For any NBA fan, the news that referee Tim Donaghy may have fixed games is the ultimate nightmare. There is absolutely no way for the NBA to paint this as something minor. Nor is there any way for the NBA to downplay this.
Fixing games by players, coaches, or referees in any sport is the grandest of all sins. It’s something that hits at the very heart of sports and fair competition. Perhaps this is true because even though most sports fans do not expect their sports stars, or referees to be heroes, it cannot be understated that we do expect our sports stars and referees to have integrity. Without integrity, the very nature of sports is compromised and that is worse than almost any thing that a player or any individual associated with sports can do.
Rae Carruth, the now infamous former Carolina Panther football player who hired an assassin to shoot his pregnant girlfriend, may be a worse human being than Tim Donaghy, but if the charges against Donaghy are proven to be correct, it will be Tim Donaghy whom sports fans remember forever, not Carruth. Donaghy’s name will be in the same category as the Black Sox of 1919. His name will be spoken of with the same vehemence as Pete Rose’s. That is how fixing games, or even gambling on games, can impair a sports individual’s reputation.
This is something that has happened to some of the best players, not only from football but even to the likes of Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson although they were lucky enough to not get implicated because sometimes it is difficult to resist the temptation for buktiqq or blackjack.
Perhaps the saddest thing about this is that for Tim Donaghy, gambling is definitely a disease. In my research, I am writing a novel about sports gambling, I have interviewed numerous compulsive gamblers. The gamblers I have interviewed range from sports gamblers to casino gamblers to lottery gamblers. Any one who believes that gambling is not a disease has not researched compulsive gambling fully or has not taken the inevitable look in the mirror. My heart definitely goes out to Tim Donaghy and his family.
With that being said, what he has done, if proven to be true, is still the greatest sin in all of sports. The only thing comparable is for a trainer in horse racing to run a horse, knowing the horse is hurt, because his horse is favored in a race and the trainer and jockey want to make a killing by betting on a different horse.
But, and this is where the NBA has a long road to climb, we expect that sort of nefarious double-crossing in horse racing. We do not expect it in professional basketball. David Stern has all ready made one terrible blunder this past spring when he suspended Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, both players for the Phoenix Suns, in Phoenix’s playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs. That caused what was turning out to be a classic series into boredom as evidenced by the NBA’s continued television rating’s slide.
What is Stern going to do about this? Many NBA fans have been clamoring for Stern to resign for his many outrageous decisions this year. Besides the suspension of Stoudemire and Diaw, Stern also allowed the suspension of Kobe Bryant, the NBA’s most popular player, on two separate occasions, both quite minor. The Donaghy situation may only add to Stern’s woes.
For NBA fans this news comes at a horrendous time. One of the worst NBA Finals in recent memory just finished, the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, and Boston Celtics, traditional powerhouses in the NBA order of things, continue to play mediocre basketball and no matter how hard the league has tried, nobody has come close to providing the same amount of fire to the NBA as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The NBA is in dire straits. The Tim Donaghy situation may put it on life support.
Tim Donaghy, because of his disease, probably never once thought about the NBA or its future if he did indeed fix basketball games. But, it just doesn’t matter. It will be up to David Stern to fix this mess.
After everything Stern has done for the NBA, taking it from a novel sports league, to the second most successful sport in the United States, this is going to be his greatest challenge. How he responds to it will ultimately decide not only his future but the fate of the NBA as a viable sports league.