Late Whistle

It will be 10 years since disgraced official Tim Donaghy released his tell-all book. Yet another butchering of last season’s NBA playoffs led me to finally give the book a read. Now, I’m wondering what took me so long.

Following the ridiculousness that was the 2018 NBA Playoffs, which prompted a league reaction for #RefWatchParty, I was prompted to write about the results of said reaction; However, I was also prompted to order a book that had been gently gnawing away at my subconscious for close to a decade now: “Personal Foul” by Tim Donaghy.

And I encourage you to do the same, especially if you have any sort of doubts regarding the officiating in the NBA. You really won’t know what to think about the book until you read it for yourself.

Why? Because every opinion I have ever heard about the book is incredibly biased, as anyone who has any kind of negative spin on it has apparently never read the damned thing.

In 2009, the Lakers were reigning NBA champions, LeBron James was a first-time MVP, and the NBA was at the height of it’s powers. Everyone had an ESPN app/listened to ESPN radio/watched ESPN. I’m not sure at which point the network began to lose it’s credibility. I’m sure we all have our reasons that we began to delete their app/tune out from their radio station/avoid their programming, but it’s decision to shut down Grantland in 2015 stands out for me, personally.

At this time, however, ESPN was still a credible source for all things sports. So, after reading this article written by Jemele Hill about Donghy’s book, a perfectly normal reaction would have been, “Well, that settles that. I’m not going to waste my time reading a book written by a desperate man looking to save his own hide.” This was actually my personal reaction at the time.

And it was a mistake.

Hill writes:

… Donaghy wrote that certain players, including Allen Iverson, Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace, were discriminated against by referees

Shocking news, right? Hill actually goes out of her way to discredit most of what Donaghy wrote in his book regarding feuds and favoritism. Which is ridiculous, since even a casual fan can point out to you that’s precisely what’s wrong with today’s referees in the NBA. This is no secret.

Having read the book for myself, I can honestly say that all Donaghy’s book did was reaffirm what many basketball fans had already believed: That NBA referees are not robots, and are instead human beings who can hold grudges and be swayed to perform their job in a way that pleases their superiors.

A common misconception regarding the scandal is that Donaghy bet on games he officiated. This is not the case (at least, per what Donaghy has admitted to, anyways; That being said, the FBI agent who arrested him was nice enough to write his foreward, so, this claim could very well be legit). What he did instead was bet on games in which the referees involved didn’t care for a particular player/team/owner, or when the league would insert “company man” Dick Bavetta, to advance/end a playoff series, to their desire.

And he was able to do this because, as an NBA official, he had game day knowledge of who would be working every game on a given night. This insider information is what he used when placing his bets. Bets that he and those counting on him would regularly win.

A particular incident I remember as it happened – but had no clue as to the full extent of the interference – was when Allen Iverson was fined $25,000 because he believed former-official Steve Javie – who now works for ABC (ESPN) as a TV consultant, ironically – was bringing his personal feelings towards Iverson into the game.

Iverson said afterwards about the game:

I thought I got fouled on that play, and I said I thought that he was calling the game personal, and he threw me out. His fuse is real short anyway, and I should have known that I couldn’t say anything anyway. It’s been something personal with me and him since I got in the league. This was just the perfect game for him to try and make me look bad

Following these comments, Donaghy alleges that the referees got together and planned a little payback for their colleague, whom Iverson had publicly ridiculed. They circled a January 6th Denver home game against the Utah Jazz.

What’s funny is the Denver Post wrote an article, citing the “Payback Game” that followed, and how it was described in Donaghy’s book. Apparently CBSSports.com and their “crack team” did some investigating and found that Donaghy was over-embellishing:

But here’s the thing. That night, Iverson was 11-for-12 from the line, attempting more free throws than any other player. Overall, Denver attempted 31 free throws, while the Jazz shot only 17 (Denver lost the game, 96-84).

CBSSports.com asked Iverson about the game (Iverson declined comment) and the site acquired footage of the game. In 12 drives to the basket, Iverson made two layups, missed four, lost control of the ball once and drew five fouls – three called by Donaghy. For the night, Iverson drew nine fouls, though there was one instance that he was blatantly fouled and Donaghy did not blow his whistle.

But, if you actually read the friggin’ book – or knew enough about basketball to realize a game could be affected by more than simply foul calls and free throws – you’d know that this was not a part of Donaghy’s plan:

The league fined Iverson $25,000 for his comments, but most of the league referees thought the punishment was too lenient and were upset he wasn’t suspended. As a result, we collectively decided to dispense a little justice of our own, sticking it to Iverson whenever we could.

Shortly after the Javie-Iverson incident, I worked a Jazz-Nuggets contest in Denver on January 6, 2007. During the pregame meeting, my fellow referees Bernie Fryer and Gary Zielinski agreed that we were going to strictly enforce THE PALMING RULE against Iverson. Palming the ball was something Iverson loved to do, but if he so much as came close to a palm, we were going to blow the whistle. Obviously, our actions were in direct retaliation for Iverson’s rant against Javie…

Sticking to our pregame pledge, each of us whistled Iverson for palming in the first quarter — we all wanted in on the fun. The violations seemed to affect Iverson’s rhythm and he played terribly that night, shooting 5-for-19 with five turnovers. After getting repeatedly whistled all night long, Iverson approached me in an act of submission.

