Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Comcast SportsNet appearance tonight at 5:45p

For those in the Greater Philadelphia area (or who otherwise have access to the network), I will be on Comcast SportsNet's "Daily News Live" program discussing Gaming the Game tonight at 5:45p.  The panel, hosted by CSN's Michael Barkann, includes Stan Hochman and Dick Jerardi of the Daily News

Sunday, February 20, 2011

NBA Commissioner David Stern's comments re: Gaming the Game

In case you missed it, NBA Commissioner David Stern was asked to comment on Gaming the Game yesterday during the league's All-Star weekend festivities in L.A., which elicited the following reply:
I have not read the new book or seen it yet, although I'm happy with each All Star Weekend or Finals to present an opportunity for a convicted felon to issue yet another tome on his misdeeds.

So we'll see if there's anything new suggested, Mr. Pedowitz will be asked to continue to review it as we have with each one that has been published, because we want to make sure that we get to the bottom of it all.

But right now, I don't have any more information other than I know you always confirm your sources; so I commend you to confirming the convicted felon's sources.
Of course, we have no idea what question was posed to Commissioner Stern which resulted in the above reply [see below for 2/24/11 update].  As I have taken pains to point out explicitly in Gaming the Game, and others have already been quick to note (see, e.g., here), my new book would have been completed in the Spring of 2008 if the research simply entailed interviewing pro gambler Jimmy Battista (as my wife and kids will attest!).  Thus, I am glad Stern at least noted that he had not seen the book, because anyone who reads GTG will easily understand this project absolutely consumed me for almost 3 years such that little of the book rests solely on Battista's words.

Readers may wish to know that although Larry Pedowitz was gracious enough to humor my inquiries, the NBA and the National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) each refused to entertain my correspondence on several occasions.  Given the correspondence and how much I was doing in this area of inquiry, it is difficult for me to believe the Commissioner didn't at least have a rough idea of what I had discovered in the course of interviewing federal law enforcement officials, pro gamblers (beyond Battista) and others, in addition to reviewing confidential FBI files, court documents, betting records and other objective betting data.

2/24/11 UPDATE: Thanks to Silver Screen and Roll (an L.A. Lakers blog hosted by SB Nation), we have the question that was posed to Commissioner Stern about Gaming the Game
I don't know if you've seen this new book about the Donaghy scandal, but having read it myself, three of the four conspirators have said something on the record to somebody, and they are unanimous - the fourth, by the way, is Donaghy himself - and they are unanimous that he was really good at winning bets on games he officiated, really bad at winning bets on any other games, and he was gambling on games since 2003 until he left the league and the report that he looked at 16 games. How confident can we be that there are not fixed games in the NBA?
This was a pretty good question, and Stern's reply is thus more curious than I had first thought. 

Gaming the Game reviews

The first reviews for Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade, 2011) are each available online.

GTG Review by Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame member Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News

GTG Review by Henry Abbott of's True Hoop

GTG Review by M. Haubs of's The Painted Area 

GTG Review by Jack McCaffery of the Delaware County Daily Times [also for The Daily Local (Chester, PA)]

GTG Review by the gambling web site Bettors World 

GTG Review by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff of the Blogger News Network

GTG Review by John L. Smith of the Las Vegas Review-Journal

GTG Review by Ted Sevransky of

GTG Review by Allen Moody of 

Gaming the Game in the news

The Philadelphia Daily News ran two excerpts this past week from Gaming the Game:

GTG excerpt 1

GTG excerpt 2

My brief appearance on Fox 29's Good Day Philadelphia program on Friday:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gaming the Game book events this week

The first two book events for Gaming the Game are this coming week.  The particulars for each event are posted here.  I look forward to speaking  - and, especially, entertaining questions - about the underworld of big-time sports gambling and, of course, about the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A comment on my forthcoming posting re: Gaming the Game coverage

As a rule, I post as much newsworthy commentary and analysis of the NBA betting scandal as possible, regardless of my opinion of what is written.  That will not change with whatever coverage relates to Gaming the Game, and I welcome suggestions for information to be posted on this blog.

Gaming the Game released on February 17, 2011

For reasons that are unclear, the information regarding the release of Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade) is inaccurate (e.g., says the pub date is April 15, 2011).  The book was shipped weeks ago and, though I realize the distribution chain is notoriously slow, books should be widely available shortly.  I know that certain Philadelphia-area stores like Robin's Bookstore in Center City got stock of Gaming the Game a while ago, though they were only permitted to begin sales today.

