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NBA emphasizes its investigation never concluded Tim Donaghy didn’t fix games

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Did Tim Donaghy fix games while working as NBA referee?

That question still draws interest, even many years after he admitted to supplying gamblers with inside information in exchange for money. Donaghy has denied fixing games.

A new investigation into Donaghy was published by ESPN earlier this week. I recommend reading Scott Eden’s piece in full.

Then, it’s worth reading the NBA’s response.

NBA:

The Tim Donaghy matter concluded over a decade ago with a full investigation by the federal government, Donaghy’s termination from the NBA, and his conviction for criminal acts.  At the same time, at the request of the NBA, former prosecutor Larry Pedowitz conducted an independent investigation of Donaghy’s misconduct and issued publicly a 133-page report.  This report was based on an extensive review of game data and video as well as approximately 200 interviews, thousands of pages of documents, and consultation with various gambling and data experts.

The ESPN Article attempts to revive this old story.  Unfortunately, it is replete with errors, beginning with its statement that the Pedowitz Report “concluded that Donaghy, in fact, did not fix games.”  The Pedowitz Report made no such conclusion.  Rather, the investigation found no basis to disagree with the finding of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that “[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.”  ESPN ignores this important distinction.

The new material that ESPN has assembled to support its own conclusion that Donaghy manipulated games is not strong and adds little to the existing record.

Quoted Individuals

The ESPN Article includes several quotes from named and unnamed individuals.  But these statements conflict with other evidence in the record and in many cases are based on speculation.  For example:

• ESPN quotes Phil Scala, a retired FBI agent who was part of the government’s investigation, as saying Donaghy’s claim that he did not manipulate games “never really flew with us.” But in 2009, Scala wrote a foreword to a book authored by Donaghy in which Scala characterized Donaghy’s cooperation as “unconditionally truthful” and stated that Donaghy “confess[ed] his sins, [took] full responsibility for his actions, pa[id] his debt to society, and [found] the humility to completely display his past vices.”

• ESPN quotes an anonymous “professional gambler” as claiming Donaghy told him “he liked to call an illegal defense call, right away, in the first minute.” But this claim is not accurate.  In the 274 regular season and playoff games that Donaghy officiated during the 2003-04 to 2006-07 seasons, he called illegal defense three times during the first minute of a game.

• ESPN asserts that Donaghy had “come clean” to Tommy Martino. But the actual quotes attributed to Martino do not appear to support that conclusion – they only suggest that Donaghy told Martino he could influence games, not that he had in fact done so.

Statistical Analysis

The ESPN Article relies on a statistical analysis of Donaghy’s officiating and betting line movements.  We asked ESPN to provide us with the data and assumptions underlying this analysis, but they refused.  Based on the limited information contained in the Article, we attempted to replicate ESPN’s findings – but were unable to do so.  Indeed, our analysis found no meaningful pattern of Donaghy making more calls in favor of the team that had the “heavier betting.”

Further, the original analyses conducted by the Pedowitz team were significantly more comprehensive than what ESPN appears to have done.  For example, ESPN’s work appears to include only foul calls, and not significant non-calls or violations.  It further treats all calls the same, without considering the nature or circumstances of the call – such as “take fouls” or high-impact shooting fouls.  And ESPN questionably excludes from its analysis 10 games that it deemed to be “blowouts” and roughly 50 calls that it could not attribute to a particular referee – omissions that could meaningfully alter its conclusions.

Finally, it is important to remember that a statistical analysis can only suggest a probability of an event’s occurrence – it does not itself constitute direct evidence that an event occurred.  By contrast, the Pedowitz team and the NBA supplemented statistical analysis with an assessment of the accuracy of each of Donaghy’s actual calls and non-calls in relevant games.  These analyses also did not support ESPN’s conclusions.

Anecdotal Evidence from Games

The ESPN Article cites several games officiated by Donaghy that included calls or call patterns that ESPN deemed suspicious.  However, these examples have limited value separate from a more careful video analysis, and they frequently omit material information.  For example:

• Dallas @ Seattle, 12/20/2006: ESPN cites a foul called by Donaghy against Seattle with 23 seconds remaining in the game that purportedly gave Dallas an opportunity to cover an 8-point spread.  But it omits that this was an intentional “take foul” by Seattle.  The Article also cites a streak of fouls called by Donaghy against Seattle in the same game, purportedly to favor Dallas.  But it omits that after this streak, and during the last four minutes of the game, Donaghy called two fouls against Dallas.

• Boston @ Philadelphia, 12/13/2006: ESPN cites two consecutive fouls called by Donaghy against the Sixers’ Andre Iguodala in the third quarter when the game’s score margin was near the point spread.  But it omits that between those fouls, Donaghy called a foul against the Celtics’ Paul Pierce.

