In a recent podcast interview, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took listeners inside one of the lesser-heralded moments when disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy may have rested a thumb on the scales of NBA justice. And it may have had pretty far-reaching effects on the Western Conference playoff picture that year.
We all know about Donaghy’s claims that the Mavericks were “screwed out of a championship” due to NBA officiating policy during the 2006 NBA Finals. Donaghy originally made the claims on the Forgotten Maverick Podcast in 2017.
“Basically, Dallas was up in the series,” Donaghy said on the podcast. “With that being said, the way it was back then, was that the NBA would come in in order to extend a series, to go over plays that they felt should have went in Miami’s favor that didn’t and that went in Dallas’s favor that shouldn’t have and they started to program and training the referees to look for certain things.
“I think basically Dallas basically got screwed out of a championship in that situation because the NBA started to manipulate the series to make sure it was extended and Dallas could never recover from it.”
Donaghy earned convictions on one felony count each of conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting gambling information through interstate commerce for his part in the 2007 NBA gambling scandal, before writing a tell-all biography in 2009 and blowing the proverbial whistle on the league that employed him on every podcast that would host him since. He served 15 months in prison.
But might his actions on the court have also influenced the Mavs’ catastrophic early exit from the playoffs after the 2006-07 season? Cuban thinks so.
It all starts with a Golden State Warriors’ 123-121 overtime win over the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 9, 2007. The playoffs were still more than two months away, and the Warriors were struggling to get back to .500 on the year and keep their hopes of a playoff berth alive. At this point, Don Nelson’s Warriors had beaten the Mavs in the fourth game of the season, 107-104, and a month later would blow Dallas out 117-100 to complete the head-scratching regular-season sweep.
Mark Cuban did his research Long overdue episode with the legend @Mark Cuban drops tomorrow 11/21 on the SHOWTIME Basketball YouTube. You don’t want to miss it, believe us. #nba #basketball #markcuban #timdonaghy #webelievewarriors #dirknowitzki #allthesmoke #showtimebasketball♬ original sound - SHOWTIME Basketball
Cuban opened up about it with hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, both of whom played guard/forward on that Warriors team, during a recent episode of their “All the Smoke” podcast. Jackson asks Cuban about his feelings on the “We Believe” Warriors just before the 31:00 mark. Cuban at first responds with an incredulous grin and shake of the head, before giving the Warriors due credit for “[crushing] us during the season.”
“That was the Tim Donaghy year. Here’s something you probably didn’t know,” Cuban said. “There was a game ya’ll played against the Bulls, and you guys had Andris Biedrins, right? And it was a game that ended up going into overtime. Biedrins is in the defensive 3 [area], right? Tim Donaghy reaches out, pushes him out of the paint, literally pushes him out of the paint instead of calling D-3. Now, it was a tie game. If they had called that D-3, right, Ben Gordon goes to the line, right, 80-some percent free throw shooter. Now you guys gotta foul. If he calls that the other way, you guys don’t make it into the playoffs.”
Upon further review, though, there appears to be a crucial hole in Cuban’s argument. With that win, and more importantly, with five straight to end the regular season, the Warriors went 42-40 to sneak into the eighth seed ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, who finished with a 40-42 record.
If Cuban’s fair-play scenario plays out, Ben Gordon hits free throws and the Bulls beat the Warriors that not-so-fateful February night, Golden State would have still beat out the Clippers for the eighth seed with a 41-41 record, unless we’re seriously missing something here. We would have loved Jackson or Barnes to have asked a follow-up or added some of that context there, but perhaps they’re still growing to that level of interviewing instinct.
And to Cuban’s credit, it stands to reason as well, that if Donaghy asserted that level of tainted influence on one game at a time over his career, he was committing a significant and undue level of fuckery against the Sacred NBA Timeline, to borrow the parlance of Marvel’s made-for-TV feature “Loki.” His actions may have gone so far as to alter reality itself if we’re playing by “Back to the Future” rules. Really heady stuff.
But anyway, back to the topic at hand for one small related note. For his part, Donaghy said on another podcast earlier this year that despite the fact that Cuban was openly disliked at the top level of NBA officiating circles, that he always personally liked Cuban.
“Personally I liked him a lot, even to this day. I think he got the short end of the stick from referees because, and he was right, ... he wanted the referees to have computers, to be responsible to watch more tape. A lot of the older guys were furious and, you know, hated the fact that after the game you had to watch the game and review the tape, but it was only something that was going to make you better. When [Cuban] came in, he complained to the point that he really wanted this done.”