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Tim Donaghy - By The Numbers...By Nelson Lardner
While we wait for additional athletic shoes, stilettos, et al to drop in the current officiating brouhaha which has provoked such consternation in NBA-Land, let's look at some of the number which have been bandied about by various authorities.
Mark Twain once said, "Figures don't lie - but liars can figure." Since we've proven ourselves to be borderline-competent in evaluating the true meaning of certain sporting statistics over the years, we're more than willing to take a second and third look at some of what's out there, regarding Mr. Donaghy and his frequently-intriguing officiating style:
(1) As pointed out by R. J. Bell at Pregame Of the NBA matchups Tim Donaghy worked, there were ten consecutive games dating from the first of this year which featured a line move (reflecting action on the WINNING side) of 1 1/2 points or more.
Note: When queried about the specific source(s) used to derive opening/closing numbers, Bell advised Thursday that "we review the opening numbers and the closes, and then log a proprietary consensus line", which he employed in his evaluations. Remember, this is not a precise science. It's a big marketplace out there . . . there's Vegas, and there are the larger remaining offshores, and there remains a significant presence of illegal operatives who deal high (and who are likely prospering on the heels of last fall's UIGEA effects on NETeller and many offshores). Sunday's New York Times made reference to an anonymous Vegas source with a study of his own, referring to eleven games (occurring during much of the same time period employed by Bell), for which the consensus Vegas line had moved two or more points. According to Alan Schwarz's story, the "move" teams covered seven of eleven times.
Regardless, there's SOMETHING of apparent substance here, even though the likes of Jimmy Vaccaro (long-time Vegas book manager, and a true authority on the topic, if ever there was one) said in the same Times story that "I'm guessing that the bets didn't happen here (Nevada) - (they) probably happened with local bookmakers, or offshore. There would be a smell of something here and there would be talk about it." Considering that opening/early NBA side numbers have been sharper than ever in recent years . . . and that one of the fastest ways I know to go broke is to indiscriminately CHASE pro-hoops sides that have moved at least a point and a half . . . to uncover a specific subset that proved bulletproof over as many as ten repetitions is significant in my mind - especially given the backstory which has developed since.
Must note that this indicator did not "sustain", especially after the playoffs began. A significant relevant factor may be the relatively limited average number of games available for speculation during the postseason (the resulting greater focus on fewer games resulting in more pronounced line moves than might occur during the regular season -- moves potentially all the more dangerous to those dedicated to chasing them).
(2) Another Bell-ism: Over the past two NBA seasons, the period which is obviously attracting the bulk of researchers' attention regarding this topic, Donaghy worked 138 games (ESPN.com came up with 139, but the overall point remains essentially the same). Of those, 79 went OVER the total (leaving us in the 57% neighborhood, either way).
Does this prove anything in itself? No. Does it hint that, just possibly, a lightbulb went on somewhere, a couple of years ago, and action subsequently went off in hot pursuit of thought? Could be.
And if you're hot on the trail of chicanery in terms of officials affecting totals, you're going to look for "over". If you're determined to call a game "tight", whistling every bit of ticky-tack nonsense, you're going to create plenty of clock stoppages while sending professional roundball players to shoot unguarded shots more frequently than usual. Even when dealing with the Shaqs of this world under these circumstances, an official hell-bent on such manipulation is going to succeed in hyping the total score. And as tightly as totals are calculated before openers are posted, it doesn't take much nudging to send a game over, unless the teams involved are shooting as if they're playing on a court within an oversized meat locker.
Given all that, it is relevant to note that the games that Donaghy worked over the (circled) past two seasons saw markedly-high numbers of players fouling out, technicals, and (need we even say it?) free-throw attempts, compared to league averages in these areas.
(3) According to Thursday's USA Today, the fellow who provides odds to that publication was quoted to the effect that "The limits at the biggest sport book in Nevada are $500-$1,000, which is the most one can bet at one time on NBA regular-season games, and most offshore and illegal bookmakers have similar limits."
To put it gently . . . as a statement of fact, that's highly debatable. Just to name two, the Bellagio and the Mirage will readily deal higher than that on NBA regular-season. They are not alone, and the knowledgable and well-connected with good credit will readily find accommodation in the shadow marketplace outside Nevada, once they're pointed in the right direction. Again, don't believe everything you read that's gaming related - ESPECIALLY in the general-interest press, and even more especially if not written by gaming specialists. All too frequently, general-circ dailies are a child's garden of misinformation when it comes to the fine nuances of sporting issues.
The stats aren't going to prove much of anything. There's no reason to think that Donaghy would be trying to alter every game he worked. That approach would far more likely to get him nailed than to try to alter some games and lay off others. Maybe he or the people pushing him were that stupid or greedy, but I doubt it.
Don't disagree with your final three sentences -- and your opener is technically correct, with regards to strict, bulletproof proof. But fact remains that (a) serious regular-season money on sides this year from mid-January through mid-April was dead-on, and (b)
he turned a 180 from previous stats into a high-tendency "over" ref in the two seasons under closest scrutiny. There's a TON of smoke, here.
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