“Whistleblower” Podcast Blows Open NBA Gambling Reality
today at 9:50 am
Tim Livingston fell in love with the game as a five-year-old when his parents put a hoop in the yard. His relationship with the game is an authentic love story born in hundreds of thousands of shots. He loves the game so much he wants the most – and best – from the game.
He grew up to become a sports reporter, covering his favorite game. He has worked with former NBA stars including Rasheed Wallace, Gilbert Arenas, Nate Robinson and Bonzi Wells on their personal podcasts and has covered the game for years. Through these relationships he has heard stories that many would honestly question – but those who were there know them to be true.
In his new 10-part podcast series titled “Whistleblower,” produced by true-crime podcasting studio Tenderfoot TV, Livingston and co-creator Doug Matejka unpack an incredible, damning series of allegations levied by Tim Donaghy and others about the depths to which gambling has infiltrated the culture of the NBA.
Tim Donaghy resigned from his position as an NBA official in July of 2007. He was reportedly at the center of an FBI investigation alleging that he bet on games that he officiated during his last two seasons and influenced the outcome of games in relation to the point spread.
On August 15, 2007, Donaghy pleaded guilty to two federal charges.
Donaghy was made to look like the villain, a lone-wolf that was desperate for money. But the alienated referee claimed he was far from the only one taking part in the side hustle of gambling on games.
The trial didn’t do Donaghy any favors; inconsistencies in his testimonies created questions about his reliability. And, ultimately, Donaghy was the only person to be held accountable for what could have been a game-shattering gambling scandal.
Now, 13 years later, Donaghy’s story is back. And this time he’s naming names – and others are corroborating the stories Donaghy is willingly providing.
Livingston didn’t know what to expect when Donaghy asked for a meeting eight years ago. Would he be honest? What did he want to talk about? How long would they talk?
The meeting went three hours. And Livingston was blown away with Donaghy’s willingness to throw any – and every – one under the bus.
“Nobody on the planet but us, a small handful of referees and the FBI know that he was telling us,” Livingston said.
That first conversation was exclusively about other referees and the gambling culture inside the NBA. Livingston understood Donaghy’s motive; he wanted to paint himself as less of a villain and more just one of many who are (current tense) taking advantage of a system that is willingly influenced.
Livingston offered one never-before shared story with me earlier this week.
One “prominent” NBA official, who was tenured enough that he could pick his postseason series and involvement, had a mistress in Chicago. He always – always – made sure whatever series he was working that involved the Bulls went back to Chicago. If the Bulls were up in a series and could go home, his calls would help the other team extend the series. If the Bulls were down, they were the beneficiaries of his whistle.
And this isn’t unique. Players and refs will go to casinos together. Refs, including but not limited to Donaghy, associate with individuals involved with organized crime groups as well. And refs have personal vices that influence their performance as well.
Subsequent conversations then turned to Donaghy’s role in various schemes. Livingston went back and watched countless hours of games Donaghy officiated to see how he influenced the outcome. Livingston described Donaghy’s cheating as… elegant.
“He manipulated the game within the rules,” Livingston said.
Other officials, however, were not as subtle. Livingston has spoken with players, coaches (including George Karl), mob members and others for the podcast about just how deep gambling runs in the NBA. He’s reviewed the tapes of old games, including some of the most controversial series in NBA history and found that some of the names that were mentioned frequently in his conversations happened to be working those series.
One series that is prominently featured is the the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers. Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader went so far as to write a letter to the NBA about the ridiculously awful officiating in that series; that is covered in Episode 6.
“It was always the smaller market teams or teams without a strong history – Sacramento, Miami, Dallas, Portland – that came out on the losing end,” Livingston noted.
One current official who is named throughout the series is Scott Foster. Earlier this week, Foster worked Game 2 of the Rockets-Lakers series – a game that included a number of questionable calls and moments that led to basketball twitter complaining. Foster isn’t new to the “bad call” list, but the reasons for his officiating being bad aren’t bad vision.
Livingston said he and his team have reached out to Tim Frank, Senior Vice President of Basketball Communications at the NBA, for comment but those attempts have ignored.
Livingston is still a basketball fan at heart. Spending almost a decade building the content in this podcast series hasn’t taken away from his love of the game.
This podcast is an authentic attempt to hold the game at the highest level accountable.
“I want the best players playing the best version of the game,” he said. “That’s why it hurts so much to see games changed this way.”
“Whistleblower” has dropped three episodes thus far. The first four focus on Donaghy; the next four shift the focus to the glaring issues in the culture inside the NBA. The stories are breathtaking, the detail is remarkable and the access Livingston had to develop the content is unprecedented. And, even with ten episodes produced, Livingston said there’s enough additional content for “ten books.” Hopefully he writes at least one because this series is tremendously compelling and excellently produced in partnership with Cadence13.
Livingston hopes fans who listen to the series take join him in wanted the NBA to be better.
“I hope people look at the system – the NBA as a whole – and ask if the game then and now is being played with integrity,” he said.