On Donaghy's media appearances (part two)

As can be sensed by now, a review of his appearances discloses the same phenomenon in re: Donaghy simply repeating canned replies on a fairly small universe of topics (a tidy summary is here [see paragraph two]).  You can plainly hear and see that he was an absolute machine in getting his message out - and that he benefited greatly from a mix of hosts who, at a minimum, ignored the public record (which had also been widely reported contemporaneous with key events).  I'll have more on this latter point soon, but until then I thought I'd highlight a brilliant public relations strategy Donaghy (and/or his handlers at the time) employed.

You see, it wasn't simply that Donaghy was remarkably robotic and on-message (he'd be any political campaign manager's dream candidate in that regard), it was also the patterning of the questions which allowed him to weave a storyline that commonly ended with hosts and "interviewers" expressing sympathy and well wishes.  Often, Donaghy's appearances looked or sounded something like this (paraphrasing his statements in my "quotes" below):

* As evidence he didn't fix games on which he bet, Donaghy would say, "I did not fix games by making incorrect calls to influence outcomes to facilitate my bets.  If I was doing that, I'd be throwing up red flags all over the place and I would have been detected even sooner than I was."
* In response to the predictable (if not explicitly scripted) question, "Why should we believe you?", Donaghy would typically reply, "Because the FBI conducted a thorough investigation, as did the NBA, and they concluded I did not make any calls to influence these bets."
* If the above wasn't sufficient enough to establish Donaghy's credibility, he often said something like, "The FBI supports the book" or "The FBI stands behind the book".
* On the (extremely rare) occasion a host pointed to ESPN's TrueHoop host Henry Abbott's research (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here) which quite seriously called into question several of Donaghy's assertions (and which, until now, was the most comprehensive critique of Donaghy's overall situation), Donaghy would attempt to discredit Abbott's work by arguing it was a biased result of research done on behalf of the NBA because the league has a significant business relationship with ESPN.  [I must admit I have never understood Donaghy's argument in this regard, since Abbott was among the most substantive and equally damning when it came to the issue of whether Donaghy had ever been cleared by the FBI or the NBA in re: fixing games, and indeed had posted interviews (see, e.g., here and here) with pro gambler Haralabob Voulgaris, who openly stated he firmly believed Donaghy fixed games.  Thus, to me Donaghy makes little sense when he says ESPN is out to get him on behalf of the NBA.  After all, the NBA almost certainly has no interest in someone - much less the influential sports network - promoting the idea that Donaghy may very well have fixed games - especially after the league conducted its own "study", the one Donaghy loves to cite so much as clearing him of fixing games!]

With Donaghy's confessed and alleged criminal activity out of the way (often in brusque fashion), typically complete with his credibility intact, the "interviews" moved onto topics or themes that painted Donaghy as both victim and hero.

* Donaghy commonly got into his rant about the NBA's alleged culture (of biases and corruption) of which he was, in his view, a bit part.  In short order, the Donaghy appearance would thus move from his actions to those of others (referees, league officials, etc).  Importantly, it was often at this point of Donaghy's appearances that he shrewdly employed two time-tested public relations strategies within a sentence or two:
1) Donaghy would ingratiate himself with his audience by saying how "smart" or "knowledgeable" they were (ala politicians who so often say, "The American people are smart..."), including taking the time and effort to make it personal by naming the market/town/city in which he was appearing (i.e., "The NBA fans, especially in a city like Dallas, are very, very knowledgeable..."); and
2) Donaghy would use a speaking tactic that exploits a cognitive phenomenon known as "confirmation bias" by saying something like, "Ask the fans if I was a lone, rogue referee because they know they have seen a lot of unusual things over the past ten or fifteen years" (alluding to pre-existing and well-known conspiracy theories which argue the league conspires, by various means, to feature certain players and/or teams and certain playoff/championship matchups, all with the league's financial coffers in mind).  [Note: Confirmation bias is defined as "a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions" - often at the expense of evidence, however valid and substantial, that does not support one's preconceptions.]

The takeaway is therefore that rather than being treated as a common criminal who simply and shrewdly defrauded his former employer for his own personal gain, Donaghy is to be heralded as a whistle-blower exposing corrupt practices within - and institutionalized by - his former organization.

