Donaghy’s botched book deal could help NBA

Move over, Magic Johnson.

There’s a new most villainous NBA author in town. Only this one is apparently not coming to a bookstore near you.

One week after explosive excerpts from a new book by Magic, Larry Bird and Jackie McMullan (a hoops lit Mod Squad) effectively ended whatever relationship Johnson had with Isiah Thomas, our old friend Tim Donaghy is back to make Bud Selig feel better about the state of officiating in his sport.

But proving once again the least reliable testimony is that of a jailbird, Donaghy’s own publisher, Triumph Books, has decided the tales told in “Blowing the Whistle: The Culture of Fraud in the NBA” are just a little too tall for them.

Apparently the imprint (a division of Random House) was worried it would become Triumph the Insult Comic Publisher, abetting Donaghy’s crusade against the NBA, if it went ahead with the release. A representative for the company wrote in an e-mail that the company had made its decision out of “concerns over potential liability.”

The natural assumption was that David Stern had made it clear that the NBA would own Random House if Triumph published the book. But both the NBA and the publisher say that is not the case. Donaghy’s would-be publisher arrived at this decision independently without threat of litigation from the NBA.

The decision would seem to make it clear that the publisher was unable to find anyone who could corroborate Donaghy’s stories on the record. And even suggests that the publisher was unable to find anyone to corroborate the stories off the record.

After vetting the book, they must have simply concluded, “This stuff isn’t true.”

And I have to say, after reading the juicy excerpts over at our friends, I don’t buy it either. At least not the big stuff. Assuming these are actual excerpts from Donaghy’s tell-all, he seems to repeatedly employ the kernel-of-truth-to-support-the-big-lie strategy.

Are there makeup calls in the NBA? Sure. Do refs have better relationships with some players than others? Of course. Do stars fare better with the refs than non-stars? Yep. Was Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals horribly officiated? You betcha.

Does that make the NBA one giant jai alai-like criminal enterprise? No. But Donaghy will tell you that it does.

The problem for Stern — a problem that doesn’t necessarily go away with the shelving (non-shelving?) of this book — is that there’s been enough atrocious officiating in the NBA over the years that fans will be predisposed to believe even the most implausible scenarios from Donaghy. And he spins some whoppers.

Donaghy claim: He suggests the league would send video to officials with the clear intent of having them call more fouls on defensive stoppers (like Raja Bell) guarding stars (like Kobe Bryant).

If that were really the case would Bruce Bowen have played 13 seasons in the league, making five NBA All-Defensive First Teams? Nobody played superstars as physically with as much success. (Ironically, one of the most dubious non-calls in the Donaghy-worked Game 3 of the 2007 Western Conference semis was a Bowen hack on two-time MVP Steve Nash right in front of Eddie F. Rush.)

Donaghy says that if Kobe and Raja collide the call will “always” go to Kobe. But we know that is simply not the case. If Kobe didn’t have close calls on plays involving non-stars go against him we wouldn’t see him complain 4,381 times a season.

Donaghy claim: The disgraced ref says that if a star like Kobe got two fouls on him one of the refs would tell the others not to whistle him for his third unless it was obvious or to simply assign the foul to another player.

Really? The refs would say this out loud? With microphones surrounding the court? Again Donaghy seems to be working backward, making the star protection system — which everyone accepts exists — into a calculated and casually articulated conspiracy.

One more note on the star system: stars get calls not because officials are cheating but because those officials are human and conditioned to seeing those stars succeed (psychologists call this “priming”). That happens in every sport. Look no further than Mariano Rivera’s 1-0 pitch to Chase Utley and strike three pitch to Ryan Howard in Game 2 of the World Series. Was home plate ump Jeff Nelson cheating? No, he understandably expected Rivera to throw strikes and, therefore, saw strikes where the rest of the world — not charged with making a split-second call — saw balls. If stars getting calls was evidence of cheating, every official in every sport could have been locked up with Donaghy.

In another claim Donaghy outright contradicts himself. He says that ref Derrick Stafford had such a good relationship with then-Knicks coach Isiah Thomas and hated then-Heat coach Pat Riley so much that he (Donaghy) bet on the Knicks “without batting an eye.”

In the same section (about the same game), to further impugn Stafford’s integrity, Donaghy relays a story about Stafford being overly chummy with Shaquille O’Neal before tip-off. Well, which is it, Tim? Does your colleague have a too-cozy relationship with Isiah or Shaq? Because they were representing different teams. And if it’s a push, then no harm, no foul.

But Donaghy saves his most serious — and legally actionable — accusations for his former colleague Dick Bavetta, making him out to be the league’s Michael Clayton, a fixer who could always extend a series or get the result the league wanted.

Really? Did the league want Bavetta to wave off a Pete Maravich basket and erroneously whistle him for an offensive foul in the fourth quarter of his 68-point game in 1977? Of course not. The point is Bavetta has been a lousy official for 33 years.

So it’s easy to point to Bavetta’s work — especially in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals — and say a crime was being committed there. That Bavetta was cheating. But if you’re going to make that allegation you better have more evidence than your alleged memories of conversations with the guy. (The idea that Bavetta would crow cavalierly about how the league could count on him for the result they wanted seems particularly preposterous.)

And if the league could count on its officials to create the results it wanted why haven’t almost all series gone seven games?

Reading these excerpts you realize that Triumph Books wasn’t worried about the possibility of a lawsuit. They were bracing for the certainty of multiple lawsuits. Not only would the league invariably sue, but every official accused of being an accomplice — and Donaghy nails a bunch — would have to sue too.

Donaghy has a sordid tale to tell. It’s just unclear which shelf it belongs on, fiction or non-fiction. Maybe he should have just changed the names and called it a novel. (“Everyone knew ref Jeve Stavie hated superstar Illen Averson … “)

For over two years now Tim Donaghy has been David Stern’s worst nightmare. But now that Donaghy’s claims strain credulity, the disgraced ref might be a useful part of the league’s reputation rehabilitation.

In naming names — lots and lots of names — Donaghy sought to drag others down into the muck with him. But all he’s succeeded in doing is further isolating himself and making the league and his former colleagues look good in comparison.