TrueHoop: Tim Donaghy
AP Photo/Louis Lanzano
The star and, increasingly, promoter of NBA referee conspiracy theories.
The league is rigged! That's what a lot of people seem to believe. Kobe Bryant gets this call, or doesn't get that one. This team is David Stern's chosen favorite, or that one is ...
It has long been many fans' deepest worry, and thanks to DVRs and HD the whole trend is now beefed up with a never-ending stream of evidence that some calls are bad.
And of course, since 2007, fan paranoia has a new brand name: "Tim Donaghy."
If anyone tries to tell you referees are on the up and up, nowadays, those two words are all you have to say in response. He's the one guy who peed in the pool -- quickly making it lonely to swim with the people who think referees are generally pretty good.
Donaghy is not just the NBA's worst-ever example of a referee. He is also, thanks to a book, a Facebook page, a never-ending stream of talk radio appearances and now a blog series, a savage critic of his former colleagues in the NBA referee corps.
The question is: Should anybody listen to him?
He has been wrong before
A subset of fans has always believed referees hate their team. They have been waiting for Tim Donaghy for decades. And NBA referees certainly blow calls, which used to be a fleeting disappointment lined with uncertainty, but is now constantly and permanently recorded in high-definition. In short, Donaghy is right when he says you can find bad calls. But Donaghy's case that the outcomes of games are predetermined has not been convincing.
Donaghy has served his time -- for conspiring to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information across state lines. But he has not served time for fixing games, and says his lawyer has told him that if it is ever proved he did, he could be locked up again. He is a father of four who lives with a probation officer looking over his shoulder.
Not to mention, he is frank that his financial situation is bad. He has been unemployed for the most part since his time in the NBA, he owes six figures in restitution, he is in a struggle to recover any income from his book sales. His new job -- as a part-time speaker at a gambling counseling center -- is not enough to keep up.
He's a man with a lot of reasons to stick to the story that he did not fix games, and the message in the book he'd like you to buy is 100 percent accurate.
When Donaghy's book first came out, Kevin Arnovitz and I went to a lot of trouble, with the insight of people like Joe Price, Wayne Winston, Charles Barkley and Phil Jackson, to put its claims to the test. If he was on the money, digging around for more evidence would have helped his credibility and kept the NBA from sweeping his book under the rug.
Instead, the results were amazingly one-sided:
- Donaghy recalls a conversation he had on the court with Phil Jackson that Jackson tells ESPN's J.A. Adande never happened.
- He describes relationships between Allen Iverson and referees Steve Javie (who he says hated Iverson) and Joe Crawford (who was allegedly a fan) that biased their calls, and made picking Iverson games easy ways to make money. But those betting rules, in fact, would not have led to winners.
- He told a stirring tale of locker room run-in with Charles Barkley, but Barkley told ESPN's Mark Schwarz no such thing occurred.
- The three palming violations Donaghy remembers in some detail that were really two.
- He wrote that he won bets relying on Dick Bavetta's habit of keeping games close, but looking at scores proved betting like that would not win you money.
- He described in some detail the friendship between referee Joe Forte and then-Grizzlies coach Mike Fratello, which inspired him to pick Fratello's team to beat the spread when Forte reffed. But in that period, Fratello's teams beat the spread less than half the time.
And on and on.
Even his own account of his life involves plenty of lying and cheating, from having someone else take his SAT test in high school to systematically hiding his gambling from his family and employer.
It has become fairly easy to find things Donaghy claims that are either demonstrably not true, lacking support or denied by those who were there.
Also noteworthy is the decided lack of people who have his back. Does anyone with direct knowledge of refereeing who support his version of events? The truth has a way of attracting supporters among the knowledgeable. Where are the retired referees? They are silent -- even though one of them is Donaghy's uncle, Billy Oakes. Is there anyone on the planet who has both first-hand knowledge of what goes on among referees, and an inclination to vouch for Donaghy's version of events?
When pressed to defend his own credibility, these days Donaghy relies on the success rate of picks he made on the radio during this year's playoffs.
One of the last people to stand in his corner, the publisher of his book (after it had been rejected by a major publishing house months into the editing process), has now turned on him.
Severed ties with a publisher
Shawna Vercher of the VTi-Group came forward late last year to publish Donaghy's book after it was cut by a major publishing house. Now she is embroiled in a dispute with Donaghy that involves the local police, the U.S. Attorney's office and Donaghy's probation officer. In a nutshell, Vercher says Donaghy has threatened her by phone. Donaghy says he professionally and politely insisted on timely accounting of the proceeds from his book sales. The matter remains unresolved, but what's clear is that the two parties are no longer in business together.
In the midst of it all, Vercher agreed to answer some questions, including this exchange:
You mentioned that you began to lose confidence in him about the time you and I first met, when I interviewed Donaghy in Tampa. What happened?
As you may recall, you asked Mr. Donaghy about Charles Barkley and the infamous bucket of water that Mr. Barkley allegedly dumped on his head. You also mentioned that his polygraph test did not ask the question that people really want to know: Did he fix games? He volunteered on the air to take a polygraph test to prove that he wasn't lying about the bucket of water and to answer everyone's questions "once and for all."
Shortly thereafter we tried to schedule a polygraph test for him to take and asked him for his availability. He told me, in front of coworkers, that he could not take the polygraph since, if they asked him if he fixed games, he would fail. There were some disclaimers he mentioned and he said that it wasn't a fair question and the like, but it obviously caused an alarm to go off for me and question his word.
And you have some concerns about whether or not he even wrote the book?
I cannot say whether or not he wrote the book, but I have had three separate people tell me that he did not write it, including one guy who claims to be friends with the ghost writer. Having a ghost writer is actually common practice, but the idea does make me cringe when I think about all of the times he told the story of writing it alongside his mom during visiting hours in prison.
Do you think Tim Donaghy fixed NBA games?
Mr. Donaghy has described how he took advantage of loopholes in the referee system and NBA corporate policies so that he could benefit himself. I'm not sure how far he took that line as far as legal definitions go, but I can say for sure that he was not working for the good of the players or the league during that time ... he was working for his own personal gain.
For the record, Donaghy denies Vercher's version of events. "That is absolutely not true," he says. "She asked me: 'Would you take the polygraph test?' I said 'absolutely.' But as I dig more into this stuff the bottom line is that calls were made in games, not only by me, but by others in regard to sticking it to certain players, and I just want the questions to be very clear about what fixing a game is and what fixing a game is not. I don't want to end up having a problem with that. As far as, did I fix games? I absolutely did not fix games."
He then says he would still take a polygraph, on the condition that David Stern and other NBA officials do, too.
He also insists he wrote the book himself. The other influences, he says, were an editor in Los Angeles he paid to help with a first draft; former FBI agent Warren Flagg, who encouraged him to rewrite the whole thing with a softer tone; his mom, who mailed him the book chapter-by-chapter for revising on the prison typewriter; and then the Triumph Books editor, who prepared the book for publication before that publisher dropped it. That version of events is confirmed by Donaghy's mother, Joan.
Dueling referee video highlight reels
Tim Donaghy is making his own highlight reels, on Deadspin, purporting to show biased refereeing in the ongoing NBA Finals. He is reinforcing the questionable message of his book -- that he's the keeper of the real information about NBA referees, who are so biased that you don't need to fix games to pick winners at an alarming enough rate to attract the attention of the FBI.
But there are other jaded referee videos out there now, too. Another set comes from Haralabos Voulgaris, who made a name for himself as the sports gambler with a massive custom database that tells him things most people don't know about basketball. He has been digging into the Donaghy scandal since 2007. He has started his own blog, called Alone in the Corner, where he is making a detailed case that Donaghy can be seen on video fixing NBA games.
Voulgaris fact-checks a memorable moment from Donaghy's book about a game in New York. Donaghy says one of his colleagues was making lopsided calls, but Voulgaris' video inspection shows Donaghy's own calls were the least balanced. And you should certainly watch the video of Donaghy calling a Houston vs. Orlando game.
Voulgaris has also done some math, showing that to win at a 70 percent rate, a betting referee would only need to influence about six points per game.
Voulgaris says his video research and publishing will continue. The NBA -- which did not want to comment for this story -- will no doubt be watching, and it's not clear which outcome they'll be rooting for.
Donaghy has been in the habit of saying his critics are in cahoots with the NBA.
But in fact, the NBA is better served by having the story disappear. People like Voulgaris assembling video evidence of Donaghy's worst moments as a referee keeps Donaghy's name in the news while raising the suggestion that there may be fixed games in the NBA record.