Donaghy's appearances almost always ended with a combination of discussions that had the collective effect of painting Donaghy as a sympathetic figure who was fighting multiple battles.  For example, the following themes were commonly explored as his "interviews" concluded.

* Donaghy claimed he was beaten in prison by "someone claiming he was associated with the New York mob," which was likely because he was a "cooperator for the government".  Related to this...
* Donaghy claimed he is now frequently "in contact with the FBI, who say they have people within these organizations and if they hear anything they'll let me know..." (implying that Donaghy has something to fear from organized criminals).  Please revisit my comments in part one of this review and elsewhere about Donaghy's "mob" claims.
* Donaghy claimed he bet on NBA games not because of greed or a want for money but rather because of the addictive rush of gambling.  Indeed, so great was his addiction that not only cost him his job and his freedom, it cost him his marriage.  For the purposes of this analysis, readers must take Donaghy at his word that it was his gambling addiction and not his other alleged behaviors (including those discussed in Gaming the Game and elsewhere [also see, especially, here]) that caused his wife to seek a divorce.
* Donaghy commonly said, as with numerous Donaghy assertions without a shred of supporting evidence, the NBA was trying to suppress him from telling his story - including intimidating his first publisher and attempting to influence CBS in re: Donaghy's appearance on the network's 60 Minutes program.

In sum, Donaghy says he was a guy who was: fighting the mob, fighting the NBA, fighting ESPN, and fighting his addiction.  Far from a more simple tale of manipulation, deceit, avarice and malevolence, this was instead an inspiring story of victimhood, addiction, recovery, and redemption.  As such, Donaghy says he wrote his book - and will continue to do related appearances  - because "friends, family, and even law enforcement officials" have told him he has an "important message" to spread.

With this unbelievably predictable template in mind, combined with the requisite unprepared hosts, you can see how Donaghy's appearances so frequently ended like this (and why I stopped treating them as newsworthy long ago):

On Tim Donaghy's media appearances (part one)

Anyone who has remotely followed this blog will recall that I stopped some time ago posting information regarding former referee Tim Donaghy's media appearances.  As I explained in less detail previously, I wrongly assumed two key and related things when Donaghy began his book tour in late 2009: 1) that Donaghy would be interviewed, complete with original, informed questions and references to the existing public record (i.e., court filings, plea agreements, public utterances of relevant authorities), and with follow-up questions; and 2) that Donaghy's appearances would be newsworthy.

What I soon discovered after listening to dozens of his "interviews" was that these were essentially scripted appearances.  That is, the questions asked of Donaghy were almost always the same, and were commonly asked in the same pattern/order.  If this wasn't problematic enough for anyone (naively!) assuming this weighty subject matter would be treated seriously, Donaghy's answers were arguably more rehearsed.  Thus, instead of bona fide interviews, these were more akin to canned political stump speeches.  [As an aside, his ability to remain, as they say in politics, "on message" is remarkable.  Perhaps it isn't entirely coincidental that his publisher was political consultant Shawna Vercher.]

To provide a sense of what I am describing, and thus to to help explain why I ceased covering his appearances, I have put together some montages of Donaghy's replies during the "interviews".  Please note that at some point this process got way too tedious and I thus stopped compiling the clips (you'll see why, I am sure).  As such, the fact that some montages may have more uses of a phrase than others does not represent the relative use of the phrases (i.e., if I offer a clip using 5 instances of a phrase, this should not be interpreted to mean the phrase was used less frequently than a phrase I illustrate being used, say, 15 times in another montage).  Just know that I could have done this in even more detail with still more examples if I wanted to take the time, and that this goes for the number of phrases chosen and for the number of instances certain phrases are used by Donaghy.  Most of the audio files from which these were taken remain online, and many of the links can be found elsewhere on this blog (see, especially, posts from December 2009).

Please be sure to see below the clips for a summary of these and a brief analysis of Donaghy's appearances.

