Jason returns

Publisher stuffs game-fixer Tim Donaghy's book idea; Antoine Walker's broke
By MATT TAIBBI  |  November 4, 2009

As next week will feature a Friday the 13th, it’s time to check in on the NBA’s very own Jason, Tim Donaghy. The man just won’t die. Every time league commissioner David Stern thinks he’s got the disgraced ex-ref dead and buried, out leaps Donaghy from under the surface of Camp Crystal Lake, lunging for the league’s reputation.

You might remember Donaghy as the guy who everyone thinks got busted for fixing games — but he wasn’t. In fact, Donaghy never even publicly admitted to a game-fixing charge. He went to prison for 15 months for “being paid to pick winners” and for giving “inside information” to gamblers, charges that read as if they were written by the NBA itself (which was desperate to avoid admission that its refs rigged games).

The NBA subsequently conducted its own “investigation,” and concluded that Donaghy, much like history’s only slightly less evil Lee Harvey Oswald, had acted alone. Stern had turned to former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz, whose investigation produced a highly convenient report, proving that there is always work out there for a former federal prosecutor willing to be flexible in his evidentiary conclusions.

So, Donaghy went away for a while and had a rough time of it, including a stint in a Pensacola prison in which another inmate with mob ties attacked him with a “paint roller.” No doubt smarting from the fact that lots of other still-stinking refs were enjoying the good life, Timmy decided to write a book that would eventually be called Blowing the Whistle: The Culture of Fraud in the NBA. That is, that’s what the book would be called, if it were to ever see the light of print. But under pressure from the NBA, which has threatened to sue, Random House last week dropped the book, making it one of the more interesting pieces of potential samizdat to hit the American publishing scene perhaps . . . ever?

A few Web sites (notably Deadspin) got hold of excerpts, but the NBA’s lawyers seem to have succeeded in wiping out much of the material from the Wild West that is the Web. From what I’ve read, though, the book doesn’t say much that attentive fans don’t already know — or suspect in their heart of black hearts. For instance, Donaghy describes a star-favoring system in which refs would avoid giving a third foul in the first half to a big superstar like Kobe Bryant — unless it was an obvious foul — and would call fouls on lesser players rather than stars when possible.

Donaghy also rats out much-loathed ref Dick Bavetta, claiming that Bavetta routinely helped prolong playoff series in ways that would please the league office. Donaghy says Bavetta helped Denver beat San Antonio in one game by calling early fouls on Tim Duncan, and helped the Cavs beat the Nets in the early ’90s by doing the same thing to the late Serbian great Drazen Petrovic. There is also plenty of material on the notorious Lakers-Kings playoff series of 2002, which perhaps someday will be known as the NBA equivalent of the Chicago Black Sox World Series.

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