Will there be championships called into question -- for instance, when the Spurs won a title after a controversial and close-fought second-round series in which Donaghy reffed a game? What about MVPs? Season ticket holders who'd like some money back? Owners who lost income from playoff games missed? And who knows how many players who didn't get their bonuses, or coaches that were fired for missing the playoffs might look back at the record and call a lawyer? (Rasheed Wallace was fined and suspended for mixing it up with Donaghy post-game on a loading dock. If Donaghy's ever a convicted game-fixer, won't the NBA have to worry about Wallace wanting his money back?)
If you're doing the NBA's bidding, you are not accusing anybody of fixing any games.
And here's where Donaghy will tell you about the FBI and the NBA's independent investigations finding that he did not fix games. But that's not what they found. A unit of the FBI focused on organized crime didn't much care about whether or not he fixed games. By the admission of those involved in the investigation, they just wanted to stop the scheme to stop money flowing to the mob, which they did.
Both investigations used NBA personnel to help them break down limited amounts of video. Both found not that Donaghy did not fix games, but that it's possible he did not, even though there were causes for concern.
In the foreword of Donaghy's own book, one of the main FBI agents involved said a number of nice things about Donaghy, but stopped short of saying that he did not fix games.
If we have learned anything from the Donaghy scandal, it's that anything is possible when it comes to referee conduct. Certainly it is good that the league feels pressure from the likes of Donaghy, and NBA fans with Tivos, to have the best, least-biased professionals in the world in those coveted jobs.
But when it comes to deciding whether or not the current referee corps is compromised, let your eyes, ears and intuition be your guide ... and be careful about taking anybody's word.
He says they did. His book includes some questions about other referees that Donaghy says were on a polygraph he passed with flying colors. In addition he promised, on camera, to give me the results. One question he says they didn't ask him is, oddly, whether or not he fixed games.
I'm looking forward to seeing the results. I followed up with his P.R. team after the interview. Initially, they said we'd have it by the end of the week. Now they're saying they'll release it in January, with a lot of other information to substantiate his claims.
Tim Donaghy has conducted more than 100 media interviews since his book came out. And in those I have seen, read or heard, whenever the idea of fixing games has come up he has been certain to include the letters "FBI" in his response.
The gist is that the FBI investigated and found he did not fix games.
It's a pretty good line! Who wants to question the FBI?
But did the FBI really investigate? The agent who led their research, Phil Scala, writes in the introduction of Donaghy's own book that their investigation was focused on money going to the Gambino crime family. Other kinds of misconduct, writes Scala, the Bureau left to others to investigate. Scala specifically did not say Donaghy did not fix games.
I'm not aware of anybody who has published a truly rigorous study of Donaghy's work as a referee while he was gambling. And absent that, I'm not sure why we should take his word for it that he didn't fix games.
You might say: OK, don't take his word. But take the NBA's word.
A couple of points there:
- The NBA's Pedowitz report looked into some games, and even mentions finding some suspicious things, but acknowledges they left a ton of Donaghy games unexamined.
- The NBA has no incentive to find that NBA games were fixed. On this issue, the NBA and Donaghy sing from the same hymnal. If it is found that Donaghy did fix games, the NBA has new profound trust issues with fans, to go with a tainted record book and countless irate owners, coaches and players who were cheated out of this or that win, bonus, playoff income, job and the like. Donaghy, for his part, could face more charges if it is found he fixed games.
When I talked to Donaghy last week, I asked him about his friend Phil Scala's failure to write that Donaghy did not fix games.
Phil Scala has not yet returned a call seeking comment.
- NBA tickets sales in a bad economy. It looks pretty bad. The number that stands out to me in Ken Berger's CBS Sportsline report is this one: "League-wide, average paid attendance through Nov. 29 was 13,187." NBA arenas hold a lot more people than that, you know? Read the whole report, though. It's a mixed picture.
- Basketbawful on Chauncey Billups in the Nuggets' road loss: "Mr. Big Shot actually could have tied it with a layup at the buzzer, but he was mugging too much for the refs' attention. And he knows it."
- George Karl tells The New York Times' Jonathan Abrams about coaching Allen Iverson: "The one thing that Coach Brown told me before I met with A.I. was be up front with him, be direct with him and usually when you are, he’ll talk with you. He’s got a good basketball brain. He knows basketball, he understands basketball and I think that’s kind of the way we operated with him."
- Bulls by the Horns: "Although [Vinny] Del Negro hasn’t exactly set the coaching world on fire -- and some of the rookie coaching mistakes he made last season were both obvious and embarrassing -- here’s a question worth asking: Are these Bulls really underachieving? Think about it. Even on paper, this wasn’t going to be a great team. In a best-case scenario, the Bulls had aspirations of above-averageness. The general consensus was Chicago could win 40-ish games and maybe compete for an 'upper-lower seed' in the East (say fifth or sixth). But even so, it was well-known that the Bulls had to 1) adjust to life without Ben Gordon and therefore develop a new team identity, 2) work Luol Deng back into the mix, 3) deal any injuries that popped up (such as the ones suffered by Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas, plus the lingering aches and pains of Jannero Pargo), and 4) contend with a rather brutal schedule that was front-loaded with road games and includes a league-high 22 sets of back-to-backs. Considering all that, it’s actually understandable the Bulls are struggling in the early going."
- If you don't have a good sense of humor, of if you work in Nets PR, just don't even click this Kiki Vandeweghe link.
- With Will Bynum out, Chucky Atkins is huge for the Pistons. Somewhere the Timberwolves -- who waived Atkins in September -- squirm a little.
- John Krolik of Cavs the Blog with a moment of stand-up comedy: "Shaq says that LeBron could coach in the NBA right now. (Don’t actually believe this, but joke…too…easy…must…make…) He was mum when asked if Mike Brown could coach in the NBA right now."
- The Wizards made a huge run, and almost stole the game from the Celtics, when Paul Pierce sat with foul trouble. Of course, he finished with just four fouls -- so why not just let him play and, you know, win the game?
- In researching a book, Penn State associate professor, Sean Griffin, has been asking the FBI and all kinds of people how hard they looked into Tim Donaghy's claims. He says the answer is not all that much, as Donaghy wasn't much of a concern to an FBI unit focused on the Gambino crime family. The agent leading the investigation, Phil Scala, says as much in the foreword to Donaghy's book. Griffin has a fascinating blog going about Donaghy.
- Getting to the line is huge for the Nets.
- Age vs. Shaquille O'Neal, in numbers.
- The five best five-player units in basketball so far this season. One of the five is all Clippers.
- John Hollinger (Insider) on how the Blazers' defense has improved, while the team's record has gone south: "Last season the Blazers won by taking shots. Lots of them. Because of a slightly below-average turnover rate and a league-leading offensive rebound rate, Portland launched more shots per 100 possessions (100.1) than any other team in the league ("shots" being defined as field goal attempts plus 0.44 times free throw attempts). The Blazers were relatively accurate, too, ranking eighth in true shooting percentage, but the real story of their season was one of quantity rather than quality. This season? Portland's accuracy hasn't changed at all; the Blazers' true shooting percentage is nine points ahead of the league average, just like it was a year ago. The problem is that they're generating fewer attempts. Portland takes 96.7 shots per 100 possessions, barely beating the league average of 96.3. More than three shot attempts per game have simply vanished into the ether. The causes are that the Blazers' turnovers have increased, while their offensive rebounding has declined in roughly equal proportion."
- Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune: "Pick against the Jazz on TNT at your own peril. They are now 3-0 in the nationally televised Thursday games this season."
On TrueHoop on Monday, we dedicated considerable time to debunking some of the claims in Tim Donaghy's book.
That was shortly after sitting across from Donaghy and letting him hear about the same research, which you can now see on the video above.
In a nutshell, his book "Personal Foul" outlines many techniques he used in winning bets at an incredible rate, without fixing games. We checked into four of them (selected essentially at random, using the "which of these claims can we check?" technique) and found that those four betting techniques were not nearly as good as he said they would be. In fact, taken all together, they prove to be far worse than just betting at random.
Think of it like this, if you tell me you built a mansion, I might be skeptical. I might say, OK, here, build a dog house. Just so I can see that you can build something. Then if the doghouse falls all apart the first time the wind blows ... well, no, I have not proven you didn't build the house. But I know that the two things were built differently.
Donaghy is adamant that he won his bets at a rate -- better than 70% -- that one gambling expert told me would be hard to achieve even if you were fixing games. 15 out of 16 wins in one stretch!
