By David Payne Purdum
Interviewing Tim Donaghy is a gamble in itself.
Even he realizes that his credibility is a 50/50 proposition in the eyes of the public.
It’ll be five years this July since Donaghy’s career as an NBA ref crumbled during a gambling scandal that hurt the league’s integrity and pummeled the 45-year-old’s professional reputation.
Donaghy and I talked on the phone Monday twice. Phones rang in the background of his Sarasota, Fla., home office. At one point, he paused the interview to offer a caller some advice on Game 5 of the Lakers-Thunder series.
Donaghy’s answers to my questions were sometimes ambiguous and often seemed rehearsed. When I went back through my interview notes, I found a lot of the same details that I had seen in other articles I had read while prepping for the interview.
Maybe I asked similar questions. Or maybe a man a few months away from getting off probation is well-versed on what he should and should not say.
But that could change when Donaghy’s probation ends this summer, something he calls, “a light at the end of the tunnel that is showing me that there is life after being an NBA ref.”
“Right now, Tim’s got to watch his Ps and Qs, but when the gag order’s up, look out,” said Danny Berrelli, a veteran of the sports betting industry who hired Donaghy in 2010 as a handicapping analyst for his website Sportsconnectionswins.com. “If I shared some of the correspondence that Tim has shared with me, I could rock the NBA. I could show you some papers that would make your career. I’ve seen people who are corresponding with him that are banned from the NBA, but are still insiders. It would blow your mind.”
It sounds exciting and intriguing, but even if new information came out of the Donaghy camp, how much of it would be believed because of his credibility issues?
In his heart, Donaghy says he believes he did not manipulate the outcome of games he officiated and wagered on. But as part of his cooperation deal with the FBI, he admitted to subconsciously affecting the outcomes of games. It conjures up thoughts of Barry Bonds not knowingly taking steroids.
“Some people feel that I did; others people realize that I didn’t,” said Donaghy about his overall impact on the games he bet on. “I think either way there is going to be an argument. I believe in my heart that I didn’t affect the outcome of games, and I don’t think that I’ll ever change.”
Donaghy says his admission to the FBI was his Pete Rose moment and sees some similarities between himself and Rose, who was banned for betting on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Rose denied the charges for 14 years, before publicly admitting it on national TV.
“We both crossed a line that neither of us should have ever been near and ended what had been successful careers because we wanted to gamble,” said Donaghy. “[Rose] shouldn’t have waited so long to admit it, shouldn’t have kept lying and denying it. He would have been better received, if he wouldn’t have waited so long.”
Critics have cited video and statistical analysis to discredit Donaghy’s accounts of the games he bet on and officiated. His book “Personal Foul” is contradicted heavily by Sean Patrick Griffin’s book, “Gaming the Game: The story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen.”
Donaghy wrote “Personal Foul” during his 15-month prison term and said his mind was clear when recalling the facts.
“I don’t think your mind can get any clearer than when you are in prison,” Donaghy said. “You have a lot time to sit back and self-reflect about everything that you were involved with and everything that you did. I think my mind was very clear when I wrote the book, and I think it’s a good analysis of everything that I’ve been through up to the point of getting out of jail.”
The best way to profile Donaghy may be by interviewing the man who currently has the most invested in him – his boss.
Berrelli, who prefers to be called Danny B., reached out to Donaghy after he was released from prison in 2009 and hired him in October 2010.
Danny B. has seen all sides of the sports betting industry. He worked during the infancy of the offshore sportsbook scene. He’s written for gaming magazines and won an Emmy for his contribution to an HBO special that exposed nefarious activity in the industry in 1997. Since 2004, he’s been an independent tout, not sponsored by any sportsbook or parent website.
Bottom line — he knows how to make money in this industry and saw a business opportunity in Donaghy, calling him a “golden goose.”
Berrelli even went through the trouble of clearing everything with Donaghy’s probation officer and learned what his new employee could and could not do. For example, Donaghy’s not allowed to go on air during Danny B.’s radio show and give picks while on probation. He’s also not allowed to be sponsored by any sports book.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Danny B. “We had to go over a few certain don’t-cross-the-line things with him. He can give opinions, but he can’t say, ‘take this team minus 6.’ We managed to appease them.”
For now, Donaghy blogs, produces videos and provides daily analysis and insight for Danny B. and his clients. Eventually, after his probation ends this summer, Donaghy will become a full-fledged tout, using his information as selling points for his picks.
“What else is he going to do at this point his life? Play golf?” Danny B. pointed out. “He ain’t going to work for ESPN. He might as well make money off the information that he does have.”
Donaghy’s information is good, according to Berrelli. And he says he still sees unusual tendencies in patterns in today’s officiating.
“He has insights on the refs and their tendencies that I was not aware of,” Berrelli explained. “He’s very good at totals. I probably follow his advice 80 percent of the time.”
The reaction to Donaghy from clients and listeners to the radio show has been mixed. Some callers complained and asked, “why Danny B. had this clown on the show?”
“Right now, I think people are receiving him a little bit better,” said Danny B. “It’s kind of like Jose Canseco Everyone hammered him when he wrote the book, but sure enough he told the truth.
“If you’re a gambler, and you’re looking for an advantage, why wouldn’t you want his info?” he added.
Donaghy on multiple occasions expressed how grateful he was to Danny B. not only for hiring him, but also for becoming part of his close-net inner circle.
“If Danny didn’t reach out to me, honestly, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” said Donaghy.
Donaghy’s legacy will unquestionably be defined by his gambling. But he also was involved in two other ugly NBA incidents.
He was a part of the crew during the infamous brawl between the Pacers and Pistons that spilled into the crowd at the Palace.
“There was a point where we all just looked at each other and said it’s time to get out of here,” Donaghy remembered.
He also remembers being confronted by then Portland Trail Blazer Rasheed Wallace outside the loading dock of the Rose Garden. Donaghy had given Wallace a technical foul in that night’s game for throwing the ball at another official.
“He was actually like hiding behind a pylon waiting for me to come out,” recalled Donaghy. “He had a few words for me, and I said something back to him, and he snapped and wanted to fight me. It was funny because it felt like an eternity before any of the security guards got to him so he wouldn’t be able to hit me. When you look back on it, it’s kind of comical.”