The Donaghy File

July, 20, 2007
I've had the opportunity to speak with a good number of NBA referees throughout my journalism career, oftentimes as a pool reporter getting an explanation for a rules interpretation, other times in more casual settings such as a hotel bar or concierge lounge.

In those latter encounters, different refs have dispensed differing amounts of information, but one topic they all have enjoyed kvetching about is their perceptions, and the public's perceptions, of specific referees. In other words, they enjoy gossiping about one another.

One topic that never got old in my conversations with referees over the past 2 years was the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which was officiated by Ronnie Garretson, Tommy Nunez Jr. and Tim Donaghy -- the latter of whom has been identified as the referee under investigation by the FBI for allegedly gambling on games he officiated.

Now, I had never heard any kind of allegations related to gambling, and to be extra clear, we don't have any available evidence that there was intentional tampering going on here. But I did hear a number of complaints about the way the officiating crew handled -- or mishandled, as the case might be -- the bedlam that broke out at the Palace on Nov. 19, 2004, after Ben Wallace, then of the Pistons, shoved Ron Artest, then of the Pacers, to incite one of the ugliest brawls in American sports history.

The feeling among many referees was that Garretson and Donaghy, the two senior referees, could have been much more assertive in calming things down before the incident hit its flash point when a fan threw a cup of ice at Artest as he lay prone on the scorer's table. The NBA has never divulged whether Garretson, Donaghy or Nunez were disciplined for their handling of the brawl, but I can assure you that several referees who did not work the game found fault with what appeared to them to be a lackadaisical approach toward controlling a situation that quickly spun violently out of control. I've reviewed raw ESPN videotape of the brawl at our offices in Bristol, and I have to say the complaints about Garretson and Donaghy seem to have merit.

Donaghy also was involved in another controversy a few years back when he engaged in a shouting match with Rasheed Wallace on the loading dock of The Rose Garden in Portland, an incident that led to a seven-game suspension for Wallace, who was then with the Portland Trail Blazers. Donaghy and the two other referees who had worked that game passed by Wallace as they walked to their cars, and Wallace was said to have threatened Donaghy, who had assessed him a technical foul earlier that night during a Grizzlies-Blazers game.

Donaghy, a baby-faced 40, is one of four NBA referees to have graduated from Cardinal O'Hara high school in Philadelphia. The others are Joey Crawford, Mike Callahan and Ed Malloy.


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