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FBI Blows Whistle on NBA Referee


The National Basketball Association is on the defensive as the probe into a betting scandal involving one of its referees widens. The FBI investigation into veteran referee Tim Donaghy's alleged gambling activities in and outside the basketball court has shaken up the league. It is also forcing some fans to question the legitimacy of professional sports. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

Allegations that veteran NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on games that he officiated -- came as a disappointment to people who love the sport. Basketball analyst Stephen A. Smith remarks, "It says to the fans, the game itself that you're watching, the competitive fervor it involves and everything that comes along with it, just throw it out the window because somebody is trying to dictate the outcome."

A federal investigation is focusing on as many as 15 games where Donaghy made calls that could have affected the margin of victory.

At a hastily arranged news conference, NBA Commissioner David Stern called the betting scandal the worst he has seen in 40 years with the league. "This is not something that is anything other than an act of betrayal of what we know in sports as a sacred trust. We think we have here, a rogue, isolated criminal."

Sources close to the investigation say Donaghy had a gambling problem and was working with bookies with organized crime connections to pay off his debts.

Gambling experts say it would have been reasonably easy for a seasoned referee to affect the outcome of a game. R.J. Bell at Pregame.com has noted some troubling patterns in Donaghy's record. "Last season, in the 15 games in which Tim Donaghy refereed in which there was extreme money bet on one side -- one team betting more [having more bets placed on it] than the other -- the bettors won every time. The odds of that happening by pure chance are over 32,000 to one."

Sportswriter Chris Broussard says even more troubling is if more referees are implicated -- a possibility that investigators have not yet ruled out. "If you have one rogue official, as we appear to have in this case, that's bad enough. And that does cast a shadow over the season. But to have three, four or more, even two, that really makes it that much worse."

NBA Commissioner Stern assures fans the league is making every effort to restore the game's credibility. But some say that may not be easy. From coaches to players, to fans -- the disappointment is obvious.

"Every time I look at it now, I'll be concerned whether it's the right call or whether it's a call made to put profit in the referee's pocket," says one fan. "It could be a foul and he wouldn't call it cause he wants the other team to win," says another.

Donaghy resigned earlier this month after 13 seasons with the NBA.

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