Are NBA Games Rigged? Taking a Closer Look at the 2007 NBA Betting Scandal


NBA in its long 76 years of history has seen many golden days and success. NBA is the highest league a basketball player dreams to play in. Despite all the success NBA has had in the past, the league has also gone through various controversies, scandals, and conspiracy theories. The one we will be looking at today will be the NBA betting scandal of 2007.

The 2007 scandal involved many parties, but the most notable names were James Battista and NBA referee Tim Donaghy who conspired to fix NBA games. The pair had a great influence in the betting world concerning the NBA, especially in the games refereed by Tim himself. 

The deal between Tim Donaghy and James Battista

The scandal began in November of 2006, not long before Christmas, when James Battista had an idea, and decided to meet with Tim Donaghy. The two sat and structured the deal as to how it would work. Battista offered a bribe of $2,000 for every game. The deal was such that if the team that Tim picked won, he would get the $2,000, and if his team didn’t win, then nothing would be owed. It was pretty much all profit and no loss for Tim. Tim was one of the top referees in the NBA.

The most surprising thing at the time? Tim was winning at a 88% rate in betting. This was something unheard of at that time. Both knew each other for the last 25 years as they’d gone to the same high school.

Battista provided services to sports bettors by placing bets on his client’s behalf. The two didn’t contact each other directly. They contacted each other through a liaison, Tommy Martino. Donaghy passed the information to Tommy via a burner phone, and Tommy would then relay the message to Battista. Battista then would spend the entire day betting on the pick given by Donaghy.

Tim was into betting way before he teamed up with Jimmy. Tim was betting on games since 2003, he revealed when asked by then-Commissioner David Stern about fixing games. 

The NBA also conducted its own investigation to find any influence that Donaghy was having on the game. The NBA however couldn’t find any significant proof against Donaghy, and neither could the Law Enforcement do anything.

Notable scandals during the 2007 NBA betting scandal

In 2006, during game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between San Antonio Spurs vs Phoenix Suns, The Spurs were given 13 free throws in a single quarter. Tim also revealed that the Supervisors advised the refs on specific fouls to be called on the Suns and on which fouls to let go for the Spurs. The reason was to receive big televised bets due to the size of the franchise chosen, as the Spurs were the bigger franchise of the two.

In Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings, the Lakers were given 27 free throws in the 4th quarter. In the same game, Late Kobe Bryant elbowed an opponent, to everyone’s surprise, it was not Kobe who ended up receiving a flagrant foul, it was the player who got elbowed, who was at the receiving end of the referee’s wrath.

Tim Donaghy gets caught by the FBI

The FBI were not looking for Donaghy at the time, they were looking for the mob. Tim wasn’t even on the FBI’s agenda, Tim happened to be a bonus for the FBI. The Gambino Investigators of the FBI put up a wire to investigate the mob for reasons unknown. The investigators, however, picked Donaghy on a call with another co-operator. It was at that time the FBI knew that there is a corrupt NBA official.

Tim Donaghy was the only one who cooperated with the FBI, who provided the necessary information to go after James. James did not cooperate with the FBI, in any sense. Tim was providing information on all who were involved in the scandal with him. Tim was gifted with a photographic memory and remembered all the referees involved in each specific game. Tim’s cooperation led to all the referees that were involved in the games that were influenced. It was at that time that games pointed towards being fixed in the NBA, and not by the players but by the officials. 

There were many parties involved in the scandal, but Tim and James are the only ones that have been revealed to the public. Donaghy after the investigation and legal process was sentenced to 15 months in prison. He was sentenced on July 29, 2008, for participation in a gambling scandal. In the same month, James was also sentenced to 15 months in prison for interstate gambling.

Changes made to the referee’s conduct in the NBA 

With NBA referee Donaghy being sentenced to prison, Commissioner David Stern made changes regarding the referees. During the 2007 Board of Governors meeting, the commissioner amended the referee conduct standards. Initially, the NBA referees were barred only from betting on the NBA and allowed to bet on sports like Golf and Horse Racing. The amendments made practically barred the referees from partaking in all kinds of gambling.

Since this incident took place, the NBA has taken swift measures to ensure nothing happens of such sort in the future. The NBA has since then not seen anything like this happen. But, the betting world at large commands serious pockets, and even in this betting scandal higher officials were left unharmed. The ground reality is that betting still takes place. It was a matter of circumstances that led to the revelation of betting in the NBA being orchestrated by an official. 

What continues behind the curtains, might most likely remain behind the curtain.

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