In the book he is clear that these were the kinds of strategies that he used to achieve those results. Hearing they were not profitable strategies, he shifted course, saying there were other factors too. What were those? Why are they not in his tell-all book?
Why is your doghouse in ruins?
On one particular issue he changed his tune a few times. In the book, he is lavish in explaining the degree to which referee Dick Bavetta is reliable in keeping games close.
In debunking that claim, Donaghy heard me say that seven-point underdogs didn't have a good track record. That was a spread a gambling expert had told us was a good definition of a big underdog. Donaghy replied that he didn't bet on seven-point underdogs, he bet on double-digit underdogs. So, he was saying, I had made an error. I clarified later in the interview: Was he saying that if we looked up double-digit underdogs in Bavetta games, we'd find a winning strategy? He then changed his tune, saying that we should look for Bavetta games with 13- or 14-point underdogs.
None of it panned out. You lose money any which way you follow the advice:
- In games with 7-point or bigger underdogs during the four years Donaghy was betting, the Bavetta strategy would have won in just 48 of 104 games.
- In games with 10-point or bigger underdogs, you would have won 17 out of 42.
- In games with 13-point or bigger underdogs won just two out of eight.
So then we are left clinging to his assertion that the FBI checked all this out, and they believe him. But is that even true? From Monday's post:
U.S. Attorney Benton J. Campbell wrote, in a letter to the presiding judge, that "there is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct." The letter adds that Donaghy has acknowledged that his gambling may have subconsciously influenced his work.
The NBA's investigation concluded, essentially, that Donaghy might not have rigged games. "It seems plausible to us that Donaghy may not have manipulated games," but admits that they have no thorough way to check. "Given the information currently in our possession, we and the League’s experts are unable to contradict the government’s conclusion that '[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.' ... Donaghy officiated close to 300 games in this period. Without knowing on which games or teams he wagered and without access to Donaghy’s explanation for his calls, we believe that it would be impossible to find that the government’s conclusion that he did not manipulate games is erroneous.
So we have one body saying he may have influenced some games, but they don't have evidence, and another saying there are tons of games that he might have influenced but they haven't watched.
Meanwhile, Donaghy points to the foreword of his book, penned by former FBI agent Phil Scala. The foreword goes to some trouble to lend credence to Donaghy, but specifically does not say he did not fix games.
Does that mean Tim Donaghy fixed games? No. But it does mean that nobody of note has said publicly that he did not, and that some of the ways he ways he won all those bets don't add up.
With veteran official Dick Bavetta, the charge is much different.
Donaghy portrays Bavetta as a genial NBA veteran and faithful company man who wants to facilitate a quality entertainment product every night. Since fans generally find a close game more compelling, Bavetta made a deliberate effort to keep the contest competitive, according to Donaghy.
Early in the book, Donaghy tells the story of being at his brother’s birthday party while there’s a Bavetta-officiated game on television:
“Watch,” I told my brother. “Anytime Bavetta referees, you’ll rarely see a blowout. When a team gets up by 20, he starts blowing the whistle like crazy.” And sure enough, that’s what happened -- one team got way ahead before Bavetta whistled the other team back into contention.
According to Donaghy, Bavetta’s tendency for keeping games close made him a favorite of the League. It also gave Donaghy an opportunity to capitalize:
From my earliest involvement with Bavetta, I learned that he likes to keep games close, and that when a team gets down by double-digit points, he helps the players save face. He accomplishes this act of mercy by quietly, and frequently, blowing the whistle on the team that’s having the better night. Team fouls suddenly become one-sided between the contestants, and the score begins to tighten up. That’s the way Dick Bavetta referees a game -- and everyone in the league knew it.
Aware of this propensity, Donaghy says he would often take the underdog when Bavetta was assigned to a game, and cash in as a result.
Since Donaghy maintains he made 70 percent or better on his money while leveraging these kinds of biases, we turned to economist Joe Price and his colleague Henry Tappen, who have performed extensive research on referee bias in the NBA. Price used his data sets to examine Donaghy’s claim that Bavetta systematically kept games close.
The results: Far from making 70 percent, that strategy would have lost you 12 percent of your money. In other words, choosing at random would have given you a better chance at success.
Anyone who consistently bet the “big underdog” (a team receiving seven points or more in the closing betting line) in Bavetta refereed games between the beginning of the 2003-04 season (when Donaghy says he began betting on NBA games) to the conclusion of the 2006-07 games (soon after which Donaghy confessed his actions to the feds) would have lost his shirt.
When confronted with this statistic by Henry Abbott, Donaghy balked. "I looked for spreads in games -- Bavetta games -- that were double-digit spreads," Donaghy said. "I'm telling you that, quite often, Dick Bavetta in the fourth quarter of games when the [lead] was 20 point or more, changed his style of officiating to where those games became closer. He would instruct other referees to change their style, too. He'd say, 'Let's not embarrass anyone. Get the marginal calls at one end, but not down at the other end of the floor.'"
Bavetta officiated 42 games between the beginning of the 2003-04 season and the end of the 2006-07 season where the closing betting line was 10 points or greater. The big underdogs in those contests went 17-25 against the spread -- a winning percentage of 40.1 percent. In other words, teams that were expected to be beaten badly were far more likely to be embarrassed when Bavetta was on the floor.
Joe Price, professor of economics at Brigham Young University, sifted through all the data. Price has studied gambling for a long time, and he regards a team receiving seven points or greater a big underdog. This generous interpretation of "big underdog" not only makes Donaghy's claim look better, but it also provides a bigger, more dependable data set.
To a get full understanding of Price’s findings and their implications, we asked Price to go over the data with us and explain how he reached his conclusions. You can view all the data on Price's website.
First off, how did you come to have all this data?
The data was originally collected as part of research that Justin Wolfers and I did on racial bias in the NBA. We collected the box-score and play-by-play data from basketball-reference.com and ESPN.com. The betting data came from covers.com.
So let’s look at this in the most practical context: Would betting on the underdog in games where the spread was seven or more points and Bavetta was the official have been a profitable strategy?
If you had bet on the underdog all of the games in which Bavetta was an official and in which one of the teams was favored to win by seven or more points, your bet would have paid off only 46.2 percent of the games. This would have caused you to, on average, lose about 11.8 percent of the money that you bet, on average.
As you and your research assistant, Henry Tappen, delved into the research, when did the red flags begin to appear?
First of all, some of the basic things that you’d expect to observe if Bavetta liked to keep games close or favor the underdog simply don’t play out in the data. For example, the final score margin in Bavetta games is slightly larger, on average, than non-Bavetta games (10.8 versus 10.4 points) and big underdogs (favored to lose by seven points or greater) are less likely to win when Bavetta is one of the officials (17.3 percent vs. 19.7 percent).
One facet of the game where referees have tremendous discretion is foul calls. Was Bavetta more likely to whistle favorites for more fouls, as Donaghy claims?
There is evidence in the data that referees have a tendency to show a little favoritism to big underdogs -- but Bavetta less than your average referee. These differences, however, are not statistically significant.
How conclusive is the evidence?
One of the challenges of assessing individual referee behavior in the NBA is that the publicly available data (such as the box-score or play-by-play data) does not indicate which referee made which call. The work that Justin Wolfers and I did on referee bias was based on the racial mix of the referee crew, so that wasn’t a problem. All the same, examining the behavior of one referee is challenging.
However, the real issue with the Donaghy allegation is whether you could use the information about whether Bavetta was officiating to predict the outcome of the game. Our analysis of the data provides no evidence that this is true. One thing to note is that there is a lot of variation in the final point margin at the end of games. There are certainly games officiated by Bavetta where the final score was close and games officiated by Bavetta in which the underdog beats the spread. But these things are, on average, more likely to occur in the games in which he is not one of the officials.
We're talking about 325 games officiated by Dick Bavetta. Despite the findings, is it possible that Donaghy could've identified specific trends within those games that would have allowed him to come out ahead?
It is possible, but unlikely. In order for us to test for effects on a subset of games, Donaghy would have to be more specific about which Bavetta games we should bet on. We did a simple experiment in which we tested what would have happened if you had bet on the underdog in the 104 games that one team was favored to win by more than seven points and Bavetta was the referee. Again, we found that, using that strategy, your bet would have paid off only 46.2 percent of the time, and you would have lost 11.8 percent of the money on average. This is compared to winning your bet 52.3 percent if you had bet on the underdog in games in which Bavetta was not the official.
As a behavioral economist and a fan of the NBA, how do you make sense of all this?