As I have posted elsewhere, Donaghy has often said he did not make "incorrect" or "unjustifiable" calls to facilitate his bets.  In the course of answering questions about the possible fixing of games, Donaghy has also routinely used some variation of the following paraphrased statement (Donaghy mainstays in BOLDED CAPS):

"If I was making incorrect calls in a game to facilitate a bet, I would have been throwing up RED FLAGS and I would have been DETECTED BY THE NBA AND BY THE FBI/LAW ENFORCEMENT even SOONER than I was."
If (for some reason I can't fathom!) you'd like to see some of Donaghy's "red flag" quotes, for starters you can find them within his published interviews here, here, and here

Here is a smaller sampling (9 references, versus the 17 instances contained immediately above in "Red Flags") of Donaghy routinely using some variation of the following paraphrased statement (Donaghy mainstays in BOLDED CAPS):

"The FBI conducted a THOROUGH INVESTIGATION, as did the NBA, and they each CONCLUDED I wasn't making calls in games to facilitate/influence bets."  [Please note that for the sake of this review, viewers/listeners will have to ignore that, in fact, neither the FBI nor the NBA ever "concluded" that Donaghy didn't influence game outcomes.  I delve into this area in great detail in Gaming the Game.]
If you're so inclined, almost identical "FBI/NBA/thorough investigation" quotes can be found published here, here, here, and here, for starters.

You can easily perform the task of finding published examples of the phrases from each of the remaining audio clips as I have done, even though I have opted to cease taking the time to post them.

Here is a very brief sampling of Donaghy routinely using some variation of the following paraphrased statement (Donaghy mainstays in BOLDED CAPS):

"The FBI STANDS BEHIND EVERYTHING IN/ STANDS BEHIND EVERY STORY IN/FULLY SUPPORTS THE BOOK."  [Please note that for the sake of this review, viewers/listeners will have to ignore that, in fact, "The FBI" doesn't review books penned by ex-cons, much less offer the Bureau's official endorsement or support for them!  Indeed, federal officials with direct knowledge of the investigation and prosecution disagree considerably with much of what Donaghy claims.  Perhaps most importantly, in light of Donaghy's comments, also note that although retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Phil Scala wrote the foreword of Donaghy's book, SSA Scala takes exception to certain key Donaghy assertions.]
Here is another very brief sampling, this time of Donaghy routinely using some variation of the following paraphrased statement (Donaghy mainstays in BOLDED CAPS):

Here is a slightly more lengthy sampling of Donaghy routinely using some variation of the following paraphrased statement (Donaghy mainstays in BOLDED CAPS):

"Was I a rogue referee?  NBA FANS [especially in (insert audience market here)] ARE VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE and THEY HAVE SEEN A LOT OF UNUSUAL THINGS OVER THE PAST 10/15 YEARS."
Here is a lengthy sampling of Donaghy routinely using some variation of the following paraphrased statement (Donaghy mainstays in BOLDED CAPS):

"I was HIT/WHACKED IN THE KNEE WITH A paint-rolling STICK BY SOMEONE WHO CLAIMED HE HAD TIES TO/WAS ASSOCIATED WITH THE NEW YORK MOB because IT WAS WELL KNOWN/WIDELY PUBLICIZED THAT I COOPERATED WITH THE GOVERNMENT and THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE IN PRISON BECAUSE SOMEONE/OTHERS COOPERATED AGAINST THEM."  [Please note that for the sake of this review, viewers/listeners will have to ignore that, in fact, that there is no evidence whatsoever Donaghy was assaulted in prison by an associate or member of organized crime.]

Here is a fairly lengthy sampling of routinely using some variation of the following paraphrased statement (Donaghy mainstays in BOLDED CAPS):

Here is very brief sampling of Donaghy routinely using some variation of the following paraphrased statement (Donaghy mainstays in BOLDED CAPS):

"I was ENCOURAGED TO WRITE THE BOOK by FAMILY, FRIENDS, and even LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS, because the story has an important message."

NOTE: Please see the conclusion to my assessment here.

My assessment of Donaghy's book and related (post-11/09) claims

Though I suppose I could have placed my assessments of Donaghy's book and claims here, I view this more or less as a distraction and thus opted to place them on a related blog that is preoccupied with addressing the conventional wisdom and/or correcting the existing historical record.

On "the mob" and the NBA Betting Scandal

For those of us charged with researching the sociology and the history of the underworld, deconstructing myths is standard fare.  As students of my organized crime classes over the years will tell anyone willing to listen, I spend the first few weeks of each semester addressing the intellectual baggage most bring with them when it comes to organized crime.  My experience researching the NBA betting scandal, complete with its attendant media coverage and considerable amount of public reaction, is but the latest example of how tiny strands of facts so quickly grow into wholly unfounded (but fascinating and gripping!) legends about the underworld.  Before continuing with this assuredly annoying and dispiriting post, I should point out that my primary blog is subtitled (emphasis added) "The Social Construction of Organized Crime" precisely because this sort of thing is unfortunately all too necessary.  Perhaps just as importantly, the main reason I took on the NBA betting scandal project was to gain an understanding of the role - if any - organized crime plays in the upper echelon of the sports betting underworld.  Needless to say, this particular issue gets considerable attention in Gaming the Game, far beyond what little appears below and elsewhere on my blogs

Here, then, is a fairly concise summary of "the mob" and the NBA betting scandal, based almost exclusively on official records and law enforcement sources.  [In advance, please know that I offered a tidy primer of the traditional and expected relationship between organized crime associates and bookmakers here.] 

