Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who admitted betting on league games for about four years, said in his first major television interview since serving a prison sentence that stars Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant were hot-button players whose presence could affect a game's outcome.
Donaghy, 42, completed a nearly 15-month sentence in October after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to engage in wagering over state lines.
His most emotional moment during the 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday evening came when he discussed how his actions "ruined" his family life. He has four daughters with his wife, who divorced him after the scandal came to light.
"We all have choices to make in life and when we decide to go down that wrong road, it'd be better off backing up and realizing that not only do you affect your life with some terrible choices, but the lives of people you love the most — and that's your family," he said.
Donaghy said he was an official in "a lot" of the estimated 100-plus NBA games that he placed bets on.
Donaghy bet on several sports but said his own gave him more "euphoria" due to his success rate. He said was able to connect on 70 to 80 per cent of his bets solely on inside information, not by personally influencing the outcome.
The 13-year NBA veteran said he could accurately predict results based on a particular crew's views on Iverson, especially after the controversial guard was fined $25,000 for criticizing officials during the 2006-07 season.
"We felt as a group that he should have been suspended, and because he wasn't, we felt like we would teach him a lesson," Donaghy said.
Iverson's Denver Nuggets lost a Jan. 6, 2007 game in which Donaghy was part of the crew, with the guard getting called for a discontinued dribble, which is rarely called. While the official line shows Iverson called for only two fouls in the game, Donaghy said the crew didn't blow the whistle on several plays where Iverson was fouled.
Donaghy said a referee supervisor laughed about the treatment of Iverson midway through the game with the crew.
Donaghy also claimed that after Los Angeles sent tape to the NBA of missed calls on Bryant, prompting a league memo, it was a given that at least for a little while officials who worked Lakers games were going to be overly judicious in their treatment of the star player and his team.
The NBA declined to participate in the interview, but did release a statement just minutes after the program aired. Commissioner David Stern has characterized Donaghy as a rogue official and not symptomatic of a wider problem.
"[An independent] review revealed that the NBA’s core values of neutrality and accountability were not compromised by anyone other than Mr. Donaghy," Stern said in the statement.
Retired official Mike Mathis confirmed to the program that crews talk about players, but called Donaghy's actions "reprehensible."
While the Iverson claim might contradict his position, Donaghy said he never attempted to fix games, pointing to a game in which he ejected San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, despite betting on the Spurs.
FBI investigator Philip Scala told 60 Minutes the evidence appeared to support Donaghy's claim.
"Watching the tapes, we could see there was never something outlandish where you could see he called a foul or he omitted a foul because he wanted to see a certain team win," said Scala. "We never saw that."
The NBA said previously in a statement it didn't have evidence to contradict the FBI findings.
Other claims had been previously released publicly, namely, that the NBA does everything in its power to aid big-market teams in the playoffs to heighten interest and revenue.
"I certainly made some terrible choices to do what I did, but the culture that existed within the game and in the NBA enabled me to do this at a very successful rate," said Donaghy.
Donaghy — who said he had no knowledge of other referees betting on games — was working solo for more than half of his time betting on NBA games but eventually started funneling information to a childhood friend, using code names to relay picks.
Donaghy said he was making a couple of thousand dollars for every correct pick, although those he aided probably made much more.
Alleged co-conspirators James Battista and Thomas Martino also received prison sentences of a similar length for their role in the ring.
Donaghy's actions were only discovered through an unrelated FBI wiretap investigating organized crime activities, but he said sharing his inside information to others wasn't his biggest regret.
"My big mistake was crossing that line in the first place," he said.
Co-operation with authorities netted Donaghy a more lenient sentence, although he suffered a knee injury in a prison attack. He said he still has fears for his safety.
During his stay in prison, Donaghy wrote a tell-all book called Personal Foul, which does not yet have a publisher.