There is a long history of people making faulty inference based on small samples. One example is the “hot hand” phenomenon. When we see a player make three shots in a row, we often think to ourselves that he is “on fire.” For a player that makes half his shots, however, we would expect that, by random chance, about 12.5 percent of any random set of three consecutive shots would have all three shots made.
One the other hand, some patterns in referee behavior (such as racial bias) can only be detected by analyzing large sets of observations. With a limited set of observations, people often mistakenly see patterns and fail to detect true patterns.
Correction: The original publication of this post stated "Bavetta officiated 69 games between the beginning of the 2003-04 season and the end of the 2006-07 season where the closing betting line was 10 points or greater. The big underdogs in those contests went 25-44 against the spread -- a winning percentage of 36.2 percent." In fact, those 69 games extended through the 2007-08 season. As corrected above, Bavetta officiated only 42 games with closing betting lines of 10 points or greater from the start of the 2003-04 season to the conclusion of the 2006-07 season, with the big underdogs covering the spread only 40.1 percent of the time.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy's book, dropped in late October by a division of Random House, is back with a new title and a new publisher.
"Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA" is now available for sale online, with a publish date of Dec. 4. It is being sold through CreateSpace, a self-publishing arm of Amazon.com, although the publisher is a Florida-based business called VTi Group, Inc., whose primary business has been marketing.
"We approached Mr. Donaghy after learning that his original publishing deal fell through," says Benjamin Daniel, a project manager at VTi. "With a background in web media and traditional publishing, Mr. Donaghy felt that our firm was the best fit to become the publisher for this unique project."
Daniel says the new book is essentially the same as the one that was dropped by Random House over liability concerns, with some edits and additions.
"Personal Foul" is an insider's account of a tale that has been much-told by outsiders. In its basic outline, the narrative confirms what has been told. Donaghy began betting on sports with a friend, Jack Concannon. He quickly got involved in more different kinds of gambling, to the point of obsession. In the early stages of his gambling addiction, he avoided betting on the NBA, but, he writes, by November 2003 that line was crossed too, and before long he found he was extremely adept at picking NBA winners.
Eventually, writes Donaghy, Thomas Martino and James Battista convinced Donaghy to provide his NBA picks to Battista instead of Concannon, and they struck an arrangement by which Donaghy would be paid for every correct pick he provided. That relationship led to Donaghy's being disgraced as a referee, and incarcerated for his crimes. He was released Nov. 4.
Donaghy is adamant throughout the book that his NBA betting success was not attributable to influencing NBA games with his own whistle. Instead, he says that his insider's knowledge -- the referee's master schedule, for instance, and first-hand knowledge of referees and their biases -- was all he needed to consistently outfox oddsmakers. The implication is that many NBA referees are not fair in how they call games.
In the book's introduction, retired FBI supervisory special agent Phil Scala describes the high expectations of truth-telling placed on cooperating witnesses like Donaghy.
Donaghy has recorded an interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes that is scheduled to air this Sunday.
I have spent time with referees. I have spent time reading every word of attorney Lawrence Pedowitz's Report to the NBA Board of Governors, which is the NBA's investigation into the Tim Donaghy affair.
I have spent time thinking.
And my main thought is: If there were another official doing bad things like Tim Donaghy did, would he or she get caught?
I opened the Pedowitz report with that question in mind.
Remember, the NBA had a lot of security in place before all this. At the time Tim Donaghy was busted -- thanks to a phone call from the FBI to the NBA -- the League already had some impressive-sounding gumshoe-types on their side.
Nevertheless, one of the League's known troublemakers of a referee, one who had been investigated for erratic off-court behavior before, went undetected betting on games for years and getting personal cash deliveries from those believed to be tied to the mob.
Shortly after Donaghy was caught, this is what Commissioner David Stern told us about the NBA's existing security:
We have a security department that is large. It's headed by Bernie Tolbert, the senior vice president of security, former FBI, head of the Buffalo office second in command at Philadelphia who has a background in undercover work. We have in house representatives that are from Secret Service, U.S. Army, New York Police Department, and New York State Police Investigation.
We, in addition, have a security network that includes a security representative with respect to every NBA team. Those security representatives are routinely judged and either changed as appropriate, and instructed on the ground to be listening to what goes on, what they hear, what they see, what they can observe. And those security representatives are for the most part either FBI retired, local police, in some cases DEA. And we are permitted by work rules, some of them are actually functioning in their regular capacity for local PD and working for us at the team level.
In addition to the constant communication with our security represents of what goes on in the cities, we are in continuous conversation with DEA, the FBI section on organized crime which deals with sports betting, and with the Homeland Security Department. Our security department operates rather extensively, and has actually been beefed up more recently with respect to its activities in connection with Homeland Security, which occupies since 9/11 a more substantial time, a more substantial amount of its time.
We do subject our referees to extensive security checks, to the limit provided by the law. That is to say, with their authorization each year for the past two years, we have conducted personal background checks that cover credit, bank account, litigation, civil and criminal, assets including real property, debt, you name it; if it's legal to have it, we do it. The agency that we use for that is the Arkin Group, and under the guidance of the former head of worldwide operations for the CIA.
If appropriate, we do follow up work with respect to anything that the investigation shows. And when we are curious, I guess, because we've been alerted to something, we hire appropriate investigators to look at the details.
With respect to our referees' performance, well, I guess before I get to that, let me just say, we in addition to that, as part of our concern with gambling, we have for many years retained a consultant in Las Vegas whose job it is to inform us whether there are any movements or unusual movements in betting on the NBA about which we should be concerned, and we're also in contact with the Nevada Gaming Board who monitors that for their own purposes to determine whether there has been anything that we should be concerned about or particularly aware of.
This is like the Hall of Fame of busting the bad guys. FBI, CIA, DEA, Secret Service, NYPD -- not to mention spies in Las Vegas -- if these guys had no clue about Donaghy's gambling then, who would know about it now?
Or to put it another way: If you had done a Pedowitz report in 2006, would the NBA have unearthed Donaghy before the FBI stumbled across him?
There are all kinds of inspiring changes recommended in the Pedowitz report, and sign me up among those who are optimisitic about the future of NBA refereeing. (There are also some humdinger recommendations, including the suggestion that player gambling should be curbed: "NBA players," writes Pedowitz, "are prohibited from betting on NBA games -- but the Constitution does not prohibit players from gambling at casinos or wagering with friends. Thus, for example, it is not uncommon for players to wager large sums at casino gaming tables or while playing cards with teammates. Indeed, some have commented that there is a culture of gambling among the players. We have recommended that the NBA consider new rules governing gambling by players. We believe that gambling can expose the players and the League to significant risks and therefore it is important that players be educated regarding these risks.") New organizational structure. New leaders. New systems that might one day notice suspicious patterns in play-calling. New methods of reporting suspicious activity.
But in the case of Donaghy, I don't know that there would have been anyone to report suspicous activity. If, like me, you read the full 133-page document looking for the way that Donaghy would have been caught if it all happened anew today, I think you'll find that the main solution there comes from one short and vague section on page 113:
The League has now arranged to obtain information on a regular basis from individuals and entities involved in the gambling business who can provide the League with information about unusual movements in the betting lines, rumors about things such as injury reports or referee schedules or where the "smart money is being wagered. By flagging games or individuals for the League to investigate, these monitors may help the League detect gambling or misuse of confidential information. (We note that this system has been working properly, as certain games were brought to the League's attention during the 2007-2008 season. After further review, the League determined that nothing improper had occurred.)
I think that's the real key, right? People who are up to their eyeballs in gambling every day, and know that global underworld of sports books, bookies, oddsmakers, and lines. The NBA had this before, according to the commissioner, but now the claim seems to be that it is souped up and working better than ever.
That whole world is entirely mysterious to me. But right here at TrueHoop we did talk to one such guy. Haralabos Voulgaris has made a nice living over the last several years gambling on the NBA. He's the kind of guy the NBA would presumably want to talk to about these kinds of things.
Voulgaris says he has spent an unhealthy amount of time committing his own investigation into the Donaghy affair. He has watched video, plumbed the depths of his vast proprietary database of every NBA play in the last five years, and he has talked to his contacts in the gambling industry.
I don't know that even Voulgaris thinks he could detect another cheater in real time. And he only became aware of Donaghy after the fact.
Lawrence Pedowitz interviewed every referee twice, and nearly everyone involved in refereeing in any way at all. And I believe he is genuinely satisfied that what the FBI found was real: That Donaghy was a rogue official. My only quandary is that I thought the NBA wanted to make sure that there is never another Tim Donaghy, and I'm not sure that's even possible.
