The first two minutes of the Netflix documentary “Untold: Operation Flagrant Foul,” about former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, should raise eyebrows and cause viewers to reconsider their definition of truth.
When the producers ask the NBA for comment on the film, the bold words appear on the screen: “Tim Donaghy is a convicted felon….” There is no reason to revisit any of this now.”
Then Donaghy, a native Pennsylvanian and 76ers fan, appears on screen and says, in voiceover, “I love the game of basketball.” Growing up, it was everything I did, everything I dreamed of, and everything I wanted to be a part of. Man, did I screw up my life. “Aside from the legal facts of the case, the last sentence of that statement may be the most truthful thing said in the entire documentary.”
The federal investigation into Donaghy and the scheme, dubbed “Operation Flagrant Foul,” delves deep into the 2007 gambling scandal that nearly brought the NBA down, calling its integrity into question. Accusations, innuendo, and lies are leveled by a cast of lawyers and characters, including Donaghy’s co-conspirators Tommy Martino and Jimmy Battista, in order to tell a story that many have long wanted to forget — particularly the NBA.
Despite having written a book about the incident, “Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA,” Donaghy says one of the reasons he wanted to do a documentary was to get to the bottom of what happened, as well as the NBA’s culpability and “why it got swept under the rug so quickly.”
One of these myths is that Donaghy officiated the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings, during which several calls were questioned.
“The whole fixing the games thing. And there were a lot of shady things going on in the US Attorney’s Office,” Donaghy said. “And obviously that the NBA and David Stern (former NBA commissioner who died in 2020) said that I was one rogue referee. Those things are not true.”
While the NBA denied leaking details of the FBI investigation into game fixing to the media in order to get a head start on damage control later, Donaghy warns fans to be skeptical when watching a league telecast even today.
The FBI concluded that Donaghy did not manipulate games or make calls to benefit his gambling picks, and the NBA issued its own report detailing misconduct, concluding that “[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.”
Donaghy pleaded guilty in 2008 to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce for essentially giving insider tips to his friends in games where he worked. He lost his job, his wife, and his pension, and he was sentenced to 15 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
The FBI also investigated several other league officials, including Scott Foster, to determine whether there was a widespread problem, but the investigation was halted.
Donaghy, a divorced father of four who now lives in Florida, says he still gets recognized when he goes out but is in a good place these days. He makes money by appearing in Major League Wrestling as a crooked referee and managing several rental properties.
When asked how a viewer watching the documentary can tell when someone is telling the truth, he is a bit remorseful and certainly defiant about his thoughts on the NBA and Battista, and the answer is repeated at every opportunity: He and the FBI are telling the truth, everyone else is not.