Many people remember when the Tim Donaghy scandal broke during the summer of 2007, when the then-NBA referee resigned amidst allegations that he made calls either affecting the outcome of games or at least helping cover the spread both during the regular season and playoffs. After pleading guilty on federal charges, Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison along with three years of supervised release. After being released to a Tampa, FL halfway house last July, Donaghy is back in prison again as of August 30 for violating his probation.

NBA Commissioner David Stern

However, the real story is about the “tell all” memoir that Donaghy began working on during his first prison sentence. The former ref had a deal with Triumph Books (a subsidiary of Random House) to write a book that was to be entitled Blowing the Whistle: The Culture of Fraud in the NBA. The book allegedly exposed how other NBA referees engaged in everything from “betting with each other” to actually placing official bets with oddsmakers on games they were officiating. Yet right as the book was set to go to press two weeks ago, Triumph and Random House decided to cancel its publication.

As reported by both ESPN and popular sports blog, the publishers cancelled the book’s release after the NBA threatened them with a potential lawsuit. The NBA has denied threatening any such legal action, and even despite potential threats, a source close to Donaghy has reported that at least five other publishers are still interested in the disgraced ref’s book. Regardless of whether the book ever actually gets published, excerpts from the manuscript have already begun surfacing on websites and sports blogs all over the Internet.

All of this to say, if this book ever were to get published, what, if any, legal claims would the NBA have against the publisher? And even if the book does not get published, are there any possibilities that the NBA could turn its attention to the world of Internet blogs and go after those that have posted excerpts from the book’s manuscript for all to view on the world wide web? As any good plaintiff’s lawyer knows, you don’t need a foolproof legal claim to bring a lawsuit. As popular sports writer and Vanderbilt Law graduate Clay Travis points out, all you need is “a complaint lawyer and money to pay them.” Anyone can file a complaint and hire a lawyer, and when the NBA and its commissioner David Stern are involved, the money to fund that suit would be able to flow at full tilt.

However, I think that it is unlikely that we would see the NBA filing any such suit, because if the NBA were to try and bring say, a defamation suit, against either a publishing company or an Internet site, the most important factor weighing against the NBA would be the fact that Donaghy’s stories are allegedly true. Thus in order to prevail in the case, the NBA would have to go to trial and prove that those same allegations were in fact false. Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that the NBA does not really want to try and do this because, inevitably, this would lead to an airing of all of the NBA’s past, present, and future dirty laundry for the entire world to see. Yet it is interesting that even a large publisher like Random House is willing to back away, and essentially “censor” itself, at the thought of having to defend a lawsuit brought by the NBA. This is because, as we all know, lawsuits and litigation are expensive. Expensive enough that even when a would-be plaintiff has a fruitless complaint, many, even big boy Random House, will still back down at the potential of having to expend funds to defend such a complaint.

This leads even the most cynical person to wonder what happened to a time when sports were pure and you settled the score by flipping a coin or a game of “HORSE.” Have the crossroads where organized sports and the law intersect reached a point where even the NBA is willing to use something like the law to try and censor the publication of stories that very well may turn out to be true? Even this casual sports fan has to sit and ask if we’ve reached the point of no return.

– Richard Jacques

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