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NBA: Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy says he used inside information to bet

SHARE NBA: Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy says he used inside information to bet

PHILADELPHIA — It was an "ordinary day" in November 2003, and Tim Donaghy, then a respected NBA referee, was relaxing in the clubhouse of the Radley Run Country Club as his friend studied the betting lines in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Then his friend, the owner of a Delaware County, Pa., insurance agency, asked the "question that would ultimately change my life forever," according to the ex-ref.

"You know who's going to win these games?" he asked, pointing to the point spreads on the NBA games scheduled that night.

A couple of weeks later, the pair "took the plunge" and began betting on pro basketball — three years before Donaghy started providing picks to two childhood pals from Cardinal O'Hara High.

In Donaghy's tell-all memoir, "Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal That Rocked the NBA," which will be available to the public Friday, the Villanova grad recounts how he had bet on basketball for years before the FBI found out, winning 70 to 80 percent of the time.

"When it came to pro basketball, I didn't need a roll of the dice, a flip of the coin, a spin of the wheel, a turn of the cards, or a Ouija board. All I needed was the NBA's daily Master List of Referees," he writes.

In "Personal Foul," Donaghy, 42, peels back the mask on the "hidden face of pro basketball." What is revealed is not pretty, but that's assuming you're willing to accept the word of an ex-con. The 245-page work, dedicated to Donaghy's four daughters, spends a lot of time recounting how "a nice kid from suburban Philadelphia who was living his boyhood dream" became a degenerate gambler, but also provides what he calls an insider's glimpse at "the game within the game."

Donaghy describes several of his former colleagues as egomaniacs whose "tendencies, quirks, patterns, and prejudices" allowed him to bet successfully on games that he wasn't even officiating. In his first NBA bet, Donaghy took a game in which he knew the ref had a tendency to keep it close by calling frequent fouls on the team that was pulling away. He says that the team he picked lost the game — but covered the large point spread, as expected.

"This was the excitement that I craved: living a secret life, flirting with disaster, and wanting more, more, more!" he writes.

Other times, Donaghy says, he'd pick games based on referees' attitudes toward key players, such as Allen Iverson, who he said generated a strong reaction — positive and negative — among refs. By checking which referees were assigned to the game, Donaghy says, he often could predict whether Iverson's team would cover the spread.

"Almost every referee on the staff had an occasional agenda that could affect the outcome of a particular game," he writes.

Donaghy, a Havertown, Pa., native, also reiterates his claim, first made in federal court documents leading up to his sentencing last year, that referees sometimes are subtly pressured by the league's front office to extend playoff series. The NBA's ultimate goal, he says, was always "milking television revenues for every last dollar."

The NBA declined to comment Wednesday except to repeat its previous statement that any allegations of referee misconduct would be investigated. No other referees were charged in the Donaghy gambling scandal, and Donaghy writes in his book: "To my knowledge, I was the only active referee to place bets on NBA games and I have no evidence to suggest otherwise.

"The big question on everyone's mind is, 'Did Tim Donaghy fix games?' The answer is no. I didn't need to fix them," he writes. "I usually knew which team was going to win based on which referees had been assigned to the game, their personalities, and the relationships they had with the players and coaches of the teams involved."

Jack McMahon, the attorney for Donaghy's co-conspirator, James Battista, who paid Donaghy for his NBA picks, said that he has a hard time believing that. He said Wednesday night that Donaghy's betting record with Battista on games that he officiated was much better than his record on games he wasn't working. "It just takes a little logic to figure it out," McMahon said, implying that Donaghy helped the teams he picked cover the spread. Donaghy also writes that he was threatened into participating in a "Mafia-controlled gambling ring" with Battista. But there is little evidence that his three-man operation had any significant connection to the Gambino crime family, as Donaghy believes.