The Donaghy scandal

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Ha, I thought the same thing as Bill Simmons, though without extending it to three paragraphs, and without casting the film.

ESPN Page 2 - The Sports Guy: The Donaghy scandal:
On Friday afternoon in southern California, you could hear the cacophony of frustrated screenwriters pounding their desks in disgust. The Tim Donaghy scandal doubled as the easiest movie pitch ever.

Imagine how simple it would have been to sell that script. A white NBA referee with a gambling problem (Matt Damon) loses too much money to a bookie (Timothy Olyphant) who's connected with a dangerous family of mobsters (led by head boss Alec Baldwin). One of their muscle guys (Turtle from “Entourage”) threatens to beat up the ref unless he gives them inside information. Which he does. Now they have him. They tell him to start throwing a couple of games or they'll go after his wife (Evangeline Lilly) and daughter (the little girl from “Little Miss Sunshine”). He agrees to affect the over/under of games by whistling more fouls than usual, which should drive the scores above the over/under because everyone will be shooting more free throws. For a couple of games, it works. Eventually, they want more. Fearing for his life, he crosses the line and helps fix a few outcomes without realizing the mobsters will never say, “All right, we're good, nice working with you.”

Meanwhile, a renegade FBI agent (Ryan Gosling) overhears the ref discussing one of the games on a tapped phone line, then gets tipped off by a mob informant (Joe Pantoliano) that they turned an NBA referee. They track the weasel for a solid year, gather all the evidence they need, then break the news to the NBA commissioner (Ron Silver) and his staff that their league has been compromised. It's too late. Too much damage has been done. The referee resigns, the feds swoop in and that's that. The movie ends with a sobbing Damon going to jail, Gosling getting promoted and Silver glumly watching the tape of a pivotal playoff game from the previous spring, a horribly officiated game that could have potentially affected the championship ... and the sight of that same compromised referee jogging down the court, ready to blow the whistle at a key moment.

The End.

and the Spurs-Suns playoff series will really have an asterisk now, as Simmons writes:

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If the allegations are true, Tim Donaghy didn't just violate the integrity of the league and rig some games. There's a good chance he altered the course of the 2007 championship. Only three teams had a chance last year: Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio. When Dallas choked against Golden State in the opening round, the NBA's refusal to fix a broken playoff system came back to haunt it in Round 2, thanks to a Spurs-Suns matchup that suddenly doubled as the NBA Finals. In Game 1, San Antonio stole home-court advantage with a convincing win that everyone remembers because Steve Nash busted his nose open. The Suns rallied back with a blowout win in Game 2. Here's what I wrote after the third game -- the Spurs were favored by four, with an over/under of 200.5 -- after San Antonio prevailed, 108-101, thanks to Amare Stoudemire playing just 21 minutes because of foul trouble:

Congratulations to Greg Willard, Tim Donaghy and Eddie F. Rush for giving us the most atrociously officiated game of the playoffs so far: Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs series. Bennett Salvatore, Tom Washington and Violet Palmer must have been outraged that they weren't involved in this mess. Good golly. Most of the calls favored the Spurs, but I don't even think the refs were biased -- they were so incompetent that there was no rhyme or reason to anything that was happening. Other than the latest call in NBA history (a shooting foul for Manu Ginobili whistled three seconds after the play, when everyone was already running in the other direction), my favorite moment happened near the end, when the game was already over and they called a cheap bump on Bruce Bowen against Nash, so the cameras caught Mike D'Antoni (the most entertaining coach in the league if he's not getting calls) screaming sarcastically, “Why start now? Why bother?” What a travesty. Not since the cocaine era from 1978-1986 has the league faced a bigger ongoing issue than crappy officiating.

Now ...
Before the Donaghy scandal broke, if you told me there was a compromised official working a 2007 playoff game and made me guess the game, I would have selected Game 3 of the Spurs-Suns series. There were some jaw-dropping calls throughout, specifically, the aforementioned Ginobili call and Bowen hacking Nash on a no-call drive that ABC replayed from its basket camera (leading to a technical from D'Antoni). Both times, Mike Breen felt obligated to break the unwritten code that play-by-play announcers -- don't challenge calls and openly questioned what had happened. The whole game was strange. Something seemed off about it.

At the time, I assumed the league had given us another “coincidence” where three subpar refs (and calling that crew “subpar” is being kind) were assigned to a Game 3 in which, for the interest of a long series, everyone was better off having the home team prevail ... just like I anticipated another “coincidence” in which one of the best referees would work Game 4 to give Phoenix a fair shake in a game that, statistically, they were more likely to win. After all, it's easier to win Game 4 on the road than Game 3, when the fans are pumped up and the home team is happy to be home.(Which is exactly how it played out. Steve Javie worked Game 4, a guy who Jeff Van Gundy deemed “the best ref in the league” during the Finals. Hmmmm.) Look, this could have been an elaborate series of connected flukes. I'm just telling you that none of it surprised me. Which is part of the problem.

But here's what I didn't expect: That a potentially crooked ref was working that game.

more here (until it gets walled away in an ESPN pay-for-view garden)

See also The Bulls Got Robbed and Spurs Beat Suns Fair and Square

1 Comment

It's sad when beautiful games are tainted wit corruption.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on July 23, 2007 7:01 AM.

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