* On July 20, 2007, the New York Post broke the NBA betting scandal story with a piece written by Murray Weiss - "NBA in a 'Fix'".  Among other things, Weiss wrote "The FBI is investigating an NBA referee who allegedly was betting on basketball games - including ones he was officiating during the past two seasons - as part of an organized-crime probe in the Big Apple, The Post has learned...An FBI organized-crime squad in the bureau's flagship New York office is handling the case...The FBI got wind of the scheme while conducting a separate mob investigation."

Within a week's time, Tim Donaghy had been identified as the NBA referee and pro gambler Jimmy Battista was pegged as the "alleged bookie".

Because a specialized FBI unit focused on organized crime cases made the discovery, initial media reports predictably considered the mob angle.  Reporters, especially those who worked crime beats and who had quality law enforcement and "street" sources, soon discounted the supposed involvement of the mob in the scandal, however.  See, e.g., here, here, here, and here.

* On August 14, 2007, FBI Special Agent Paul Harris, the (lead) case agent who operated out of the Bureau's "Gambino Squad", wrote in his affidavit in support of application for arrest warrants: "In early 2007, the FBI received information that Battista was engaged in betting large amounts of money on NBA basketball games and was receiving assistance from an NBA referee in determining his bets." 

* On August 15, 2007, Donaghy pleaded guilty in federal court and his co-conspirators, Battista and Martino, were arraigned.  As is standard fare, the feds issued a press release for this rather consequential series of events.  The press release, despite the fact that the case was being handled by experienced mob investigators and prosecutors, makes absolutely no mention of organized crime.

It is difficult to convey to persons who pay scant attention to organized crime and the federal government's treatment of mob cases how odd the 8/15/07 release is if there was even a hint of mob involvement.  For examples of how the U.S. Attorney's Offices for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, respectively, announce actual organized crime prosecutions involving "mob associates", see, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  There are literally dozens of readily-available examples, and you can also search the site of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where Philadelphia mob cases are handled.  You'll soon notice that, if anything, the government amplifies mob cases with the knowledge such hype garners media coverage.  Headlines for the real "O.C." cases linked above are predictably - and distinctly - different than any releases or public pronouncements by federal authorities in the NBA betting scandal cases against co-conspirators Donaghy, Battista, and Martino.  For instance, those releases linked above respectively announce (emphasis added), "Three Gambino Organized Crime Family Associates Indicted...," "Genovese Family Associate Sentenced...," "Sixty-Two Defendants Indicted, Including Gambino Organized Crime Family Acting Boss, Acting Underboss, Consigliere, and Members and Associates...," "Colombo Organized Crime Family Captain and Five Associates Indicted...," "Colombo Organized Crime Family Acting Boss, Underboss, and Ten Other Members and Associates Indicted...," "Acting Boss and Longtime Associate of Gambino Crime Family Charged...," and "Additional Charges Files Against Acting Boss and Longtime Associate of Gambino Crime Family."

* Generally speaking, the alleged involvement of organized crime remained dormant as a subject for months and months following the initial summer 2007 developments, particularly since the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York (USAO EDNY) never referenced the matter as an organized crime case, much less a mob conspiracy.

* The "mob" issue re-surfaced briefly after the Donaghy defense team asked the court, in May 2008, to remove the seal on the government's "5K" filing in support of a reduced sentence for cooperating witness Donaghy.  The letter, which was released on June 2, 2008 following the government's consent and Judge Amon's related order, included a comment on Donaghy's supposed state of mind upon entering the betting conspiracy: "Battista told Donaghy that 'you don't want anyone from New York visiting your wife and kids.'  Over the preceding years, Donaghy had come to believe that Battista had organized crime connections, and so he interpreted 'New York' to be the Mafia."

