Tim Donaghy admits opening the door that sent him descending into his own personal hell, costing him his family, his career and the life he’d wanted since he was a boy dreaming of following his father into utopia.
He was there. He’d made it. He had it all. And gave it away.
This man, who cheated his job, his colleagues and the game of basketball wants you to know his head was in the wrong place then, but his heart is in the right place now.
He’s still a whistleblower, only not in the literal definition.
I asked if he considered whether credibility should be a factor in anything he says.
‘I don’t really need to bury the NBA,” Donaghy said on a recent episode of NBC Sports Bay Area's Warriors Insider Podcast. “I just want the truth to be known about what I did and how I did it.”
Donaghy, 52, is widely known as the dirty NBA ref. He participated in illegal betting, got caught, fessed up to wire fraud and providing betting tips -- including some games in which he was an official. He was convicted and spent 15 months bouncing from federal prison to halfway house to county jail before being released in November 2009.
The 10th anniversary of his freedom is Tuesday, and it comes a few days after the national release of “Inside Game,” a movie based on his experiences.
Donaghy clearly wants to clean out his NBA closet, throw everything onto the floor for all to see. Legalized gambling in the wake of the 2018 Supreme Court decision that lifted the ban is only going to become more and more a part of the league’s landscape.
“The bottom line is the NBA is going to do whatever they can do to create more revenue,” Donaghy said. “Who knows how much they’re going to lose from this whole China deal? With gambling, it’s a way to replace that revenue.”
Donaghy then turned forecaster.
“At some point, you’re going to see the ability for a fan sitting in a seat to bet, swiping his credit card, whether James Harden is going to score 10 3-pointers or not that night,” he said. “It’s going to keep fans interactively in their seats, even when there’s a 20- or 25-point blowout.
“So, there’s a lot of things that are going to happen, moving forward, with gambling that are going to be positive for the NBA, including creating a large revenue stream.”
To hear Donaghy tell it, there also is a history of league manipulation, with one of the more blatant examples dating back to the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers and Kings battled in a classic series, with the Sacramento winning Game 5 at Arco Arena to take a 3-2 series lead. Win Game 6, and the Kings advance to The Finals. The NBA, according to Donaghy, took steps to jeopardize any possibility of that.
“Dick Bavetta was on that game,” Donaghy said, referring to one of the league’s veteran officials. “And he claimed several times, to several of us, that he was the NBA’s go-to guy, that he was put on Game 6s to forces Game 7s.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, or a lot of people from inside the NBA. They know they gave the Lakers the benefit of several calls in that game, thinking it was just going to go to a Game 7 and Sacramento was going to win on their home floor.
“The Lakers win. They win the championship. And it was unfortunate for Sacramento, because they should have a ring on their finger.”
That game had been replayed countless times in the heads of Kings fans, players and employees. They took note of the foul calls in the fourth quarter of a closer Game 6, when LA took 27 free throws, to nine for Sacramento.
The goal was, according to Donaghy, to keep the Lakers and their superstars -- Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal -- playing for as long as possible. To maintain international interest. To ensure spectacular ratings.
“There’s no doubt that there is star treatment,” Donaghy said. “It’s discussed in the meetings. Obviously, people don’t pay an enormous amount of money to sit in those courtside seats to see players like Kobe, LeBron, Shaq -- all the greats -- sit on the bench and be in foul trouble.”
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Donaghy even went so far as to identify former officials who played favorites or maintained feuds with specific players.
His downfall began not with the first time he participated in illegal betting -- on a golf course in the Philadelphia area -- but with the choice of the company he kept.
“You can’t turn back time,” he said. “If you could, I’d be the first one in line begging for that opportunity. I wouldn’t have gotten involved in gambling. I wouldn’t have hung out with a cast of characters that I probably shouldn’t have been hanging out with.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story referred to the title of Donaghy's documentary as "Inside Man." The documentary is entitled "Inside Game" and NBC Sports Bay Area regrets the error.