While Donaghy's claims that NBA refs conspired with league officials might sound like a desperate attempt to avoid jail time by an admitted felon, it still warrants investigation.
According to ESPN.com, officials working the 2005 NBA playoffs received instructions to "enforce the screening rules strictly against that team four (ed. Houston Rockets) player (ed. Yao Ming)."
During those playoffs, Jeff Van Gundy (Houston's coach) claimed he was approached by a working ref and told just that. The league denied any such tampering and promptly fined Van Gundy $100,000.
Another incident took place during the 2002 playoffs when Donaghy alleges that two officials (described as "company men") conspired to extend a playoff series to seven games.
The game in question is game six of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Kings (with the Kings leading 3-2 at the time).
According to Donaghy, "Personal fouls (resulting in obviously injured players) were ignored...referees called made up fouls on team five (ed. Sacramento Kings)...favoring of team six (ed. L.A. Lakers) led to that team's victory..." See full document.
Overall, the Lakers did attempt more free throws than the Kings, 40-25 for the game, with an incredible 27 attempts coming in the fourth quarter.
The disparity in foul calls even prompted consumer advocate and occasional presidential candidate Ralph Nader to write a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern asking for a review of the officiating in that game (USA Today).
While box scores never truly tell the tale of a game, the Kings seem to have had the better night. They made more FGs (38-34), shot better from three (8 of 19 to the Lakers four of 15), had more steals (9-3), and fewer turnovers (14-10).
The Lakers did shoot a higher percentage (.459 to .413) and out rebounded the Kings (45-44), but the major disparity seems to have come at the line.
These are certainly not the first whispers of wrongdoing by the league. There is the infamous "frozen envelope" that supposedly handed Ewing to the Knicks and Jordan's "secret suspension" for gambling. Clearly, the league has been down this road before.
These latest allegations, however, put the league in a much more difficult situation. Not to say no one would care if Jordan was secretly told to play baseball for a while to avoid a public gambling suspension, but these claims, if proven, compromise the very core and integrity of the game.
They would impact every single team, player, fan, marketing partner, and investor.