Tim Donaghy is one of the most controversial figures in the history of NBA basketball. He was the center of one of the worst-officiated games in NBA history during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in 2002 between the LA Lakers and the Sacramento, as he had alleged that the game had been rigged against Sacramento prior to the ball tipping off.
The disgraced former referee was a known gambler and was deemed a federal criminal for his actions as a referee that influenced games for people placing bets on NBA games, including himself. He has previously alleged that the 2006 NBA Finals were rigged and is now saying in a Netflix documentary that he was asked not to blow the whistle for a Michael Jordan traveling call on a spin move.
"I started to understand what's within the game in the NBA. I was in Philadelphia and I am refereeing Sixers-Bulls. They were cracking down on the spin move that they wanted the officials to call traveling. Michael Jordan makes the spin move, I make the call. Phil Jackson comes off the bench and he starts giving me sh*t. I say, 'wait a second, Phil. You know as well as I do that's the spin move they're telling us to call.' And he said, 'while they might want that play called, they certainly don't want it called on him', and he pointed at Jordan who just walked by and stared at me. I got in the locker room, the other referee said, 'they want that call but don't want to on him'.
Can We Believe Tim Donaghy?
Tim Donaghy is a convicted felon who has been ostracized by the community of NBA referees and fans for his actions. Even if there was a systemic problem in the NBA about the fairness of games in Donaghy's era, he was the one that got caught and then made allegations against several other top referees in the game.
Donaghy has an incentive to lie. If he paints the larger system as corrupt, his being a part of it can lead to some sort of vindication. However, he was left alone in the scandal. Modern NBA referee Scott Foster also was involved with Donaghy but escaped any persecution and is still an active referee in the NBA.
It is tough to ascertain whether Donaghy is telling true stories because his motives are very muddled. It certainly is believable that the league would want their star in Jordan to be protected. But saying they would go so far as to tell referees not to call certain violations is a little tough to believe. It may be true, but others need to verify this before we can hold it as a valid complaint against Phil Jackson, Jordan, and the NBA.