NEW YORK NBA referees, influenced by cozy relationships with league officials, rigged a 2002 playoff series to force it to a revenue-boosting seven games, a former referee at the center of a gambling scandal alleged Tuesday.
Without identifying anyone or naming teams, Tim Donaghy also claimed the NBA routinely encouraged refs to ring up bogus fouls to manipulate results but discouraged them from calling technical fouls on star players to keep them in games and protect ticket sales and television ratings.
The allegations were contained in a letter filed by a lawyer for Donaghy, who pleaded guilty last year to felony charges alleging he took cash payoffs from gamblers and bet on games himself. The 41-year-old Donaghy faces up to 33 months in prison at sentencing on July 14.
"If the NBA wanted a team to succeed, league officials would inform referees that opposing players were getting away with violations," the letter said. "Referees then would call fouls on certain players, frequently resulting in victory for the opposing team."
The league called Donaghy's allegations false and self-serving, saying the scandal was limited to him and two co-defendants, both former high school classmates who also pleaded guilty to gambling charges.
"The NBA remains vigilant in protecting the integrity of our game and has fully cooperated with the government at every stage of its investigation," Richard Buchanan, NBA executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. "The only criminal activity uncovered is Mr. Donaghy's."
Donaghy's lawyer has sought to convince a federal judge in Brooklyn that Donaghy, of Bradenton, Fla., deserves more credit for coming forward before he was charged to disclose behind-the-scenes misconduct within the NBA. The letter, filed Monday, suggests prosecutors have hurt Donaghy's chances for a lesser prison term by downplaying the extent of his cooperation.
Both Donaghy's attorney, John Lauro, and prosecutors declined comment.
In one of several allegations of corrupt refereeing, Donaghy said he learned in May 2002 that two referees known as "company men" were working a best-of-seven series in which "Team 5" was leading 3-2. In the sixth game, he alleged the referees purposely ignored personal fouls and called "made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6."
"Team 6" won the game and came back to win the series, the letter said.
The letter also alleged manipulation during a 2005 playoff series.
"Team 3 lost the first two games in the series and Team 3's owner complained to NBA officials," the letter said. "Team 3's owner alleged that referees were letting a Team 4 player get away with illegal screens. NBA Executive Y told Referee Supervisor Z that the referees for that game were to enforce the screening rules strictly against that Team 4 player. ... The referees followed the league's instructions and Team 3 came back from behind to win the series. The NBA benefited from this because it prolonged the series, resulting in more tickets sold and more televised games."Donaghy's letter said that in the first of several meetings with prosecutors and the FBI in New York in 2007, he named names while describing "various examples of improper interactions and relationships between referees and other league employees, such as players, coaches and management." For example, it said, referees broke NBA rules by hitting up players for autographs, socializing with coaches and accepting meals and merchandise from teams.
DEL NEGRO ACCEPTS BULLS JOB: Vinny Del Negro has accepted his first head coaching job, agreeing to take over a Chicago Bulls team that went from 49 wins to 49 losses in a season and missed the playoffs after making the second round in 2007.
Bulls general manager John Paxson plans to introduce Del Negro as the team's new coach at an afternoon news conference today, team spokesman Matt Yob said Tuesday.
His selection ends a drawn-out search in which the Bulls' high-profile courtships of Mike D'Antoni and Doug Collins collapsed.
Paxson did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Del Negro, whose voicemail box was full Tuesday, did not immediately return a page.
Del Negro, most recently the Phoenix Suns' assistant general manager, interviewed for the job last week and quickly moved to the top of the list after Collins and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf decided to pass on a reunion.Del Negro had been interested in replacing D'Antoni on the Suns' sideline but did not make general manager Steve Kerr's list of four finalists. That job went to Terry Porter.
CURRY INTRODUCED AS PISTONS COACH: Play hard or sit.
Basically, that is Michael Curry's coaching philosophy, and it seems to be exactly what the Detroit Pistons need.
The Pistons gave Curry his first head coaching job Tuesday in part because they're confident he can get the most out of their remaining veterans, some of whom are former teammates.
"I don't think you make anybody play. I think you substitute," Curry said at a news conference. "You remove the ones that are unmotivated. That's pretty simple."
A week after firing Flip Saunders, Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars did not sound concerned about the 39-year-old Curry going from peer to boss.
"Guys either respect you or they don't, and they respect this guy," Dumars said. "Those guys trust him.