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Friday, August 17, 2007
Whispers of More Referee Gambling


Duff Wilson reports in The New York Times

The federal investigation into National Basketball Association gambling is generating information about other referees that could lead to disciplinary action short of criminal charges, authorities and lawyers involved with the case said yesterday.

Although the F.B.I. investigation continues, three people briefed on the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity say it is focused on professional gamblers and has not uncovered any accusations of criminal wrongdoing by other referees or N.B.A. insiders.

The N.B.A. could discipline referees for violating the league's policy on gambling, which would not rise to the level of criminal activity, the sources said.

I'm sure this whole thing is super-annoying if you're a reasonably honest referee. Ever put $100 on a game of horseshoes? Ever join an NCAA March Madness pool? Even sit in on the local poker night? These are some alpha-type, sports-oriented referees with expendable cash. And although it's right that the league is cracking down, thanks to Tim Donaghy everyone has to sweat every little thing.

That's only the beginning. There will be the taunts. There will be the suspicion. And now, more than ever, your jokiest friend will probably never stop responding to just about everything you say by asking "Wanna Bet? Ha, ha, ha -- get it? Wanna bet?"

On another note, it has been widely reported that Tim Donaghy is cooperating with prosecutors. But, you know, in the prosecution of whom?

It's now clearer than ever that at least one such target is the only guy involved with a decent nickname, James Battista. He's the one they call "Baba" or "Sheep" in court documents. (It occurs to me, though, that the sound "baba" as relates to a sheep is normally written "baa baa.")

Wilson reports:

Jack McMahon, a defense lawyer for James Battista, a professional gambler who is suspected of obtaining tips from Donaghy, said it appeared that Donaghy had not implicated any other referees in criminal conduct but that authorities were still looking at other gamblers.

"Who knows where that could lead?" McMahon said.

McMahon said his client was not cooperating with the government, would plead not guilty when indicted -- expected within the next 30 days -- and would ask for a trial. If Donaghy were to testify against Battista, McMahon said, he would argue that Donaghy was the worst offender in the group while Battista was the least involved. "It's like the shooter testifying against the getaway driver," McMahon said.

For what it's worth, McMahon is also quoted as saying that he does not think Donaghy affected the outcome of games. (McMahon could, in theory, have an agenda in saying that: if there's any suggestion Donaghy affected games in cahoots with McMahon's client Battista, that would be bad for both Donaghy and Battista.)