This single, unsupported Donaghy allegation in the government's 5K filing represents the lone reference to organized crime in the months and months of filings and public utterances by the feds concerning the NBA betting scandal cases.
* Though Donaghy's assertion had little influence on federal authorities, his attorney nevertheless mentioned the unsupported mob claim no less than five times in a May 19, 2008 filing as Donaghy was positioning himself for sentencing.

* The federal government, however, never revisited the organized crime issue during the sentencing filings, appearances, or public utterances.  Thus, in the entire history of the scandal, each and every discussion of organized crime and the NBA betting scandal from that point (May 2008) forward stems from a single, unsupported Tim Donaghy claim.

Having commented above regarding the official government record in consideration of Donaghy’s claim, I thought I’d offer readers a sense of how it was soon exaggerated and amplified by Donaghy beginning with the December 2009 publication of Donaghy’s book.

From Personal Foul (emphasis added):

“My road to ruin was punctuated by a shameful relationship with underworld figures” (p. xiv); “I associated with sleazy bookies and reputed mob figures” (p. xiv); “I passed information to wiseguys who were making millions of dollars on my picks and lining the pockets of Mafia heavyweights” (p. xiv); “By 2006, Battista had become a high-level bookmaker with connections to the Gambino crime family” (p. 2); “[Battista] was not an actual member of the Gambino crime family, but Tommy did talk about how he was ‘connected’” (p. 3); “I had suddenly become the central figure in a Mafia-controlled gambling ring” (p. 11); “From respected NBA referee to mafioso.  What the hell happened to me?” (p. 11; and, yes, Donaghy really says that); “[Battista] had obligations, the serious kind that required constant attention and a firm hand.  If I was the golden goose for [Battista], he was the rainmaker for his bosses, and rainmakers have a certain sway in the organization” (p. 127); “Tommy was really nothing more than a mid- to low-level goombah” (p. 127); “Maybe [Battista] was getting pressure from his bosses to milk the cow with both hands and two feet.  Let’s face it, they used [Battista] like [Battista] used me and Tommy” (p. 128); “I suppose Tommy recognized the need to keep his boss in the loop.  After all, [Battista’s] friends don’t look kindly upon rats.  It Tommy pissed off the wrong people, he could find himself hanging on a meat hook in a refrigerated truck” (p. 137); “[Battista] had an image to protect, not to mention a few unhappy bosses who were watching him closely” (p. 185); and “Watching ESPN on evening, two former mobsters were interviewed about the scandal.  Mike Franzese was a former captain in the Colombo crime family, and Henry Hill was a reformed wiseguy, once portrayed by the actor Ray Liotta in the movie Goodfellas.  Both were commenting on the mob’s connection to the case and the ramifications of my cooperation with the FBI.  Franzese and Hill told ESPN that I would be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life” (p. 193). [The mention of “hanging on a meat hook in a refrigerated truck” is an apparent reference to a scene in the film Goodfellas, which is based on Nicholas Pileggi’s classic Wiseguy.]

During the media appearances in support of his book, Donaghy routinely hyped the supposed role of organized crime in the scandal.  For example, here is a montage of Donaghy describing "the mob" visiting him in December 2006 at the PHL Airport Marriott and the chilling effect it had on him:

Needless to say, as someone preoccupied with researching organized crime in general and in particular with the mob's supposed role in the scandal, I asked federal officials with direct knowledge of the government's investigation about this situation.  One official, especially, took pains to address the particular (and contentious) issue of Donaghy’s incessant claim that Battista was somehow a “mob associate”, to which there is literally a single unsupported reference (which, itself, is based exclusively on Donaghy’s allegation) in the hundreds (thousands?) of pages in the government’s court filings spanning many months: “At best it is accurate not based on what Battista is, but based on what Donaghy perceived.  You have to always remember that Tommy Martino is a talker.  He’s the kind of guy who, if he was hitting on girls, would say stupid shit and brag.  So, it’s not inconceivable for Martino to be in Tim Donaghy’s ear saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I take Baba up there [to New York City] and I see him meeting with these people and I think he’s connected!’”

This is why law enforcement officials mock Donaghy when so often he describes his supposed omnipresent fear of "the mob".  As one person with direct knowledge of the investigation sarcastically notes regarding Donaghy's claim that he was called in for a "mob sit-down" following a lost bet during the scandal: "In one interview I saw, Donaghy says he kicked out [San Antonio Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich from a game and that there was a 'sit-down' - the Gambino crime family didn't like that very much [because it could have harmed that evening's bet] and there was a 'sit-down'.  Little does the public know that it's Tommy Martino that calls him up.  That's the 'sit-down'!  The 'sit-down with the Gambino crime family' was his buddy Tommy Martino calling him up and saying, 'Dude, that wasn't good for our bet'!"

