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“They may want that play called, but they certainly don't want it called on him” -- Tim Donaghy exposes how Michael Jordan was officiated

Tim Donaghy, a convicted felon, spoke about his experience selling games and how he and his fellow referees treated superstars like Michael Jordan
Former NBA ref Tim Donaghy and Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan

Tim Donaghy, Michael Jordan

One of the NBA's unwritten rules throughout history is how superstars are officiated. There's a term called "superstar calls" that has become widely accepted and frankly swept under the rug just because it's a given that the best of the best players are entitled to more calls than the status quo (observe James Harden in today's NBA). This was further reiterated by one of the most controversial referees in basketball history — Tim Donaghy.

In the newly released Netflix special documentary Untold: Operation Flagrant Foul, the referee was exposed for influencing NBA games in the past and being involved in gambling, which resulted in a federal crime. Donaghy, a convicted felon, spoke about his experience selling games and how he and his fellow referees treated superstars like Michael Jordan differently back in the day.

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Donaghy's experience with Jordan

According to Donaghy, Jordan was one of the handful of players associated with the unwritten rule that is superstar calls. He recalled the time when he called a violation against Jordan for a spin move, and later realized that even the superstar's head coach (Phil Jackson) knew that was the type of whistle that Jordan shouldn't be called for — further indicating that superstars like Jordan are exempted from the usual officiating rules.

"I started to understand what's within the game in the NBA. I was in Philadelphia and I am refereeing Sixers-Bulls. They were cracking down on the spin move that they wanted the officials to call traveling. Michael Jordan makes the spin move, I make the call. Phil Jackson comes off the bench and he starts giving me sh*t. I say, 'wait a second, Phil. You know as well as I do that's the spin move they're telling us to call.' And he said, 'while they might want that play called, they certainly don't want it called on him', and he pointed at Jordan who just walked by and stared at me. I got in the locker room, the other referee said, 'they want that call but don't want to on him,'" Donaghy said in the controversial documentary.

It's a superstars league

Donaghy's realization wasn't said to discredit Jordan and the NBA as a whole for their biased approach but more so as another proof that superstars are indeed treated differently compared to their peers. Whether or not it applied to every game they played is uncertain, and it's also important to point out that Donaghy was the biggest culprit when it came to fixing NBA games — so he did have a motive to expose the NBA the way he did.

That said, it's still unclear whether or not the NBA has always had the motive (until today) to protect its superstars. Donaghy's claim is valid, but there needs to be more studies and validation to prove further that the NBA isn't as fair as we thought it was. 

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