Tim Donaghy pled guilty to some stuff yesterday (link has a photo of Mike Brown and Donaghy conversing). What he didn't plead to, though, was attempting to fix or point shave/point inflate games. Which is pretty surprising to me, but we'll talk about that in a moment.
Donaghy's sin, he said, was leaking inside information about which referees will work games and certain refs relationships with players. Well, actually, what he did was use that information and his own inside knowledge of the league to make picks that he gave to gamblers. My reaction to that is: Really? Is that all?
Which refs work NBA games is secret but it isn't like the nuclear codes. Most officials and NBA beat writers stay at Marriott brand hotels during the season. I'd say about half of the road games during the season I'll see some or all that night's officials in the concierge room having breakfast, in the lobby or out on the street near the hotel. Maybe I am naive, but I guess I didn't know this info had much value. I know a handful of officials personally and I got to know all of them from such chance meetings in hotels and airports. We almost never discuss the league or games directly, more just small talk.
I do remember once a few years ago I was talking to veteran official Bob Delaney in the lobby of a hotel near O'Hare Airport in Chicago just before Christmas. He and other officials were driving to Milwaukee for a game that night and I was telling him that I wasn't going to be home for Christmas in a few days because the Cavs had a game in Orlando. I asked nonchalantly if he was getting a chance to be home for Christmas and he ended the conversation nicely but immediately and walked away. Three days later he was on the floor in Orlando, where he lived at the time, doing the Cavs-Magic game. Just before the jump ball he came over to the scorer's table and we laughed about it. So the officials do protect their schedules.
More to the point, the game's officials are announced to everyone at least an hour before games. Which is plenty of time to get a bet down. As for ref/player relationships, I naively didn't know that was so valuable either. I know that Marc Collins (EDIT: I mean Marc Davis, somehow I combined him with Derrick Collins) generally holds LeBron James to the traveling rules more than others, I know Dick Bavetta almost always gives Anderson Varejao the benefit of the doubt on block/charge calls, but so do most officials. I know Sean Corbin has a hair trigger on calling technicals and Mike Brown isn't allowed to look cross-eyed at Joey Crawford. Donaghy obviously would have much deeper knowledge as I'm sure some refs and players have deep dislikes for each other that even insiders like me don't detect. But, again, can this actually affect the final outcome of a game? My guess is very, very rarely.
Which is why I believe now, as I did at the outset of all of this, that most of Donaghy's picks had to be over/under picks. In that case, officials and their tendencies would be valuable. That is a line that might move when the officials' names become public, especially in the playoffs. So having advance knowledge would have a certain value because certain officials are known to call more fouls than others. As this post at Truehoop points out, Donaghy's foul-calling style and over/under percentage changed drastically over the last two seasons.
Which all brings me to my final point on the matter. Despite the absence of a reference to it in his plea, I'd be shocked if Donaghy didn't take actions to hit his bets/tips in the games he worked. Why? Simple common sense. When I talk with friends about steroids in baseball I reference Sammy Sosa and Albert Belle. These guys corked their bats, which is blatant cheating and cheating they could be caught at. So they weren't cheating in ways they couldn't be caught? C'mon. So Donaghy -- who was having secret meetings, setting up code language over the phone, and using bag men and intermediaries between him and gamblers like he was Pauli in Goodfellas -- wasn't blowing his whistle a little extra or a little less to hit his bets? C'mon.