'm also not certain that every stone has been turned over in looking for the truth of what happened here.
I am about to say something that is patently unfair to Lawrence Pedowitz, whom I do not know but understand to have a stellar reputation: I knew at the moment this investigation was announced, before the first interview was even conducted, that this report would not find that Tim Donaghy's dirty deeds actually affected the outcome of NBA games.
That was Pandora's box, and the NBA really needs that box to stay closed.
The NBA is not the kind of entity to call in the media to watch itself destroy its own credibility. If the media was being called in, as it was in the case of the Pedowitz report, the credibility would somehow or another remain intact.
But Voulgaris, for one -- the rare gambling insider who is open about such things -- thinks the league's version of events has not been believable.
You have said that the Tim Donaghy scandal shook your confidence a little bit in the integrity of the NBA. How so?
The Donaghy scandal basically made me question whether or not I wanted to continue betting the sport.
For one, after the details emerged I have heard from several people who knew about the games while this was going on.
Towards the end of Donaghy's last season I guess the information was getting passed around quite a bit. I have always insulated myself from discussing the sport with other gamblers, I pretty much go about my work, keep it to myself, and bet the sport, so I was not privy to this information.
I also try to avoid all the "it's fixed" conspiracy talk because its counter-productive to actually handicapping the games. When the news broke, though, I spent an unhealthy amount of time poring over old games Donaghy reffed and seeing how I was affected.
It was rather disturbing and it kind of turned me off to betting.
It made me question whether or not I wanted to continue betting the sport, in fact I am at a point now where I'd actually prefer to work in the sport in some other way rather than betting on it, but I'd have to find a job that paid me as much (or nearly) to make it worth my time and I am not sure if those types of opportunities are available.
What do you think about how the NBA has handled the Tim Donaghy investigation?
From a league perspective they have done a great job sweeping this scandal under the rug, and downplaying it.
I keep on reading how Donaghy "provided information" as though this was the crux of the scandal.
The guy fixed games. He didn't "provide information" he bet on games he was working, and made calls to insure he would win those bets. It's pretty basic stuff but the NBA has somehow turned the focus of the whole investigation away from this and instead focused on the "inside information" angle.
I understand what the league is trying to do, I think in this instance the truth doesn't jibe with the league's best interest. In that respect the League and the Commissioner have done a great job of downplaying the scandal.
One section of the Pedowitz report is dedicated to looking for evidence that Donaghy may have affected the outcomes of games. The report has a list of 17 suspicious games that Donaghy officiated.
When I spoke to Voulgaris in June, he volunteered four such suspicious games:
- Lakers vs. Knicks 11/19/2003
- Suns vs. Knicks 1/2/2006
- Jazz vs. Magic 3/6/2006
- Heat vs. Knicks 2/26/2007
Those were all mentioned here on ESPN.com months before the Pedowitz report was concluded in October, but only one of the four made Pedowitz's list of suspicious games. And even then Pedowitz's approach to determining if Donaghy had called things suspicously or not was to put that question to NBA employees to analyze the game tapes.
Pedowitz and his staff watched only small amounts of tape, presented by NBA staffers after their analyis was complete. Even though I could not imagine a crew less likely to find evidence that some NBA games had been fraudulent, this section of the report does includes a line about one game being potentially suspicious (12/16/2006 Detroit at New Jersey).
Then there are several paragraphs that explain, without evidence that this is what actually happened, a rationale whereby it could have made sense for Donaghy not have affected the outcomes of games. And then that section ends like this:
Given the information currently in our possession, we and the League's experts are unable to contradict the government's conclusion that "[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.
I don't know if Tim Donaghy improperly affected the outcome of games or not, but the fact that a number of NBA employees watched a short list of games, and then told Lawrence Pedowitz he didn't seem to blow any games (except maybe for that one) does not convince me that the matter is closed.
The appearance, from this report, that the matter is closed, strikes me as a little bit disingenuous.
And there were some other moments in the report that gave me the feeling Pedowitz wasn't digging as hard as he might have.
For instance, there is a question of cronyism and nepotism in the referee corps. The best case I could make that there might be such things in the hiring of referees is that there are about 60 referees at any given time. At the time the Donaghy scandal emerged, we learned that four of them went to the very same high school!
I am quite certain I could find a statistician to tell us that it's nearly impossible that you'd hire the 60 best at anything in the world and come up with four from the same high school. But Pedowitz didn't dig into that kind of stuff. Instead his section on nepotism took a glance at the four (four!) pairs of fathers and sons among NBA referees, and found that in only one case was the father consulted in the hiring of the son. The people who did the hiring told Pedowitz that nepotism played no role in the hires. And that was that. Only, there was one other thing: Pedowitz then points out the irony of Donaghy accusing the league of nepotism, when Donaghy himself had an uncle (Billy Oakes) who was an NBA referee.
So, is everyone satisfied that NBA referees have been hired strictly on the merits?
I'm no conspiracy theorist. I don't mean to demean this report or NBA referees. I suspect both are on the up and up.
But once trust is broken, I can't help but get into a "show me don't tell me" mode. This report was the NBA's attempt to show the public that their trust is rightly placed in NBA referees.
I am inclined to trust those people, because I have met several of them. But this report asked me to trust more than I wanted to -- especially in lacking real review of whether or not Donaghy affected who won and lost games. I don't feel I have been shown all that much.
Nevertheless, I think this report did represent a permanent and significant leap forward in how the NBA discusses referees publicly. How so? This report, more than any other NBA verbiage ever, makes plain as day that referees blow a lot of calls. They are human. They make mistakes.
For example, at one point, Pedowitz is going about the task of refuting an apparent allegation by Donaghy that referee Dick Bavetta's relationship with former Golden State GM Garry St. Jean may have affected a particular game. In exonerating Bavetta, Pedowitz writes:
While Bavetta called thirte
en fouls on Toronto and only three on Golden State, what we find telling -- and inconsistent with Donaghy's allegation -- is that Bavetta had seven incorrect calls, six of which favored Toronto. Thus, while Bavetta may have called more fouls in favor of Golden State, those calls were correct and what errors Bavetta made heavily favored Toronto.
Seven incorrect calls from one NBA referee in one game! And in this report, that counts as good news! This is a new day in how we talk about referees.
If that's the NBA's line, that good referees make bad mistakes sometimes, well then out of this report maybe we really are establishing common ground between NBA fans and the bigwigs of the League. This is the kind of discussion I have always wanted -- one rooted in the truth.
As for preventing the next Tim Donaghy ... keep your fingers crossed, and be glad that once-in-a-lifetime things don't happen that often.
Don't you hate those?
Let's say you have about six things to do. You start doing all that stuff, and then in the middle of all that, you get a really important phone call that makes you drop everything and run an errand. Then you get back to the house, where now you can remember only three things you were in the middle of doing.
What about those other three? What were they again? Even as you have forgotten them, they are still somewhere in your brain, creeping you out.
Those are your loose ends.
David Stern, my man, you have got yourself some loose ends.
I'm no Stern-hater. When he took over, things were not pretty. Now, the NBA is a competent organization. The audience is global. The stars are bright. The media bus runs on time. He's smart and aggressive. I appreciate all that.
And what's more, under Stern the NBA has managed to wiggle out of a lot of jams, with some fancy PR footwork, some stalling, and even the occasional berating of whomever needs to be berated.
In fact, I would argue that it has had too much success along those lines.
When really bad news strikes the NBA the media fallout is often shockingly muted and delayed. We often never really get to the bottom of what happened. Instead of lessons learned, wrists slapped, and truth told, we get ... loose ends.
I think the NBA sees the toning down of criticism as a form of victory. And such victories are, in the short term, PR coups.
But in the long-term, repeated again and again, those loose ends erode confidence, create a poor environment for success, and loosen your organization's embrace of reality.
That great feeling you get when you "come clean" about something you did wrong? The NBA doesn't get that feeling very often. That whole idea of just explaining what really happened, that's not a big part of basketball.
Or, to put it another way: You know what it feels like to get away with something? If you get away with enough things, people might admire you for being slick. You'd be great in the CIA.
But if you are masterful at talking your way out of things, eventually people stop believing the things that come out of your mouth, because they know you are not in love with the truth.
I'd say the NBA has a lot of loose ends on the truth front these days. Let me offer you examples of three current NBA stories where there is powerful, even overwhelming evidence, that something bad happened, yet we have no idea what really happened:
That whole pot smoke thing at the Rookie Transitions Program.
