By Frank Deford
November 04, 2009

Several months ago I was asked to look over the manuscript of Tim Donaghy's confessional. Donaghy is the former NBA referee who was imprisoned for feeding information to gamblers. The larger part of the book was Donaghy's memoir, which was predictably venal and depressing.

The other part, however, was incredibly arresting. It featured Donaghy's accounts of the behavior of his NBA colleagues, and it was simply impossible not to come away with the impression that whereas none of the other refs might -- might -- have actually fixed a game, there was, Donaghly makes crystal clear, a negligent culture amongst NBA officials that was troubling at least, incriminating at worst.

Donaghy vividly illustrates that many officials are capricious, too influenced by superstars and by fawning personal relations with players and coaches, plus, at least tacitly, by which big-market teams they believe the league wants to win. Just one brief example: Donaghy describes a game in which an official accedes to Shaquille O'Neal's request to let some air out of the official game ball. This would be the equivalent of a baseball pitcher getting an umpire to allow him to throw spitballs.

No, I don't believe you can read Donaghy's book without harboring doubt about the integrity of the league's officiating.

Of course, right now you can't read Donaghy's book because despite a scheduled 50,000 print run by the publisher, Triumph Books, an imprint of Random House, the book was cancelled at the eleventh hour when the NBA somehow sufficiently pressed the publisher. But, of course, in the wild west of the Internet, Donaghy's book was leaked, and you can read many of the more damning excerpts at

The NBA says it intends another "complete review" of Donaghy's accusations. To my mind, it will be a whitewash unless the referees answer the detailed charges against them at a public hearing. Don't forget: NBA refs have a soiled pedigree. More than a dozen of them were indicted on tax evasion charges a decade ago.

Naturally, Donaghy, a liar and a felon, may be dismissed as a suspect source. In fact, I seriously doubt he's owned up to all his culpability. But the detail he supplies reeks of veracity. And remember now: when Jose Canseco, the steroid user, wrote a book about other baseball druggies, cynics sneered that Canseco was just implicating others to diminish his own guilt. Well, turned out that Canseco's charges were proved right time and again. Sinners may have good memory, too.

Then last week the National Football League finally admitted -- when pressed in Congress -- that its refusal to acknowledge independent research that playing football damages players' brains may need a bit of rethinking. And Andre Agassi admitted that he was detected taking crystal meth in drug tests, but was graciously let off by tennis officials when he simply, baldly, lied.

Look, I'm no conspiracy theorist, but the evidence builds: big money sports will do all they can to protect themselves and their stars. And one specific piece of advice: if I were you, I wouldn't bet on NBA games.

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