Disgraced Tim Donaghy has made media rounds since he was caught in a gambling scandal back in 2007, and he has spilled the dirt on the NBA’s officiating ever since. While some believe that many of Donaghy’s stories are sensationalized and made up to take the attention off of him, they are, nonetheless, fascinating looks at how an NBA referee, albeit a disgraced one, may think about the game.
During a recent interview with Barstool’s podcast Pardon My Take, Donaghy discussed one particular issue which may be of interest to some fans.
Do NBA referees get guided by emotions?
Nearly every fan hates NBA referees. It’s a fact of life. To see this, look no further than the home crowd at any sporting event. Even the most obvious calls will be met with boos, and in a game’s biggest moments, this only intensifies.
Observers of the NBA will also notice trends among certain players and how they are officiated. A player who complains to and ridicules referees will often be targeted for more ticky-tack fouls and be lucky to get to the foul line, himself.
Some could say that these players are being dramatic, but any NBA fan who has seen players like DeMarcus Cousins or Rasheed Wallace or Allen Iverson in a game can see that certain players get less benefit than others. Donaghy confirmed this when he talked about emotions in referees.
Palming violations can, to this day, be called far more often than they are. While players like James Harden have known this and made it a part of their game regardless of the rules, sometimes NBA referees decide to call it.
According to Donaghy, this can often be attributed to how the referees feel about a player. He explained this with a story about Iverson.
“There was one game where Allen Iverson threatened Steve Javie and we felt, as a staff, he should have should be suspended, but he was only fined $25,000,” Donaghy explained.
“I had the next game, and the two referees and myself, in the morning meeting, decided that Allen Iverson — although he carries the ball all the time and it’s never called — we were going to enforce that against him that night.”
Donaghy went on to say that he and his fellow referees took turns calling Iverson for traveling violations, and Iverson eventually became privy to what they were doing and asked him what the deal was, causing both to smirk at each other as Iverson realized what was happening.
According to Donaghy, this was also one of the games he tipped off gamblers on with the knowledge of how Iverson would be called.
The NBA has always said that Donaghy was a lone wolf when it came to his behavior on gambling. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he is, however — especially when it comes to emotionally-driven calls. When asked about whether it was common for referees to officiate players based on their personal biases regarding them, Donaghy did not beat around the bush.
Donaghy is a person who will naturally be taken with a grain of salt. He has contradicted himself endless times, tends to throw others under the bus to make himself feel better, and while candid about his officiating career, often speaks on things that do not concern him, However, in this particular instance, it does make sense.
NBA referees are human. Right or wrong, they are guided by emotions. When a player berates them and screams in their faces, they are going to take it to heart and be quicker to punish them.
Just because he has a history of outlandish claims, it does not mean that everything he says is false, and as anyone who has watched a game and knows who Joey Crawford is can attest to, referees are far from infallible over a decade after Donaghy was brought down for his actions.