NBA

How Tim Donaghy’s Referee Scandal Wound up Benefiting Some Children

Tim Donaghy’s name is usually followed by two words. Disgraced. Referee. Donaghy is, of course, the former NBA referee who pleaded guilty to two federal charges of betting on games in which he officiated. He spent time in prison and saw his marriage and reputation crumble. Donaghy had been a veteran official of 13 seasons and greed got the best of him. While Donaghy’s actions on the court were troublesome for him and his family, some people were able to benefit from them when all was said and done.

The downfall of Tim Donaghy

The Tim Donaghy scandal came to light in 2007 when Murray Weiss, a columnist for the New York Post, wrote a story stating the FBI was investigating an NBA referee for betting on basketball games. Weiss wrote, “The investigation, which began more than a year ago, is zeroing in on blockbuster allegations that the referee was making calls that affected the point spread to guarantee that he — and the hoods who had their hooks in him — cashed in on large bets.”

The story went on to say that Donaghy, who was not named in the article, allegedly was involved in the betting during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. Rep. Bobby Rush, the chairman of a House subcommittee, immediately requested a meeting with then-NBA Commissioner David Stern, saying in a letter “If the allegations prove true, this could be one of the most damaging scandals in the history of American sports.”

On July 29, 2008, Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison for taking thousands of dollars from gamblers for inside information on NBA games. At his sentencing, Donaghy was remorseful. “I’ve inflicted shame upon myself, my family and my profession,” he said. “I would like to make amends and restore my life.” Then, his voice cracking, Donaghy added, “Please allow me to take care of my family.”

Tim Donaghy heads to prison

While serving his sentence, Donaghy began to write a book on his life in the NBA, Blowing the Whistle: The Culture of Fraud in the NBA.  His book was to detail his involvement with underworld figures in the betting scandal, disclose how he’d pick winning teams and discuss the relationship that players, coaches, and referees have with each other. The book was supposed to be published in 2009, but Donaghy’s publisher, Triumph Books, canceled it because of liability concerns.

While in prison, Donaghy was attacked by another inmate who claimed to have ties to the New York mob, according to his spokesman, Pat Zaranek of Executive Prison Consultants. Zaranek said Donaghy suffered and injury to his right knee and would eventually require surgery.

Donaghy was released from prison after 11 months and was to serve the rest of his sentence at a halfway house. He wound up back in prison after he went to a local gym instead of going to work. Donaghy’s lawyer John Lauro said it was all a misunderstanding. He said Donaghy, 42, went to the nearby health club to work on his knee. Lauro said his client thought he had permission to leave the halfway house and advised his case manager’s office, but federal authorities “felt that he hadn’t gone through the proper channels,” Lauro said. On Nov. 4, 2009, Donaghy was released from prison.

The movie about the scandal

In November of 2019, a film titled Inside Game was released, detailing Tim Donaghy’s refereeing scandal. “Every time I think it’s through,” he said in 2019, “something else pops up and puts you back in the spotlight again. It’s an absolute embarrassment. But, unfortunately, I made some poor choices and I have to live with it.”

Donaghy initially shunned the production, but eventually saw the movie and liked the lesson it taught about having to live with making poor choices in life. He jumped on board when he learned some of the proceeds were being donated to Elwyn, a Delaware County facility for children and adults with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I figured with the message and the donations, why not be a part of it and try to turn this into something positive and good at the end of a 10-year torturous disaster after what I did,” he said.

Donaghy’s marriage didn’t survive the scandal and his reputation has certainly taken a massive hit. Although he’s happy the film will benefit some children and adults, he still cringes when he watches it. “When you’re sitting there and it’s about you, you’re so embarrassed at some of the things that took place and you’re not sure how they’re going to be perceived,” he said. “It’s not a great feeling at all to be reliving something that set you back in your life and was an embarrassment, not only for yourself but the people you love the most.”