“How long am I going to be punished for Javie?” he quietly inquired.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Allen,” I responded.

And to verify this, you wouldn’t have to review the game film for yourself. Just go look at the game stats on www.basketball-reference.com. Iverson did indeed have five turnovers to go with 5-19 shooting for a paltry 22 points, and recorded plus/minus of -14  for the game.

The next two times Iverson would play the Jazz, he would average a whopping 33 points on 54.4% shooting, only commit 2.5 turnovers, and record a plus/minus of 0 and -4, respectively.

Given the evidence provided, I would have to concur with Donaghy’s statement that Iverson’s rhythm was definitely affected by the palming violations that he and his crew set out to enforce that night.

Circling back to Hill’s article, she also wondered aloud:

I’m wondering why no one else — other than players who have their own issues with the officials — has ever stepped forward on Donaghy’s behalf. Charles Barkley, arguably the most honest athlete in America, called bull on Donaghy. So did Spurs coach Gregg Poppovich, who said he wouldn’t even be in the league if he truly felt officials behaved dishonestly.

I’m no genius, but I’m guessing this is because everyone who has commented negatively is currently employed by the NBA.

When I first started working at my current place of employment, I received a flash game in my email. It was a mini-golf game for the computer, that I promptly passed along to my coworkers. One of my pals asked that I send it to a friend of his in the office. I wondered to myself why he didn’t just forward over the copy of the game I sent to him (I would soon find the answer), but I quickly obliged, without question.

Predictably, that moron got busted for playing the stupid game at work, and word went around that our bosses found the email from me that I sent him. I proceeded to delete any and all involvement with the game – which was a shame, I personally held the office record for nine hole – erasing all dots that could be connected between myself and others, and awaited my day in “court”.

Since I managed to destroy all evidence before even being interrogated, nobody else got in any trouble. And even though many in the office had proudly hung their individual records in their cubicle for all to see, nobody else was questioned. More importantly, nobody else volunteered to testify. I was thought to be a rogue bored employee, and was appropriately written up.

What does this silly story have to do with officiating? Absolutely nothing, but it does correctly describe what happens when shit inevitably hits the fan: Everyone keeps their lips sealed, and their asses covered. And when Donaghy got in trouble, shit had definitely hit the fan, making Hill’s article arguably nothing more than damage control by ESPN, who, oh by the way, hosts the NBA Finals (ESPN on ABC).

But, because the root of the problem was never addressed – that being, how referees are allowed to officiate with their hearts and not their eyes – the league, and it’s fans, continue to suffer.

Don’t believe me? Then, ask yourself:

What are the Houston Rockets complaining about right now?

They believe that NBA official Scott Foster hates them.

Just who is Scott Foster?

Foster is the latest referee who’s jersey is possibly available for purchase at the NBA store. I know nothing more about the man other than what has been recently buzzing around the internet. James Harden says “… you can’t have a conversation with the guy… For sure, it’s personal,” and was also fined $25,000 for saying so. Chris Paul says Foster is “who they (the fans) pay to see.”

He’s also responsible for another gray hair on my head, and my forgetting of yet another memory from childhood. I hate learning the names of NBA referees.

Do the Rockets have a point?

Well, they are now 0-7 in playoff games that Scott Foster has officiated in. That could either mean they lost because Foster was one of three referees, or because they just coincidentally played a bad game all seven times.

James Harden has also fouled out four times in his career. Three times have been in games officiated by Foster.

Should we all place a wager next time Foster officiates a Rockets playoff game?

Hey, they’re making his presence known publicly for a reason, right? Clearly, someone needs to know this information before games (Vegas).

What should the NBA do about this?

If it were my league, the minute any referee’s name became common knowledge to the public, even if it’s at the expense of the dreaded Houston Rockets, I’m terminating him (or her). These guys are not supposed to be the show, and the minute people begin to believe they are a determining factor in a playoff game, they have to hit the road.

OK, but you’re not commissioner. So, what will happen instead?

He’ll most likely continue his job as a referee until he’s old and gray, working playoff games and Finals games, all while collecting a fat bonus for his efforts in doing so. When he retires – and since we all know his name anyways – he’ll probably take over for another ex-official with an infamously short-fuse in Steve Javie, as a TV consultant.

Because how else would we know what the correct call by an official should be?

Follow me on Twitter, for more of my conspiracy theories and anti-ref propaganda, which I label with #BadRefs. Feel free to use it yourself, when you see some terrible refereeing during these NBA Playoffs. I’m sure we’re in for another heaping helping before we finally crown a champion.

And, I’m not kidding, run out and read “Personal Foul” by Tim Donaghy. Even if you aren’t a conspiracy theorist and are quite content to bah along with the other sheep, at the very least, it’s an entertaining read.

Having said that, I don’t swallow every bit of information “Personal Foul” feeds to me, such as Donaghy only being “friends” with a woman in Arizona, or that he didn’t directly affect any game he refereed in. This is because I have a fully functioning brain, and am able to form conclusions and opinions of my own from things I have read. But, the information he provides regarding officials and how the NBA trains/disciplines them does correlate with previous and current actions by ex-commissioner David Stern and current commissioner Adam Silver. Making the accusations hard to deny, because we are all still waiting for someone to fix the problem.

Author: Commissioner Dan

Unofficial-next-commissioner of the NBA. Covering all things pro basketball (mostly Lakers), even if it's not like it was in the '90's.

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