Plenty of Harm, Not Enough Fouls: Were the NBA Playoffs Rigged?


Both of the papers today lead with the allegations that referees ignored fouls from NBA stars to keep them in the game and to keep people in the seats. The claim comes from Tim Donaghy, a former ref who has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and gambling in connection with bets he placed on games he officiated. The allegations were released in court papers yesterday. Donaghy hopes to lighten his sentence (which, according to the Post, is up to three years in federal prison) by blowing the whistle on shady dealings in the NBA. Among his allegations:

  • NBA officials told referees to hold back on calling technical fouls on star players because it would hurt television ratings and ticket sales.
  • During a 2005 playoff match between two unnamed teams (believed to be the Western Conference series between the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks) referees were told to crack down on a star center (the Rockets Yao Ming) to limit his game time. Dallas had accused Ming of using illegal screens in Games 1 and 2.
  • During a 2002 playoff series (likely the Sacramento Kings/Los Angeles Lakers matchup), Donaghy says an official told him that the NBA wanted the series to go to seven games (Sacramento was leading 3-2) to collect more revenue from ticket sales and advertising. During Game 6, Sacramento shot 15 fewer free throws than Los Angeles, a big discrepancy. The series went to Game 7, the Lakers won and continued on to win the NBA Championship that year.

The Post places an angry Kobe Bryant on the front page to illustrate the “FOUL PLAY” alleged by Donaghy, while the Daily News sticks with a picture of the disgraced referee. The News also includes a story by Frank Isola on the Sacramento Kings and how the 2002 loss was devastating to them. King Scot Pollard last night told the paper, “I thought it was unfair. I didn’t think we had a chance to win from the start. I think our whole starting five had two fouls right away.”

The NBA released a statement:

“The NBA remains vigilant in protecting the integrity of our game and has fully cooperated with the government at every stage of the investigation. The only criminal activity uncovered is Mr. Donaghy’s.”