NEW YORK -- The specter of point shaving rocked the NBA yesterday with revelations that the FBI is investigating referee Tim Donaghy for allegedly betting on games, perhaps including those he officiated.
Donaghy, 40, a 13-year veteran of the league, recently resigned amid the probe and is expected to be arrested as early as next week along with associates identified as sports gamblers from southern New Jersey, several law enforcement sources told Newsday.
Donaghy's associates were said to have been affiliated with organized crime, identified by sources as "a bunch of South Jersey gamblers." The case has been the subject of a federal grand jury in Brooklyn and is being overseen by federal prosecutors from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The investigation is focused on whether Donaghy not only bet on games but also provided inside information on the condition of players and perhaps even shaved points to help the bookmakers and himself take advantage of inside information in betting on the outcome of NBA games, the sources said.
The bombshell, first reported yesterday in the New York Post, sent a chill through pro basketball. "I'm shocked," a person affiliated with the NBA said. "This is something that I never thought we'd have to deal with. It's very scary."
Donaghy, a native of Delaware County, Pa., had allegedly accumulated gambling debts and bet heavily with the bookmakers under investigation, the sources said. His six-bedroom home in Bradenton, Fla., has been for sale for about a month at an asking price of $1.35 million.
The games in question occurred during the past two NBA seasons. The Elias Sports Bureau said Donaghy officiated 63 regular-season games during the 2005-2006 season and 68 during 2006-2007. He officiated five playoff games this year, none in the NBA Finals or conference finals.
Attorney John Lauro acknowledged that he is representing Donaghy, who has not been charged, but declined to comment further. NBA Commissioner David Stern said he would address the matter in a news conference next week.
"No amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports, and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again," Stern said in a written statement.
Gambling officials in Nevada said they learned of the probe only through media reports yesterday, indicating that the alleged activity was limited to illegal betting rings outside Nevada.
"If we had seen any unusual wagering activity or even outcome trends being odd, we ourselves would have picked it up and discussed it with the NBA," said Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, which handles about half the legal sports betting in Nevada.
"The fact that it sounds like everyone - the NBA, state regulators, and casinos - were hearing about it for the first time suggests that whatever was going on was happening in the netherworld of illegal gambling," Feldman said.
Whatever the breadth of the scandal, it could do significant harm to the NBA, which has avoided the point-shaving scandals that frequently have besmirched college basketball. The revelations became public as Team USA, consisting of the NBA's best players, began a three-day training camp in Las Vegas in preparation for a summer qualifying tournament for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Former NBA ref Gary Benson, who retired in 2005 after 17 seasons, told the Associated Press he was "terribly shocked" by the allegations against Donaghy, with whom he recalled officiating "a handful of games."
"If I were in that gentleman's shoes, that would be the worst nightmare," Benson said.
The work of NBA referees is monitored by the NBA, which posts an observer at every game to critique the officiating. Video of each game is then reviewed by league officials and outside observers, and referees are consulted about incorrect calls.
As thorough as the league's officiating oversight is, sports handicapper Danny Sheridan said sports bookies are perhaps even more aggressive with their own checks and balances.
"If you're telling me somebody fixes a game for their jollies, I can't argue with it," Sheridan said. "If you're telling me they fixed a game to make money? I can tell you they're going to get caught 100 percent of the time."
Ken Berger and Robert Kessler write for Newsday.