Obsessive sports fans are a notoriously erudite breed, possessing a knowledge of the game and its nuances that surpass even those professionals whom they critique. An all-star? Nah, he’s a bum. Even I coulda made that shot–or that call.
So when reports emerged that NBA referee Tim Donaghy was implicated in an ongoing federal investigation of organized crime for allegedly rigging games–betting on their outcomes and sharing information–some fans went over the top in their outrage.
The keyword for everyone here is “rigging,” and in this case, it does not mean what many fans initially thought. NBA Commissioner David Stern refuses to discuss any accusations that Donaghy’s officiating caused any one team to unjustly emerge victorious, and other independent investigations reveal that few situations exist where these claims could be valid.
Instead, the most damning charges center not around whether Donaghy altered the outcomes of games at all, but merely the total number of points scored in the game–a key aspect of sports gambling that most fans don’t consider. A referee can control points scored more easily than the end result of a game without getting caught; Donaghy has led the league in technical fouls called and free throws given last season, ensuring teams the greatest amount of opportunities to score.
The accusations and mounting evidence against Donaghy are serious and will leave the NBA scrambling to regain credibility. But the reality, in this case, is still much less sensational than the idea that Donaghy could have actually “rigged” the results of important games. That hasn’t stopped a few fans from embarking on their own independent investigations, however, reviewing some of Donaghy’s games and posting the videos on YouTube, drawing considerable attention in the process.
Right now, the game generating by far the most Internet buzz is Game 3 of this year’s Western Conference Semifinals between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs. YouTube user Calo2006’s investigation of the game has garnered over 250,000 views.
The scene: With the best-of-seven series between the league’s two best teams tied at one game each, Donaghy and his crew officiated one of the playoffs’ most pivotal games, and did it badly. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons called it “the most atrociously officiated game of the playoffs,” and the lowlights featured in the video certainly support the statement. (Calo2006 notes that he doesn’t personally believe that the game is fixed, but instead released the video (view at the top of this page) so people could judge for themselves.)