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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: Hudy Head book review: Personal Foul

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hudy Head book review: Personal Foul


Personal Foul

A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA
By Tim Donaghy
VTi Group
252 pages

Labeled by the NBA as a “rogue” referee for his involvement with organized crime and betting on games in which he was officiated, Tim Donaghy tells his side of the story in “Personal Foul.”

Donaghy loved his job, loved the life he lived, loved his wife and four girls, but he loved gambling more. That is what led Donaghy down the slippery slope that claimed his livelihood, his marriage and his freedom, convicted of wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit wagering information and sentenced to 15 months in federal prison.

Like many gamblers, his path started out innocently enough, just looking for a thrill more than looking for ways to make fast money. He would be with friends on the golf course, in card games after golf and then as a frequent flyer with the NBA, countless hours to kill before game time playing the horses or visiting available casinos.

From there illegal wagering was available to him on everything, except the NBA.

It is a familiar story that has haunted baseball’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose. Both sports, the NBA and MLB have strict rules on gambling, but it is a death sentence to bet on the sport you are involved in.

An interesting point in the story is that the NBA frowns upon any sort of betting, legal or illegal. It does not allow any referee to partake in any form of gambling during the NBA season, horses, casinos or otherwise.

That is where Donaghy goes “rogue.”

Not only did Donaghy state that his NBA picks were correct 70 percent of the time, he informs the reader of everything behind the zebra’s locker room. He writes of NBA “directives” of making calls for teams and against players that have been overlooked during previous contests. Does Kevin Garnett travel in the post? Yes he does, but the other crews didn’t call it, you are going to call it tonight. Does Allen Iverson palm the ball? Yes he does, but if last night’s crew let it go, you’re going to enforce it tonight.

Can referees influence the outcome of a game? Absolutely, as they often bet on who will be the first referee to call a foul, the whistler loses. Ever watch a contest and you hear an announcer say “They’re letting them play tonight?” The reason is the whistles are swallowed because of a locker room bet between the officials, according to Donaghy.

Almost every fan has questioned the eyesight and sanity of an official and it isn’t different from basketball coaches. Those who cross the whistle-blowers too often will usually get an early exit from the game or no calls at all. Just ask Donaghy.

Those familiar with the sport remember the tax evasion charges to several referees from pocketing air fare changes from first class to coach. Where are they now? Many are still on the job or in some cases, promoted to higher positions within the NBA.

Donaghy resigned from the NBA after he went to the federal authorities about his gambling issues, drawn into the fire by an old high school friend with ties to organized crime. His tips earned him $2,000 per correct pick, the ire of the mob when he guessed wrong and the pressure became too much. He decided to come clean about his picks, made easier just be knowing what fellow referees were working contests, their preferences and grudges with each team. He wanted to protect his family and not his job.

“Personal Foul” is full of names known throughout the NBA as Donaghy doesn’t hold back the relationships between referees and the teams that they officiate every night. Players, coaches and former officials are named, forcing the NBA to utilize the “rogue” reference about Donaghy and a subsequent $1 million lawsuit for his indiscretions.

While dismissed by the NBA, the basketball organization has made changes from Donaghy’s indiscretions, never admitting that it provided him the tools on a daily basis to pick the outcome of numerous games throughout the 82-game season. Amazingly enough, the NBA never blew the whistle on themselves.

“Personal Foul” is Tom Donaghy’s personal account of his own gambling addiction and fearful involvement with organized crime that cost him his career and his marriage. Despite his fall from grace, Donaghy shows that a technical foul should be called against the NBA, but his book is a buzzer-beating winner.
4 Hudy Heads

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