Tim Donaghy, the NBA referee who bet on games he worked, launched a desperate half-court heave last week, claiming the league had rigged a 2002 playoff game. He played to suspicions of league shadiness, making the charge right before Game 3 of a Lakers-Celtics NBA finals that promises to be a ratings bonanza—if it goes the full seven games. “No way David Stern lets Boston go up 3-0,” a Celtics fan told me. (They were up 2-0.) “It’d cost him too much money.”
Sure enough, the Lakers won 87-81 that night without playing particularly well. But, still, Donaghy is almost certainly full of it. For word of an ’02 fix to have reached Donaghy—he didn’t work the game in question—so many people would have been in on the plot that it would have unraveled within minutes of the final buzzer. But suspicion lives on, and that’s entirely commissioner David Stern’s fault. He has shrouded his league in mystery and opacity. Was Michael Jordan’s “retirement” actually a quiet suspension for gambling? Why are fouls on Kobe Bryant called that would be ignored on anyone else in the league? Why are foul-happy referees assigned to games in which the league would benefit from a longer series? Why did a gift-from-the-TV-gods Celtics-Lakers series happen the year after the worst-rated NBA Finals in league history? These—among many—are questions that have raised the eyebrows of every NBA fan.
Tim Donaghy has no idea if the NBA is fixed. But neither do I, or do you. Which is why the questions will always linger. If Stern won’t give answers, we’ll have to provide our own.