Ex-Ref Tim Donaghy: ‘No Doubt’ Mavs Should Have Won 2006 Finals vs. Heat

Mark Cuban

Getty Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

For years, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has lamented the fate of his team in the 2006 NBA Finals, when Dallas seized a 2-0 series lead and was subsequently beaten in four straight games. The series was marked by a controversial Game 5, when Heat star Dwyane Wade attempted 25 free-throws, the same number the Mavericks took as a team.

In all, Miami had 49 free-throws, including two from Wade with 1.9 seconds left in overtime and the Mavs leading, 100-99. Wade made both shots and the Heat won, propelling them to a 4-2 series win and the franchise’s first championship.

Two years ago, Cuban said that while he holds no grudges, he still feels that the Mavs should have been champs that year. “I think about [referees] Jack Nies, Bennett Salvatore,” Cuban said. “I think about 937 free throws per game [for the Heat].”

Former referee Tim Donaghy, who resigned in 2007 before pleading guilty to federal charges and serving 11 months in prison stemming from his involvement in a notorious gambling scandal, certainly agrees with Cuban.

“No doubt in my mind that championship should have gone to Dallas,” Donaghy told Heavy.com last week. “Bennett Salvatore had that game and it was poorly officiated. That was back when Ed Rush was the head of officials, he hated Mark Cuban’s guts and was definitely going through tape sessions with those referees and telling them what to call and what not to call. No doubt about it.”

Cuban had drawn the ire of refs for years, Donaghy said, because he had been outspoken in his criticism of referees and had pushed the league to institute changes calling for more accountability from refs.

“Referees hated Mark Cuban,” Donaghy said. “I personally liked him a lot. Because when Mark Cuban came in, he put so much pressure on the league office to change the way referees refereed the game so they would be more consistent. … Instead of going out, hitting the bars, we were in hotel rooms reviewing tape. A lot of older referees hated his guts because their lifestyle got changed from going out and hitting the club scene after games to being in the room watching tape. Guys like Joey Crawford, Bennett Salvatore, those older refs hated his guts.”

According to Donaghy, Crawford could be especially confrontational with Cuban.

“Joey Crawford would stand at the free-throw line, stare at Mark Cuban, grab his balls and shake them right at him,’ Donaghy said. “Mark Cuban got it on tape and sent it to the league office every time he did it. The NBA wouldn’t do anything about it.”

New Movie Puts Donaghy Back in the Spotlight

Donaghy is back in the public eye because of the release of a new movie, Inside Game, based on the book by Tommy Martino, a childhood friend of Donaghy who helped hatch a plan in the mid-2000s to make millions off betting on games with tips from Donaghy, touching off one of the biggest gambling scandals in American sports.

The movie debuts on Friday. While some of Donaghy’s claims on the details of the scandal have been disputed, many of his assertions about the league tilting games one way or another through the referees only firmed up what many had already suspected.

Either way, 12 years later, Donaghy would rather not talk about the entire experience. The NBA would prefer he not talk about it, either. But it remains a story that won’t die off.

“Every time I think it’s over,” Donaghy said, “I get a call wanting to do a story or wanting to do a movie or a documentary.”

Donaghy at first declined to get involved with Martino’s movie, he said, until Martino explained that some of the proceeds would be donated to the Elwyn School outside Donaghy’s hometown of Philadelphia. “I don’t know how someone could say no, helping the school,” Donaghy said. “So maybe something good will come of that.”

Still, reliving the whole experience every couple of years has not been easy for Donaghy. He has settled into a life working in real estate and helping with, fittingly enough, a gambling website called Refpicks.com.

“It’s successful because people are interested in it,” Donaghy said. “It’s tough to stomach, it was embarrassing in 2007 when we got caught and it’s embarrassing today to sit and watch the movie and answer questions about it up on the stage. But again, you can only focus on maybe people can learn from it. And it has humbled me.”

Donaghy on Legalized Sports Gambling

With the expansion of legalized sports gambling around the country, and the NBA’s willingness to be involved with it, Donaghy said he hopes the league and its referees have learned from him. He points out that many veteran refs around the NBA have been phased out and a new generation is getting better education on the subject of gambling.

“I don’t know if there are (refs involved in gambling) but I am hoping that my situation would deter someone from doing it now,” Donaghy said.

Donaghy recalled that former commissioner David Stern once declared that any ref found to have gambled even legally, would be subject to losing his or her job. But when polled anonymously, 55 of 58 referees admitted to legal, casino-type gambling and Stern had to back off. “He couldn’t fire everybody,” Donaghy said.

Having legal gambling in the open, Donaghy said, might be a good thing.

“I think if it is above-board they can educate people more than no education, when I was there,” he said. “They never touched on gambling, they never touched on the fact that people might be trying to get close to you to get information. I think all that is something that hopefully they’re educating the referees on now in a major, major way. When you talk about legalized gambling and the NBA capitalizing on it in a major way, you have to make sure that no one has a problem, just like with drugs and alcohol.”

For the sake of today’s refs, Donaghy hopes that is the case. As much as he has tried to put those days behind him, he does miss refereeing.

“I was running up and down the court with the greatest athletes in the world on a national stage and making great money,” Donaghy said. “I had summers off. What better job could you have? Absolutely I miss it.”

READ NEXT: Lakers Playoffs: Referee Didn’t Alter Kings’ ’02 Series Says Ex Laker

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