We reportedly had an alarm go off because of the smoke. And now the story has passed and everyone who was reportedly there has denied it was their smoke. Newsflash: If there was smoke in the room, IT HAD TO BE SOMEBODY'S! I have made a lot of phone calls about this, to just about everyone who could know, and the stories are absolutely all over the freaking shop, which means people are lying.
No, it's not that big of a deal. But I'm a dude who just hates being lied to.
Here's the creepy little game that gets played here: Nobody directly involved, that I have talked to, thinks smoking pot is such a big deal. So it goes on without anyone making a fuss about it, with the tacit approval of plenty of people with the potential to be influential.
But at the same time, the NBA and the players and the agents are all in the business of making themselves as attractive as possible for national and global corporate marketing campaigns, and this kind of thing does not help build the shiny, happy, hero image that sells sneakers and beverages across red states and blue states.
When there are incidents like this, the truth would be a little complicated, and would affect the bottom line value of the league and the players. (The corporate sponsors have a lot of options as to where to spend their dollars -- why go for the stoner?)
So everyone denies everything. Agents and league officials (who expect media people like me to fly long distances to watch players go to boring ribbon-cutting ceremonies) express amazement that we would be even remotely interested in this tale of illicit drugs and illicit women at the NBA's "how to be a good adult" camp. And with lots of single anonymous sources fanning the flames with juicy tidbits, but nothing that's really reportable, the story has the potential to die long before anyone will ever manage to tell the simple story of what actually happened that night.
In other words, the truth.
We had a gambling referee, a promise of transparency, and an investigation. Shortly after all that, we had word that suddenly NBA referees were now allowed to gamble in casinos, along with word that some or all had been found to have done so all along.
Then we had just about a year radio silence from the league.
Then there has been a massive shakeup in referee management, to go with suggestions from experts that games may have been fixed. And all along all kinds of people -- last week Pistons owner Bill Davidson told the Detroit Free Press Tom Donaghy was "the tip of the iceberg" -- suggesting there is much more to the story.
Somebody needs to paint me a picture of what happened here, from beginning to end, that actually makes sense. And where oh where is the Pedowitz report resulting from the NBA's investigation?
O.J. Mayo, BDA Sports, and Recruitment
Everybody knows that the way top players meet their agents is seldom a story rich with integrity. And if you pin them down about it, almost everyone can understand that the dirty recruitment of very young men leads to a corruption that eats at the core of the American basketball system. The way it is now, agents often do better by cheating than working hard ensuring players' long-term success, and players are made into man-children by deep-pocketed yes men who crowd out honest mentors with their tough love.
It's a problem!
But the only way you can ever really get at fixing it is to catch somebody red-handed. Which never happens.
But it did happen!
In the rarest of rare cases, somebody squealed, and we got all kinds of details. If ever there were an opportunity for some meaningful change, this was it.
The big enforcement hammer was dropped a few weeks ago. Late on the Friday before Labor Day (when it would attract the least attention) the Players Association, which regulates agents, announced the fallout: One of the less famous, and poorer, agents involved, would be suspended for a year. Calvin Andrews was on the sidelines.
His boss, Bill Duffy, the owner of the agency involved, released a statement declaring how glad he was that no one besides Andrews had been found to have been involved in any wrongdoing.
So, case closed, right? Wrong.
First of all, does this bit of enforcement by the Players Association -- whose head lawyer has worked for Duffy many times in the past -- satisfy anyone in the industry? Has anything been cleaned up? I challenge you to find one person who thinks this suspension was an important step in cleaning up recruiting.
I have talked to close to eight or nine people who are intimate with the way recruiting works in basketball, and they all -- every single one of them -- agree the suspension of Andrews will be seen around the industry as encouragement to continue the status quo.
So, to re-cap, that's a once-in-a-long time peek
into this dirty world. An investigation. And ... encouragement?
The idea is that as long as there's someone around to take the fall, like Andrews did in this case, big agents will be able to recruit however they want without fear of repercussion from the Players Association. Even if copies of receipts are on ESPN, you still won't get in trouble.
Meanwhile, does it feel to you like we got to the bottom of what happened here?
The report that touched all this off centered around word of something like a quarter million dollars in payments, mostly to a mentor of Mayo's. Calvin Andrews has, undoubtedly, made a little bit of money working with Carmelo Anthony and the like in his time as an agent. But it has only been a few years since he left a regular job working at Xerox. Where are we supposed to believe that money came from, if he was acting alone? He's an employee. What kind of job can you have where a few years in, after taxes and your own living expenses, you can have a quarter million in cash to play with? Whose money was that?
And who set up the fraudulent charity we heard about?
I wonder if we'll ever get to know.
At least in this case, the offense extends beyond basketball, where the powers that be seem to have lost their urge to rock the boat. Thanks in large part to the involvement of that charity, the investigation on this topic reportedly continues in the hands of the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Attorney's office.
Maybe they can help us tie up some of those loose ends.
- Britt Robson of The Rake: "Comparisons to Michael Jordan have become hackneyed, not to mention unfair, for NBA players over the past decade -- it is like anointing a singer-songwriter the next Dylan or a reggae artist the next Marley. But there is one trait Kobe possesses that involuntarily brings up memories of MJ -- an almost maniacal need to be the straw that stirs the drink when the game is on the line."
- A big mess of Kevin Duckworth links.
- There are SO MANY sports arguments out there. Way too many to ever settle. I don't mind a good argument, but I like to be able to win, you know? Or at least learn something useful. That's why the purely hypothetical arguments -- Bill Russell vs. Shaquille O'Neal, or whatever it is -- strike me as a never-ending death spiral of meaningless conversation. There's just no way out. They're never going to play each other, and they're from entirely different times. Anyway, in that vein, here's a simulation of a seven game series between the Dream Team and the Redeem Team. For what it's worth, however it works, the Dream Team won 4-1.
- MetLife, reportedly, can decide which top players don't get to play for their national teams. It's not as straightforward as I'm making it sound. But they have decided to put Luol Deng on their list of players who will not be insured while playing for his national team, which could cost Great Britain an opportunity to play in the Olympics they will be hosting. (Yes, they get an automatic berth, but reportedly only if they're reasonably competitive.) The only hope is coming up with something like $2.5 million to insure Deng for the next five summers -- or to somehow get MetLife to reconsider. I have already heard from conspiracy theorists pointing out that players with big salaries and injury histories (Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant) have been greenlighted for Team USA, but players like Deng and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have been sidelined by insurance issues.
- Traveling. (Watch the Spanish bench!) In Spain, a lot of things Team USA players did would have been called. Some more video.
- Unbelievable story about a young boy with cancer getting a lift from the 1991-1992 Golden State Warriors.
- Ryan Schwan, Hornets247 blogger, stokes up his geek cred four to seven notches.
- TrueHoop reader Jason: "This is how you know they love basketball in Lithuania."
- The Pistons lose their biggest corporate sponsor, which was oddly, a subsidiary of the company that is run by the guy who owns the Cavaliers. (Via Detroit Bad Boys and MLive.com) In early July the Pistons owner criticized the mortgage industry, and the sponsor they lost was a large mortgage lender.
- David Berri of the Wages of Wins on the Celtics' summer: "Obviously when you sign a player that a doctor said isn't going to play anymore [Darius Miles], you can't expect much. You certainly can't expect such a player to replace Posey. But even if Miles is healthy, the version we saw in Portland and Cleveland wouldn't help much anyway. So what else has the Celtics done this summer to improve? Well, not much. J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker were added in the draft. And Patrick O'Bryant -- a 2006 lottery pick who has logged 218 minutes in his NBA career -- was signed as a back-up center. Such moves hardly compare to what this team did last summer."
- More good news for Tim Donaghy. A prosecutor is assessing whether or not Donaghy may have violated Arizona state laws by refereeing games there.
- Player introductions jump the shark -- a video retrospective.
- Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress is profiling the Nuggets. Anyone care to guess who he's talking about here? "Offers very little on the defensive end. Doesn't hustle back on defense, and is often one of the last players back. Can stay in front of good ball handlers for a time, but isn't able to change directions quickly when he's forced to move laterally. Closes out too high, making it easy for slower defenders to move past him to the rim. Will sell out on steal attempts. Takes a lot of risks to force turnovers. Will bait players into making bad passes, but is a defensive liability on the perimeter. Has the strength to be a solid post defender, but tends to just foul shooters rather than try to defend their shots. Will get in foul trouble from time to time for this reason. Starting to spend more time defending the paint, leading to improved production as a rebounder. Will get down and box out, but not always. Pursues the ball off the rim, and shows great anticipation and explosiveness when cleaning the glass. Needs to show better defensive intensity and discipline."
