Why are NBA referees so bad

Tim Donaghy plunges the American professional basketball league NBA into a deep crisis. On Wednesday, the 40-year-old referee pleaded guilty to betting on NBA games for four years - including games he was in charge of himself. He also confessed to having passed on inside information since December 2006. Donaghy faces up to 25 years in prison and a $ 500,000 fine; a judgment is not due to be made until November. On July 9, Donaghy had resigned after a first suspicion became known.

Donaghy testified in federal court in Brooklyn that prior to NBA games, he gave details of the umpires used, their relationships with players and coaches, and the health of players to professional bettors. This information was then used to place bets on the games. The court records show two cases from last December in which Donaghy gave tips to players over the phone and in coded language and was rewarded for doing so the next day. "I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games," Donaghy said in court.

Gambling addiction and tablets

The professional referee, who has been active in the NBA for 13 years, is said to have received $ 2,000 for each tip. His fee later rose to $ 5,000 per successful bet. The family man is said to have been in debt. The NBA does not reward its referees badly: Donaghy earned around $ 260,000 last season. Two co-defendants - one of them a bookmaker and a former schoolmate of Donaghys - denied any involvement in the affair on Wednesday. Donaghy himself testified in court that he was being treated for gambling addiction and was also taking antidepressants. He comes from a family of referees: Donaghy's father was a referee in American college basketball, his uncle directed NBA games.

The professional league boasted for years its control system for referees. League boss David Stern described his referees in the past as "the most rated, examined, statistically analyzed and supervised employees in the world". Despite their indeed meticulous refereeing controls, the NBA hadn't caught on with Donaghy. One reason for this is that the bets in question were not placed on win or loss, but on the total number of points achieved or the amount of a win. The former in particular is easy to manipulate: If a referee whistles many fouls, there are also many free throws - this usually increases the amount of a result. Donaghy was known for interpreting the rules very strictly. Suspicious wrong decisions were therefore not necessary to manipulate the outcome of the game. It was enough to lead a game from start to finish in an extremely rule-compliant manner.

The strict NBA commissioner star is now worried about the reputation of his league. Stern has nurtured the NBA's clean image in the past by banning injured players from appearing to games in casual clothing. Stern punishes brawls or verbal freaks swiftly and relentlessly. On Wednesday, the league issued a press release announcing it would be reviewing its referees' controls to protect "the integrity of the game". To Stern's relief, Donaghy appears to be a lone perpetrator, but at the moment there are no other betting fraudsters among the 60 NBA referees. Anything else would put the league in great distress - almost $ 250 million are wagered on NBA games every season. As a precautionary measure, Stern had already described Donaghy as an "isolated criminal" in July.

The scandal will hardly be cleared up until the start of the NBA season on October 30th. Cleveland Cavaliers professional and new NBA figurehead LeBron James sees the affair with mixed feelings: "This is bad for basketball, but we are professionals and we have to keep going." And NBA veteran Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets trusts that the fundamentals of the sport will be preserved: "Win or lose, it's up to the players."