• Washington @ Indiana, 3/14/2007: ESPN cites four consecutive fouls called by Donaghy against the Pacers in the fourth quarter when the game’s margin was near the point spread.  But it omits that immediately prior to this streak, Donaghy called four consecutive fouls against the Wizards.

* * *

We recognize there is strong interest in the subject of expanded sports betting and the measures sports organizations should undertake to protect integrity.  However, the ESPN Article does not add anything material to the record of what happened over a decade ago.  There is no dispute that Tim Donaghy engaged in criminal conduct as an NBA referee, costing him his job, his reputation, and for a time, his freedom.  The Pedowitz investigation focused on understanding what Donaghy did and how he did it so we would be best equipped to protect the integrity of our games going forward.

In that regard, the Pedowitz Report prompted changes to the NBA’s officiating and integrity programs.  A summary of the initiatives the NBA has adopted since 2008 is available here.  This summary provides added context that describes the NBA’s response to the Donaghy situation and our continued efforts to ensure that the NBA’s integrity programs meet the highest standards.

The Donaghy matter also underscores the need for sports leagues to have greater access to betting data from sports books to monitor gambling on their games.  We will continue our ongoing efforts to obtain this information to further expand our integrity efforts and best protect our sport in an age of legalized sports gambling.

The NBA is right: the Pedowitz Report did not conclude that Donaghy didn’t fix games. The report merely found insufficient evidence to disagree with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which found no evidence Donaghy fixed games. A lack of evidence to contradict a lack of evidence is not nearly as conclusive as “Donaghy didn’t fix games.”

But is the NBA really now casting doubt on the notion Donaghy didn’t fix games?

That seems backward. The league should seemingly want to protect its integrity, not call attention to lack of clarity around what Donaghy did and didn’t do.

Maybe the NBA is just trying to cast general doubt onto Eden’s reporting. Some of the above distinctions seem like nitpicking, at least without more context. For example, how many illegal defenses did Donaghy call in the first five minutes of games? The gambler might have been embellishing by saying “first minute.”

Still, the league raises one question that seems particularly relevant: Why did former FBI agent Phil Scala vouch for Donaghy’s honesty then express doubt over Donaghy’s claim he didn’t fix games?

Ultimately, I wish we had better data. Pedowitz reviewed only 17 games, but examined all calls. ESPN reviewed 40 games, but apparently examined only fouls.

However, statistical analysis can’t prove Donaghy’s motives. It can only indicate trends. So, even better data won’t prove whether or not Donaghy fixed games.

But here’s what I can’t get over, no matter how ESPN or the NBA frames these details: Donaghy broke the law to sell gamblers information while working as a referee. Will anyone ever believe he drew the line before fixing games?

Report: Ball family has discussed shutting down Big Baller Brand

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I could write a thousand words about what seems to be happening with the Big Baller Brand — the shoe/apparel company that’s the brainchild of LaVar Ball and provides the shoes for the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball — but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Or, in this case, a social media message.

If you haven’t been following the saga — something maybe actually worthy of watching on Facebook Live from the Ball family — over the weekend it was reported Lonzo Ball cut ties with Alan Foster, a co-founder of the Big Baller Brand (BBB) who served as the business manager, over inappropriate use of funds. That was in addition to news the Lakers reached out to Lonzo to ask if his shoes were part of the reason for his ankle injury and slow recovery. This was followed by social media buzz (and some hints) Ball was going to switch over to Nike as a sponsor (since he is shut down for the season because of the ankle, we won’t see what shoes he wears on the court until summer at the earliest, when the inevitable “look how hard I’m working out” Instagram posts come out).

Now the entire thing is so tainted the Ball family may just shot Big Baller Brand down, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

If they did (no sure thing), the company could be re-formed under a new name. This is as much about cutting out Foster as anything.

What role Lonzo would play in any new Ball family business is up for discussion. Lonzo’s next season will be his third, after which the Lakers (or whatever team has his rights) can offer him an extension on his rookie contract, or choose instead to let him go into a fourth season followed by restricted free agency (an extension deal could be reached in the fourth season, too). This coming season is a huge one for Ball: Can he stay healthy (he has missed 65 games over two seasons) and can he prove he’s a key guy that a franchise would want to lock up and pay?

Ball has talked about finally being healthy during the summer and getting to work on his body and game. That would be good, but we’ll if he remains focused.