- TrueHoop reader Jakob e-mails: "If I were an NBA coach and had a young player who has to develop I would definitely try to get him into team USA. I mean, if you think about it, it's a way better experience than anything before. For instance, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade got to spend the entire summer with players like Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd. I think they could become much better players because of that experience. Chris Bosh could go at it with Dwight Howard. Those guys are competitors, they love challenges. They love to play with the best and against the best. They're gonna improve a whole lot just by being there. In my opinion Team USA is the best thing that could happen to young and talented NBA prospects!!"
- Wayman Tisdale, who has one of the best post-playing careers ever as a successful jazz musician, loses part of a leg to cancer.
- Brian McCormick: "I seriously do not know how anyone would defend the Cavs if they ran their offense through James at the high post."
- Jerry Sloan gets nominated to coach Team U.S.A.
- Channing Frye is looking to
purchase some local Portland artwork.
- Eric Musselman reads like crazy. This latest book he's blogging about I have never read, but it makes four points I take very seriously.
- Team USA players, ranked by all kinds of different ranking systems in a pretty colorful chart.
- Dirk Nowitzki has the five rings of the Olympics shaved into the side of his head. Word is his German teammates may follow suit. That is fun.
- Fascinating look at what's going on at web addresses you'd intuit would be associated with various Sacramento Kings. Very few players actually have web sites up and running. Many of the domains are owned by squatters, or in one case a bail bondsman. Not having a site, even if you're a wealthy celebrity, made a modicum of sense some time ago when web development was an expensive hassle. But in the ara of blogs a couple of grand, some free or cheap software, and some eager beaver young writers can give you a hopping online social scene, and a direct connection to the people who will buy your jerseys and come to your charity events. Get on it!
- You'll want to be a bit of a researcher to make the most of this, but here are some stat geek stats for Team USA that will be updated after every game. So far, it looks to me like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been the biggest factors in Team USA's wins.
- Kobe Bryant talking about his parents, and especially how his mother's great effort smoothed the transition of a childhood move to Italy.
- D-League President Dan Reed blogs about a new program that lets NBA teams send a basketball staffer to the D-League with their star player, talks about how D-League teams are like NBA teams but the decimal points on the dollar figures is one notch over, and he adds this: "Although there is a lot of commotion about Europe right now, in our seven years we have produced 5 times more NBA players than any other professional basketball league in the world, including any of the top European leagues."
- Dave from BlazersEdge has a theory that elite teams get better pace in their schedules, with rest days where they are more useful. Anyone know a way to test that theory against the data?
- 5,300+ words, plus a scrolling table, on the idea that to win the MVP award, your team must win at least 50 games. The upshot: Kobe Bryant has won the precise number of MVP awards that he has won: one.
- A conversation about NBA names gets a little touchy, and is PG-13. It's also mildly scholarly, for an instant or two. UPDATE: There is a pertinent factual issue with this discussion. That character in Donte Greene's name that touched it all off is not an apostrophe, as it may appear sometimes online. It's an accent. And the reason a lot of websites don't use it is because accents, in html, can get squirrely. For instance, they can appear as apostrophes.
- Musing that casinos could stop carrying NBA games in their sports books, in response to post-Donaghy bettor fears that the game might be rigged. (Warning, this was written by a Las Vegas-based, seemingly heavily pro-casino writer.) There is no evidence that it is even under consideration, but how freaking ironic would that be? After all the hand-wringing about Las Vegas being too dirty for the pristine NBA, now there is at least the idea out there saying that the NBA could be too dirty for Las Vegas!
- Kwame Brown, as quoted by Keith Langlois on Pistons.com: "'I can sit here and spill out all kinds of stuff, injuries or what have you,' Brown said for the reasons his career has stalled. 'But I'm not going to do that. The past is the past. I'm not going to disrespect my new organization by saying anything that sounds like an excuse. This is a first for me - I was able to pick and choose from a couple of different teams. This is where I wanted to go and this is where I decided to be and this is my home now.'" (Via Detroit Bad Boys)
- Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel: "An interesting tidbit about the Heat's waiver claim of swingman Bobby Jones: Because Jones doesn't begin to collect salary until the start of the season, and because his guarantee date is not until Aug. 15, Jones essentially is currently a member of the Heat at absolutely no cost. He, however, cannot be immediately dealt because of the NBA's 30-day rule after waiver claims."
- A bunch of fancy numbers showing that how well your top three players play explains two thirds of your wins. The same article points out that, by Wages of Wins numbers, Chris Quinn was among Miami's top three last year.
- The power of a superstar, and Memphis' long-term plans.
- More scuttlebutt about Jason Kidd as a candidate to go to Europe.
- Eric Musselman on Team USA: "With the opening ceremony of the Games only two days away, there still needs to be some sorting out at the point position. Team USA is still playing three point guards, all of whom are used to having the ball in their hands and running an offense at the NBA level. I don't think that can last. It will be interesting to see who gets the bulk of the minutes at that position. The ability to defend quick, penetrating point guards will be a key. Patrick Mills got in lane yesterday and Carlos Arroyo hurt Team USA on penetrations in the past."
- In Olympic soccer, only players under 23 (and three wild card oldies) can compete. What do you think about something like that for basketball? Ross Siler wants to see that.
- And they say blogging will be the death of journalism ... Any journalism experts out there want to react to these practices by one of the owners of the ex-Sonics? (Via SuperSonicSoul)
In the New York Daily News, John Marzulli reports:
The man who put away John Gotti, baby-sat Sammy (Bull) Gravano, raided an Al Qaeda bomb factory and helped uncover the NBA betting scandal says Tim Donaghy told the truth.
Philip Scala, the recently retired FBI supervisory special agent in charge of the Gambino squad, which uncovered Donaghy's scheme of betting on basketball games he had officiated, said he believes the disgraced referee's claims that other refs were dirty.
That's one of those moments when, if you work in PR for the NBA, you might swallow a little hard.
Scala is experienced talking to and assessing criminals, and, most importantly he has a highly respected name that's he's willing to use in the paper.
That's not good if you're the NBA. The rest of the article is well worth a read, and it's certainly interesting. Somewhat mercifully for the NBA, at this point the evidence appears not to go far beyond Scala's gut feeling, based on having spent time with Donaghy, and being aware of much more of this investigation than has been public. There is no smoking gun piece of evidence.
I also found this passage interesting:
... when prosecutors wrote a letter to the federal judge outlining Donaghy's cooperation, defense lawyer John Lauro was outraged that the information about other NBA referees and officials had been omitted simply because no criminal charges were brought.
"Donaghy, for some reason, looked up to me," Scala said. "He came to me one day and said, 'It means a lot to me if you could answer this question: Do you believe that I've told the truth?' I told him, 'I believe you.'
"I wanted to know why he was asking, and he said, 'I'd appreciate it if you'd call my dad' -- and I did that for him," Scala said.
- Scott Howard-Cooper of the Sacramento Bee: "It was tough to tell over the shrieking celebration with noisemakers and streamers, but they'll love the Ron Artest trade in Houston, too. A deal with the framework of Bobby Jackson, Donte Greene and what figures to be a late first-round pick in 2009 for a talented forward, with minor parts likely to be added before becoming official Aug. 14, is an escape route for the Kings and a no-brainer for the Rockets in a way the NBA rarely has no-brainers."
- Steve Campbell of the Houston Chronicle: "Neither Daryl Morey nor Rick Adelman has any way of knowing how well the newest Rocket will fit in with a cohesive team built around Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. What we do know is that regardless of how it turns out, it's a risk well worth taking. Just like that, the Rockets belong on the short list of teams with legitimate NBA title hopes this upcoming season. Just like that, the Rockets have three players who have proved their ability to average 20 points per game and/or carry a team on a given night. Just like that, the Rockets became on one of the league's most flexible teams – better on offense and defense. And they did it without sacrificing anybody who was a significant part of their 2008-09 plans."
- Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "Just win, baby. That's the statement the Rockets sent Tuesday with the apparent acquisition of Ron Artest. Character? Not important. Potential for trouble? We'll take our chances. The Rockets are a better team with Ron Artest. At least they're better in terms of talent, and that's clearly all that matters as the franchise desperately tries to become relevant in a market dominated by the Texans and Astros. Those teams have been ridiculed for emphasizing character. Fans that think it's only about the bottom line now have a team to root for. I hope the Rockets don't tell us Artest's troubles have been blown out of proportion. I hope they don't think we're that dumb."
- Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: "David Stern was all about moving forward, getting as far away from the Tim Donaghy scandal as quickly as possible, when the most famous ref in NBA history was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison Tuesday. But Stern had to be extremely disappointed that Donaghy didn't get the book thrown at him. The NBA wanted what it has called its rogue ref to get the full measure of the law, 33 months behind bars, even if he cooperated with authorities in a gambling case that promises to never go away."
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "Though teammate Jason Richardson will make more next season, Okafor becomes the largest investment in this franchise's short history. That's how it should be. 'Value' is a tricky concept in sports because there's no objective measure. You're attempting to pay players for what they will do, based on what they have done. That's a risky exercise in a league full of guaranteed contracts. I know all the knocks on Okafor: That he's offensively limited, that he's mechanical in his movements, that he'll never improve. He's also a great defender-rebounder on a team that is otherwise horrible in those areas. Richardson might be this team's best player, but Okafor is the hardest to replace."
- Alan Hahn of Newsday: "Andris Biedrins and David Lee are fairly comprarable players, though the 7-foot Biedrins is much taller and, therefore, a better shot-blocker. Still, their respective games are predicated on energy, athleticism and terrific instincts that make them very good rebounders. Neither are offensive threats in a one-on-one situation, though I might give Lee the advantage here if he continues to develop that inside-pivot move off the post. The 22-year-old Biedrins signed on Monday a six-year, $62 million contract with the Golden State Warriors, which puts him over $10 million per. Is David Lee worth $10 million per? He'll be a restricted free agent next summer and you know he'll use Biedrins as one of his market comps."
- Marcus Thompson II of the Contra Costa Times: "Monta Ellis gave his first public interview since signing a six-year, $66 million contract with the Warriors last week, and he was hardly the shy kid they drafted in 2005 out of Lanier High School in Jackson, Miss. He seemed comfortable in his first appearance as the franchise's premier player. Still, hold off on crowning him king, he requests. 'I have to do more, but it's not just me out there on the basketball court,' Ellis said Tuesday from the Warriors practice facility. 'It's me and four other guys. I'm just going to go to my coaches, my veteran guys, and we'll all try to lift this team. I'm not trying to put anything on my back or try to put more on me, because it's not MY TEAM. We don't have Monta across the jersey. It's the Warriors.' Such comments were indicative of the savvy Ellis displayed Tuesday, which will be necessary considering his new-found importance to the organization."
- Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: "... [the Nets] sincerely believe he will wear their uniform again someday. 'I have a mixed reaction, because I really like Nenad, and I would love to have him on our team,' GM Kiki Vandeweghe said, in reaction to Krstic signing a two-year deal with Club Dynamo Triumph in Moscow. 'I understand why he took that offer, because it's a lot of money. There's no way he should pass up that money -- I totally understand it.'"
- Bruce Brothers of The Pioneer Press: "Ryan Gomes brings a lot of heart to the basketball court. Gomes is 25 and getting better every year, a key reason the Timberwolves signed him Tuesday to a five-year contract reportedly worth more than $21 million. But Kevin McHale, the team's vice president of basketball operations, said Gomes delivers much more to the Wolves than the 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds a game he contributed last season, his first in Minnesota. 'Ryan's got a tremendous basketball IQ,' McHale said. 'We now, as an organization, have to take his strengths and play to them.'"
- David King of the San Antonio Express-News: "After his experience in Athens, though, Manu Ginobili doesn't care which team Argentina plays -- as long as the last game is for the gold medal. 'I'd love to play the Olympic final again, and it doesn't matter against who,' he said. 'It's just so difficult to ma
ke it that you just want to be there.' That atmosphere at the Games has its appeal as well: Fourteen days of living large amid all kinds of athletes, playing in front of a worldwide audience while wearing the national colors. 'NBA players are usually spoiled with the way everybody treats us,' Ginobili said. 'Over there you feel, at least for a couple weeks, like an amateur player again. 'You also know that there are 40 million people or more, cheering and wishing you the best every game. It's not bad at all.'"
- Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press: "The Pistons are about to sign former No. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown, and I think a lot of fans are scratching their heads on this one. Some are scratching as hard as they possibly can in an attempt to remove their brains. They don't particularly care for Brown. Ah, who am I kidding? They hate him and everything he represents. They think he was handed NBA millions before he earned them, that he copped an attitude when things didn't go his way, that his talent was overrated when he went No. 1 overall, and that he set the Wizards and the Lakers back with his mere presence. That's largely true. But you have to look at the other side of this, which is: So what? This is a smart, low-risk move for the Pistons. It might not work out, but it can't possibly be a disaster."
- Michael Lewis of the Daytona Beach News-Journal: "Keith Brumbaugh has finally found a home to play pro basketball. And it's a long, long way from DeLand. The former local hoops star who went unselected in June's NBA Draft has signed to play for Pinar Karsiyaka SK Izmir, a team in Izmir, Turkey. Brumbaugh's agent, Keith Kreiter, confirmed Tuesday that his client had just agreed to a one-year deal with the Turkish club, with financial terms not disclosed."
- The newest issue of HOOP magazine has a great little tale about the Hawks having a team ping pong tournament. I was going to quote Al Horford -- who says he won every game against all-comers for months in advance -- describing how the whole organization cheered on Marvin Williams' improbable victory in the championship game. But then I found the really heavy part of the magazine, and the ping pong tournament seemed a little silly. Adonal Foyle reviews "Man's Search for Meaning," the gut-wrenching tale of Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor E. Frankl, who witnessed the deaths of, among others, his pregnant wife, parents, and brother. The atrocities go on and on. It's heavy. But Foyle handles it deftly. He is the kind of guy you want in your book club. "It is so dreadful," writes Foyle, "and yet he is able find a morsel of hope and thus maintain his sanity against all odds. He shows you a window to his soul and he allows you to see his struggle. And I think when you find something that is that honest, you can't help but feel sad, angry, moved, see the world in a different light and love the human spirit all at the same time."
- Thanks to Ben, who e-mailed to point out this odd note at the end of a Yankees write-up in The New York Times: "A report that the relocated Seattle SuperSonics of the N.B.A. will change their name to the Oklahoma City Thunder has inspired a promotion by the Yankees' Class AA affiliate, the Trenton Thunder. Any fan who shows up at the Waterfront Park box office wearing a Sonics cap, jersey or T-shirt will receive a ticket to a Trenton Thunder game. 'We just want to help ease the pain for Sonics fans worldwide,' Trenton General Manager Brad Taylor said in a news release." Here's the release. Weird deal, huh? Not sure this proves much of anything, other than that minor league teams will do just about anything to draw attention to themselves.
- Remember how Nate Robinson had his jersey retired at Vegas Summer League? It's already down.
- Elton Brown is a good story. He's from Allen Iverson's corner of Virginia, and as a too-short and too-wide big man he has never quite been able to make it to the NBA, despite good numbers and results in the D-League and Israel. Now he's a little slimmer and was a bull around the basket in summer league, where he averaged a double-double. I have heard from all kinds of people that Brown is now about to get his shot in the NBA.
- The Utah Flash, the D-League team with with the deep-pocketed young owner/blogger and a fancypants new arena on the way, get to host the D-League's annual showcase next year.
- Knick fans fantasize about the trades they'd like to make on Knickeblogger.net. Italian Stallion suggests: "Marbury and/or Zach for a buttered bagel and warm cup of coffee if we can get that much." Also, you'll notice a lot of people dreaming of Ramon Sessions in a Knick Jersey. This post also points out: the Knicks have never had the league's best player. With the big city, the basketball tradition, the local stars, and the deep pockets, it'd be natural for Knick fans to have a superiority complex. But in practice, that team has largely been mediocre, and Knick fans I know are generally humble.
- Eat this cereal, and your opponent will start playing terrible defense.
- The first-ever outdoor WNBA game.
- Forgive me, as, after my vacation, I am still running across older stories that are new to me. But have you seen George Karl, among others, doing whatever is the opposite of giving NBA referees a vote of confidence? It's really quite shocking. The NBA continues to neither convince nor impress with their strategy of blanket denials whenever these kinds of allegations arise. People, I think, are inclined to believe the NBA. But the League has to give them a credible narrative to explain all this. Ripping into critics, laughing off accusations, and mocking the concept of transparency isn't getting it done.
- UPDATE: Author Sherman Alexie, die-hard Sonics fan, e-mails: "I'm telling ya, unless OK City gets a real coach real soon, Durant is going to become Glenn Robinson 2.0."