In the first three parts to our Tim Donaghy and the Celtics series of posts, we covered aspects that were directly linked to the Celtics in some way. In this installment, we'll take a look at how some of the biggest (and most hated) rivals of the green have or have not benefited from referee influence. To begin, we'll look at who is probably the most hated Celtic rival: Kobe Bryant. Exactly how much influence does Kobe have with NBA officials? How does he compare with Michael Jordan in this regard? Donaghy touches on both of these inquiries beginning on Page 60, in Chapter 5 entitled: "The Player's League."
I first met Kobe at the Summer Pro League in L.A. I introduced myself, told him I was from Havertown, and wished him good luck on the upcoming season. We shared some small talk and he thanked me for the good wishes. He seemed like a good guy; a talented young man with a brilliant future ahead of him.
The next time I saw him was on the court in an NBA game. He was the budding superstar for the Lakers, and I was still a junior referee in the league. As his star power rose over the years, so did his obnoxious complaining and whining. Kobe wanted a foul called every time he went to the basket. He would scream on his way to the rim just to goad the referees into blowing the whistle. Sometimes this tactic actually worked, depending on who was reffing the game.
Michael Jordan had done it much the same way, but he was less verbal about it. Michael just sort of glanced at the referee as if to say, "Aren't you going to call that a foul? It's me, Michael Jordan." Kobe wasn't about to rely on subtle facial gestures. He was constantly in your face and in your ear.
Often when someone else was shooting free throws, Kobe would seek out one of the referees and start jawing: "Come on now, you owe me one. You missed that one, don't miss another one. Come on now."
On those occasions when we did actually miss a call, the best approach for a referee was to acknowledge the mistake: "You know, you're probably right. I probably missed that one." However, that line can't be used too often or the player starts asking, "When are you going to stop missing them?"
For the young or less-confident referee, Kobe's verbal jousting and maneuvering could be very effective. For those close to the court, it was obvious when he intimidated a ref into a call.
Donaghy goes on to explain at how referees would get together during timeouts and discuss how amazing Kobe was playing. He also would further explain that Kobe's verbal abuse was relentless although it never seemed personal as he was just a fierce competitor always trying to gain an edge. Again, this just points out how the human element of officiating is seemingly huge in determining how players are judged during a game. If referee X likes you, despite being an annoyance, you've already started the game with a huge advantage. On the flip side, if that same referee has a personal vendetta against you, well, you're probably Rasheed Wallace.
In continuation of the LA theme, would you think that Uber-fan Jack Nicholson would have any influence at all on NBA referees? Here's Donaghy's take, on page 83 from the same chapter:
In L.A., the big gun is Jack Nicholson. Whether he's on television, in a movie, or sitting courtside, he's got the same intensity and the same look. He's wearing the dark shades, leaning back in his padded chair, the picture of calm, cool, and collected. But just before tip-off, Jack started working us-and he never let up.
"Tim, how's the family?" he asked politely. "Now listen, Tim, the crowd expects a little help tonight. You've gotta be good to my team."
I just laughed and waited for the action to start. That's when Jack came alive and started his profanity-laced tirade.
"What the f*** was that? Are you f****** blind?" he screamed. "You stupid sh**, blow the f****** whistle!" When Jack got into his groove, he became the grizzled Colonel Nathan Jessup we all came to fear in A Few Good Men. That was Jack; treating us like imbeciles, questioning our manhood, and always trying to get in our heads and force us to make the call for the Lakers. Oh, he's still looking cool as can be, sipping on something cold with a certain glow coming from his face. Whatever was in that drink, it definitely had an enormous effect on him.
Donaghy discusses the reason why Jack has binoculars in the front row, mainly because he is on a safari for the ladies. For the most part, it all seems relatively harmless in Donaghy's eyes, but to other referees? Let's say they're huge fans of A Few Good Men. Once again, personal preference could be at play here as well. Apparently it was also at play when Donaghy discusses his favorite "celebrity" along the NBA landscape: LeBron James' mother, Gloria James. Here's the excerpt from the same chapter, beginning on page 84:
Gloria made her presence in the league known to all the very first time her son stepped on the court. ALways cheering, always shouting, she was a virtual nonstop electric turbine in a nuclear power plant; she caught my eye, and my attention, right away. She knows everyone on the court by their first name and loves to turn on the charm at the first opportunity.
"Hi, Timmy, how's my boy tonight?" she chirped. "Gimmie some love tonight, Timmy. We gotta get some love."
Of course, she was referring to the Cavaliers getting some love from the referees, but it sure sounded good coming out of her mouth.
"Okay, baby. I'll see what I can do," I'd respond playfully.
Whether I was directly under the basket just a couple of feet from her or on the other end of the court, I could always hear her clearly. She made her presence known and demanded attention.
When I was watching the action under the basket on her side of the court, she would attempt to quietly distract me with playful words of flirtation.
"What room are you in at the Marriott, Timmy?" she'd giggle.
There I was, closely watching the pushing and shoving under the hoop, and I Was fighting back a smile. She was so close to me that it felt as though she was standing directly behind me, whispering and clowning in my ear. Although I can't offer any specifics, I'm positive she caused me to miss a few calls; when the siren sang her bewitching sweetness, I got a lump in my throat and couldn't blow the darn whistle. What a character, and what a great lady!
Hmm more Gloria James TMZ-esque revelations. This bit of intel from Donaghy is hysterical. I distinctly remember Allen Iverson's mother being equally as loud and boisterous as Gloria James. She was beyond obnoxious, but apparently this type of madness helps sway the way referees call a game. The NBA is definitely where amazing happens… in more ways than you'd think! Amazingly enough, as exceptional as Phil Jackson's coaching record is in the NBA, it's had an adverse effect on his influence with the referees. Beginning on page 181 in Chapter 10 "How I picked games," Donaghy explains the disdain for Jackson amongst NBA officials:
For me, the Lakers-Wizards matchup had less to do with the players and more to do with the dislike between (Dan) Crawford and Lakers coach Phil Jackson. In our pregame meeting that day, Crawford was deriding Jackson, calling him an arrogant attention grabber whom he would not talk to during a game. I was well aware that many NBA referees felt the same way about Jackson; there was a perception among referees that Jackson hated them and would attempt to embarrass them during the game or in the press. True or not, that was the common perception held by the refs, and I personally witnessed efforts to screw Jackson many times during my career.
While it's not exactly a shocking revelation that referees allegedly loathed Jackson it did put them in quite the dichotomy. One of the biggest gripes with NBA fans against referees is that they make "star calls." Well Jackson has been head coach to some of the greatest players of all time, in their primes. Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal have all been the beneficiaries of the star treatment for the better part of two decades, yet Phil Jackson was their coach for many of those seasons. It's pretty difficult to "screw Jackson" if this was the case. Perhaps it's just Jackson using this to his advantage by hiding behind his stars, knowing he can get away with a lot more than just about every other head coach in the NBA.
Coming up in Part V, the final part of the series, we'll delve into how TV and radio announcers influence NBA referees and just how much of a deterrent Tommy Heinsohn is during Celtic games. We'll also touch on why Donaghy chose a Celtics game in 2006 as the first game he chose in the beginning of his scandal.