Report: Lakers not actually interested in Jason Kidd

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The Lakers hiring Jason Kidd as their next coach went from rumor shared by Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report to report by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

I’ve been told there’s no way they’re really considering Jason Kidd. He’s not on their list. Now, that’s what I’m hearing. But I also want to emphasize I’m not covering the NBA like that. As much as I cover these games or what have you, I’m not on the phones with these executives every single day as intimately as the great Adrian Wojnarowski is. So, I’m certainly not trying to cast any aspersions on any of his reporting. Listen to this man, because he’s usually right on the money. He’s my friend. I respect the hell out of him. But in this particular story, the Lakers are saying, no, we’re not interested in Jason Kidd. And they want to make sure that that’s clear. I don’t know why, but they wanted to make sure that that was clear.

If the Lakers are spreading word they’re not interested in Kidd, I have one strong guess why: He’s a bad coach.

The latest Kidd rumors have caused panic among Lakers fans. Kidd really struggled guiding the Bucks, who’ve taken off since firing him.

Kidd is better at getting his name connected to openings – and even potential openings. Remember the Lakers haven’t fired Luke Walton, though that’s expected after the season. Kidd has been linked to the Suns, Pistons, Warriors, Knicks and Lakers. And that’s just since leaving Milwaukee. He also attempted a coup with the Nets then, when that failed, took a soft landing with the Bucks.

Magic Johnson’s decision-making with the Lakers has been suspect at best. Hiring Kidd, an old-school-style coach, would have been right in line with Johnson’s other failures. There are reasons Kidd-to-the-Lakers was at least believable.

There are also potential reasons the Lakers could have leaked interest in Kidd. Not all of this necessarily came from him.

Now, if the Lakers hire Mark Jackson, that will look far better by comparison. Tyronn Lue could look like an absolute steal by comparison.

DeMarcus Cousins: Fans have called me n-word a few times

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The NBA has fined DeMarcus Cousins for swearing at fans four separate times.

Cousins wants to call attention to the other side of interactions like those.

Cousins, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

“Oh, I’ve been called n—–,” he told Yahoo Sports in the latest Posted Up video podcast that will be released this week. “And it’s crazy because this has happened to me on a few occasions. I reported it to the league, and, you know, I may have said whatever I said back and I was still punished for it. But obviously it became a bigger issue when it was Russ [Westbrook], and he was still fined for it. I don’t really understand it. We’re the product. We push this league, so I don’t understand. When does our safety, when does it become important?”

When asked which cities he heard racial slurs, the nine-year veteran and four-time All-Star declined to answer. However, league sources told Yahoo Sports one of the incidents occurred in Sacramento.

“I don’t really want to [name cities or teams], because I’m not really trying to put a label on an entire fan base,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “There are ignorant individuals in every city. I’ll just put it like that. … [The league] tells you to ignore it, or whatever the case may be, but how many times am I supposed to ignore that. Me coming from where I come from [Mobile, Alabama], they lucky all they got was a response.”

Players would ignore out-of-line fans if the players believed teams were properly holding fans accountable. If teams removed fans who made racist and/or personal comments toward players, the players would let arena security handle it.

As is, players often feel they must take matters in their own hands to get a proper resolution.

This conversation is happening now only because Russell Westbrook got videoed vulgarly confronting a Jazz fan. Westbrook got fined for that, but overdue attention is being paid to fan-player interactions. The Jazz banned that fan from their arena, but they didn’t eject him from the game against the Thunder. Could they have investigated more quickly? They don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. The Jazz just banned a fan who called Westbrook “boy” last year! The incident received attention now only because of Westbrook’s recent squabble with a Utah fan.

Players too often face racist and personal taunts. There’s no way to eliminate that. But teams must do better at punishing fans who act inappropriately.

The NBA should fine players who swear at fans. That’s bad for business and should be discouraged.

The key difference: The league is already on top of punishing players. Punishing misbehaving fans hasn’t taken enough of a priority.

The NBA should pay more attention to the root of some of these incidents. This isn’t just happening in a vacuum.

Report: Spurs signing Donatas Motiejunas

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In 2016, both the Pistons (who agreed to trade for him) and the Rockets (who agreed to match his offer sheet from the Nets) failed Donatas Motiejunas on physicals. He finally signed a prorated minimum contract with the Pelicans for 2016-17. He has spent the last two seasons in China. It has been rough for him.

Now, Motiejunas is somewhat surprisingly returning to the NBA.

ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a deal with veteran Donatas Motiejunas, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

San Antonio needed another big man after buying out Pau Gasol, who signed with the Bucks. Motiejunas provides depth behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl.

The 7-foot Motiejunas is capable inside and out. But NBA centers have gotten so good at 3-point shooting so quickly. I’m not sure Motiejunas remains ahead of the curve on the perimeter.

Whatever his current ability, he should at least fit well with the Spurs. They maximize skilled bigs.