[Note: It is unclear precisely which media appearance is being referenced by the official above, but see here for a possible source.]

* On Donaghy's repeated claims throughout his book tour that he was beaten in prison by "someone who claimed he was associated with the New York mob" because Donaghy "cooperated with the government".

Donaghy writes (on pages 223-24) of the prison climate to which he was subjected: "As I walked around the institution, it became painfully evident that gambling was everywhere," after which Donaghy, the self-described gambling addict, wrote to the warden pointing "to the widespread illegal gambling that was occurring in the institution and the temptation I was experiencing as a result."  Soon, according to Donaghy, word spread that he had complained about the gambling that killed numerous hours for many inmates, and "the warden instituted a crackdown on gambling, sending guards to conduct unexpected raids on card games and to search the lockers of suspected ringleaders.  It was pure pandemonium and all eyes were once again on me."  According to Donaghy (p. 225), it was soon thereafter that an inmate called out to him, "Rat, rat, rat," and hit him with a paint roller in the knee. 

I have listened to dozens of Donaghy's "interviews" dating to December 2009, and I have never heard a word of this context during his media appearances.  Instead, Donaghy has encouraged an alternative - and far more sensational (read: book-selling) and sympathy-inducing explanation, namely that the inmate said, "I'm from New York, and I have friends in the mob!"  Donaghy routinely elaborates on the mob angle by saying such persons would have an interest in harming him since many of these inmates wound up in prison as the result of government cooperators like Donaghy.  Here is a montage I compiled of Donaghy's media appearances in which he discusses this:
When I contacted various people within the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the FBI while researching the scandal, Donaghy's claim of a mob assault was routinely met with officials chuckling at the suggestion of organized crime's role, and (unsurprisingly) not a single interview subject was aware of evidence supporting this alleged motivation for the prison incident.

Perhaps to put a final point on this I should quote FBI Supervisory Special Agent Phil Scala (ret.), whom Donaghy can't mention enough as a supporter of all-things-Donaghy.  SSA Scala, who in his capacity as head of the Gambino Squad (the unit which housed the NBA betting scandal investigation) was privy to much of the probe despite not being familiar with numerous details of it.  When I interviewed former SSA Scala, he had this to say (not unlike several of his former colleagues) regarding Donaghy's supposed prison assault in the much-hyped context of organized crime: "If organized crime wanted to hurt Donaghy, he wouldn't be around today."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Donaghy on not making "incorrect calls" to advance his betting propositions

To briefly recap the existing public record re: NBA referee Tim Donaghy and the possible fixing of games:

*Donaghy claims he didn't consciously fix games to advance his betting propositions.

*Federal authorities said very little publicly on the matter throughout the court proceedings involving Donaghy and his co-conspirators, other than to note 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."  Although...

*Donaghy admitted to authorities that he "compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games, and that this personal interest might have subconsciously affected his on-court performance.''

Unfortunately, very little has been written regarding Donaghy's more nuanced statements about his on-court behavior when his bets were at stake.  Donaghy has repeatedly said, in slightly different ways, that he did not make “incorrect calls” to advance his betting propositions, leaving wide open the possibility that he simply made strategic “correct” calls (perhaps on typically oft-ignored violations) to produce successful outcomes with regard to his bets.^ 

Consider this incisive give-and-take with ESPN’s Mark Schwarz, who interviewed Donaghy for the network’s acclaimed “Outside the Lines” program (beginning at 6:23 of the interview, following Donaghy saying that game “manipulation” occurred among NBA referees because of personal biases [emphasis added]):

MS: But, if you had a bias against a player - and you said you did against Rasheed Wallace - didn’t you make calls to affect the point spread?
TD: Sure.

MS: So, how is that not fixing a game?
TD: I think, um, those calls are justified.  That’s where the subjectivity comes in. 
MS: Why is it justified to make calls at an unusual rate against a particular player?  How’s that not fixing the outcome?
TD: If the calls are warranted, it’s not fixing the outcome.

MS: But “warranted” by what, personal bias?
TD: Personal bias, um, obviously comes into effect, but the calls have to be justified to be made.

