Does the NBA Rig Games?

Yesterday defendant Tim Donaghy (and former NBA ref) submitted a letter to the federal judge who will sentence him shortly for various federal offenses involving match fixing. While one "bad apple" can exist among referees in any sport, Donaghy's letter makes some allegations that go to the very core of the integrity of the NBA.

For example, Donaghy alleges that certain referees were known as "company men" who always acted in the business interest of the NBA. Accordingly, these referees acted to extend a playoff series because that would be good for the NBA. Similarly, Donaghy stated:

league officials would tell referees that they should withhold calling technical fouls on certain star players because doing so hurt ticket sales and television ratings. . . [T]here were times when a referee supervisor would tell referees that NBA Executive X did not want them to call technical fouls on star players or remove them from the game. In January 2000, Referee D went against these insturctions and ejected a star player in the first quarter of the game. Refereee D later was reprimanded privately by the league for that ejection.

[i]n other instances . . . the manipulation was more subtle. If the NBA wanted a team to succeed, league officials would inform referees that opposing players were getting away with violations. Refreees then would call fouls on certain players, frequently resulting in victory for the opposing teams.

The full text of Donaghy's letter can be found here.

I am frequently skeptical of claims made by defendants to save their own skin shortly before sentencing. But here Donaghy through his attorney is describing what "cooperation" he provided to the FBI (under penalty of perjury) after his indictment.

As someone who lives in small market NBA town (Salt Lake City), I have always wondered whether the Utah Jazz are disfavored when they play a big market team (i.e., the L.A. Lakers). NBA basketball turns so heavily on foul calls, that even a slight emphasis for one team or another can easily make or break a team. In fact, I find it hard to watch NBA basketball any more, because its level of subjectivity approaches that of figuring skating (Was that a charge on Carlos Boozer? Or a blocking foul on Kobe? Do you like Sasha Cohen? Or Michele Kwan?)

One interesting thing about Donaghy's claim is that he lists several specific games in which the NBA favored one team or another. Will anyone go back and watch the videotapes of those games and see whether his claims seem true?