–’06). During the 2006–’07 season, Donaghy bet on approximately 30 games, including about 14 games that he refereed.”
For those keeping a running tote, Donaghy bet on more than 100 games he officiated. His bets totaled tens of thousands of dollars, which strikes me as a bit more serious than wire fraud and passing on inside information about NBA games.
Donaghy says the government is refusing to follow the leads he gave them in regard to other referees’ gambling activities in order to shield the NBA from further scandal. The NBA, in the form of NBA president Joel Litvin, says Donaghy’s charges are “the desperate act of a convicted felon who is hoping to avoid prison time.”
So, who are you going to believe, a convicted felon or a United States district attorney seconded by the NBA?
I took an unregulated, unscientific poll of knowledgeable NBA fans to find out. Every person I queried believed the convicted felon. True, this hasn’t hurt the NBA’s gate, and one is tempted to walk on, but then, if that many customers think you’re cheating, then, at minimum, you’ll get no benefit of the doubt when you need one.
So, when a ref blows a game-changing call in a crucial series, which referee Joey Crawford did in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, most aware fans will believe the fix is in. This reinforces the perception that the NBA is corrupt, and the next time there is a questionable stat, which there was in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals (referees called 58 fouls, Celtics got 39 free throws, Pistons got 26), that reinforces the perception that the NBA is corrupt and so the next time… and so on.
(By the way, NBA referee Joey Crawford was suspended indefinitely last year after calling two bogus technical fouls on Tim Duncan. Duncan, then and now a power forward for San Antonio, said Crawford called him out, actually challenged him to fight during the game. And yet Crawford worked this year’s Lakers/Spurs conference championship series and was the referee who blew that game-changing call.)
The belief that the fix is in for the Lakers/Celtics finals was already in place when Kevin McHale, Hall of Fame Celtic and current general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, traded Kevin Garnett. McHale traded Garnett to his old team, the Celtics, for spare parts. This trade made Boston, a 24 and 58 team last year, this year’s wonder.
Jerry West has been a Hall of Fame player, coach, and general manager for the Lakers. Forty-two years in all. Then, in 2002, he moved to the Memphis Grizzlies as president of basketball operations. The Grizzlies made the playoffs three of the five years he was there, and West won his second NBA Executive of the Year Award. He retired in 2007.
West was not formally connected to either the Lakers or the Grizzlies when Pau Gasol was traded to L.A. in mid-season, thereby turning the Lakers into the best team in the NBA. But, it is a stone-cold belief among many fans that the trade was fixed by West and the NBA to make sure there would be a Lakers/Celtics championship series.
When this is the first take from your most knowledgeable customers, it’s wise to consider spending more time with your family.