MS: Personal bias compounded by also betting against Rasheed Wallace could lead to manipulation of a game, correct?
TD: Sure it could.

MS: So, how is that not fixing it?
TD: It’s not fixing it because I don’t think that I’m making calls up against him.

Importantly, Donaghy has made numerous similar statements.  Here are a few, just so the above isn't dismissed as unrepresentative (emphasis added; sources immediately follow the italicized quotes):

Obviously I didn’t want to be detected. Going out and making calls that were wrong to help a bet win is something that I tried to stay away from because the goal was not to be detected. Certainly if I was making incorrect calls on purpose to help my bets win I would have been detected by the NBA which scrutinizes most of the calls. 

From the Dennis & Callahan Show 12/8/09 on WEEI [Boston] at 3:35 of the interview (the interview transcript is here).  [Donaghy goes on to say that "Allen Iverson palms the ball every night, but it's not called" and that if someone wanted to start calling palming violations on him "they could be justified."  Thus, all a ref would need is the motivation to call them.]

Obviously, when you’re doing something wrong like I was, you don’t want to get caught and, uh, going out onto the floor and making calls in games that are wrong to influence a point spread would have certainly thrown up some red flags very quickly that would probably, uh, enable me to get caught a lot quicker than what I did. 

From the Boomer & Carton Show 12/8/09 on 660 WFAN [New York] (at 5:08 of the interview)

I didn't want to throw up any red flags and be detected to make calls that were incorrect to help a bet win.

From CNN's Headline News Network12/8/09 (Donaghy's interview begins at 28:30, and the above quote is at 39:54 of the "transcript").

I certainly didn’t want to throw up red flags and be discovered with what I was doing by making calls that weren’t justifiable in the games. 

From Neil Cavuto's program 12/7/09 on the Fox Business Network (at 1:55 of the interview).

If I was making calls in games, uh, that were flat-out wrong to, uh, facilitate a bet winning, uh, I certainly would, uh, be throwing up red flags to be detected. 

From the Scott Van Pelt Show (NBA Today segment) 12/7/09 on ESPN Radio (at 3:17 of the interview).

I certainly didn’t want to make calls in games, especially calls that were wrong, that would send up red flags and get me in the kind of trouble that I ended up in later down the road.

From Slam Online interview with Dave Zirin on 12/14/09 (interview is posted here).

I’m going to be detected if I’m making incorrect calls on a continuous basis to affect these games so that the bets would cover. I mean, red flags would be thrown up all over the place and the NBA or the FBI certainly would have detected this well before it was detected.

From the Ball Don't Lie blog 12/15/09 on Yahoo Sports (interview [by Dan Devine] is posted here).

In closing, and in special consideration of all Donaghy has been quoted as saying above (and elsewhere), I'd like to return to something I noted a while ago.  In Personal Foul, Donaghy argues that the subjectivity of calls is a significant problem with the league's officiating.  He then states (p.238) that an additional issue concerns "the friendships and hatreds between the referees and the players, coaches, and owners."  In this regard, Donaghy adds:
Because (NBA) referees are able to make calls or ignore violations with impunity, they can hide a whole lot of love or hate for players or a team with their calls.
Couldn't this logic be used to illustrate why it would have been possible, indeed easy (assuming he is correct), for Tim Donaghy to fix games?  That is, let's take Donaghy at his word, and simply apply Donaghy's arguments to his particular situation vis-a-vis the possible altering of game outcomes in advance of his betting propositions:
Because Tim Donaghy was able to make calls or ignore violations with impunity, he could - depending on which side he bet that evening - hide a whole lot of 'love' or 'hate' for players or a team with his calls.
^ If Donaghy was, in fact, making such strategic "correct" calls, these actions would have been rather difficult to detect considering Donaghy's reputation as an official who made a lot of calls.  NBA Commissioner David Stern has said that Donaghy "probably was near or at [the] top of calls made," and that according to the league's assessments of his officiating, Donaghy was "in the top tier of accuracy."

[Obviously, I get into the context for all of this in much greater detail in Gaming the Game.  I am nevertheless attempting to offer as comprehensive an understanding of the scandal as possible, and amalgamating this sort of publicly-accessible information in a tidy fashion hopefully assists others in conducting their own follow-up assessments.]

Offshore Sports Betting and the Law

The topic of offshore sports betting may be of interest as more become familiar with the NBA betting scandal in the coming weeks and months.  As such, I have posted a very brief summary of the legal status of such activity on my primary blog.