Tim Donaghy has had a dozen years to process his role in the worst officiating scandal in American sports history, more than a year of it spent in federal prison.
But lately he has been reliving it all, in excruciating detail, on a promotional tour for a new film about his story, “Inside Game,” which hits theaters on Friday.
Donaghy, a former NBA referee, had seen it twice as of an interview with Newsday on Tuesday in lower Manhattan. It was not fun.
“Absolutely, when you talk about the embarrassment that I caused in 2007 for myself, my family, the NBA, it was embarrassing then, and it’s as embarrassing now seeing it play out in a movie 10 years later,” he said. “It’s tough to watch it. Every time I watch it, I cringe through the whole thing.”
The film is not a documentary but rather a scripted drama, with Eric Mabius as Donaghy, that recalls how he and two childhood friends conspired to use inside information to make a killing on NBA bets before the FBI caught on.
Donaghy said that despite some Hollywood flourishes that do not ring true, especially a courtroom scene late in the movie, he considers the account largely true-to-life.
“The effects that it had on ourselves and our families is pretty spot on," he said.
Donaghy had no creative role and initially no interest in participating, but producer Paul Martino – a cousin of Tom Martino, one of Donaghy’s co-conspirators – told him it was coming out with or without his cooperation.
Then Donaghy saw the film and liked the lesson it taught about the impact of bad choices, and the fact that some proceeds are to go to a school in Pennsylvania that supports physically and mentally handicapped children.
“I figured with the message and the donations, why not be a part of it and try to turn this into something positive and good at the end of a 10-year torturous disaster after what I did,” he said.
Donaghy’s marriage did not survive the scandal, but he has four daughters. He does not expect them and other close family members to see the film.
“They lived it with me,” he said. “They’re probably hoping that this goes away quickly."
The U.S. Supreme Court approved states’ rights to legalize sports betting last year, something Donaghy considered “only a matter of time,” given the tax revenues involved and how gambling boosts fan engagement for leagues.
One of his current sources of income is RefPicks.com, a site that offers betting tips.
“It is awkward, to be honest with you, but when I got out of jail [in 2009] there weren’t many opportunities for a convicted felon, and people kept throwing this at me and I kept saying, ‘No, no, no,’ ” he said.
“But I put myself out there, and it was so successful so quick. I had to support my daughters."
Donaghy said he no longer gambles himself and largely has avoided one of his worst triggers: golf. He considers himself someone with a gambling problem far beyond what happened with him in the NBA.
“On the golf course, casinos, basement playing cards, betting on sports events, it just consumed me, and I made some poor choices where I shouldn’t have even been close to these lines that I crossed,” he said. “I wish I could turn back time. Unfortunately, I can’t. But if I could I’d be the first one in line waiting.”