“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Atlanta Hawks wingman Thabo Sefolosha made news on April 18 when he was arrested along with his teammate Pero Antic at 1 Oak, a nightclub in New York, and charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of governmental administration.
From afar, it’s a wild story: Milwaukee Bucks forward Chris Copeland was there separately that night, and got stabbed shortly as the club let out around 4:00 a.m. It sparked a series events that ended with Sefolosha getting arrested, breaking his leg, and missing the playoffs altogether. The first-seed Atlanta Hawks, without Sefolosha, went on to get swept in the Eastern Conference finals by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Oct. 9, Sefolosha was exonerated of all three charges by a jury in New York. A week ago, he sued the NYPD for $50 million. We didn’t know a whole lot else about the incident until today, when our friends over at GQ dropped a piece in which Sefolosha explains in his own words what transpired over the last six months.
The northeastern city of Hasakah is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in Syria. Its population of Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Christians was until recently politically divided between equal zones of Kurdish and Assad regime control. Immediately following the fall of the strategic border town of Tal Abyad from Islamic State (IS) fighters to Kurdish YPG forces in June, however, IS hit back with a sudden shock offensive on the regime-held half of Hasakah, causing regime forces to crumble in a matter of days.
As the Syrian army and loyalist militias relinquished control to IS, the YPG entered the battle, first encircling IS positions and then launching a ground offensive supported by pounding coalition airstrikes. Despite IS using their elite forces in the offensive, the combination of airstrikes and YPG ground troops proved too much and IS fled its recent gains in the city, leaving behind only ruined buildings and mangled bodies.
With IS pushed back from Hasakah’s southern outskirts, VICE News follows the YPG as they become masters of areas of the city that until a few weeks ago had always been held by the Syrian regime. With government forces and the YPG facing off across this disputed territory, the future status of Hasakah is now unclear.
Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy sees a different game from the rest of us. Which is why, out of prison, he’s now sports gambling’s golden boy.
Photographs by Simone Lueck
On Easter Sunday, Timothy Francis Donaghy, a self-described “good Irish Catholic boy from Philly,” attended the 7:30 a.m. Mass at St. Martha’s church in Sarasota, Florida, receiving Communion to cleanse his soul. “My mother calls every weekend to make sure I go,” he says, then adds, “I lived with my parents until I was 27.”
On this Easter, Donaghy attended Mass with his daughter, Molly, 13, and his girlfriend of six years, Carolyn Thomas, a blonde hairdresser. But some Sundays Donaghy goes to Mass alone. “I’m Catholic, I’m conditioned to confess,” he says. But “it’s been hard to forgive myself. My sins changed the lives of my four daughters. My wife divorced me. God had given me everything. A great job, money, a wonderful family. I knew it was wrong, but I thought gambling was a venial sin. That’s why I didn’t confess it to a priest until after I was caught.”
Donaghy had been an NBA referee for nine years when, in 2003, he began to place bets on NBA games — though he swore in an FBI lie-detector test, which he passed, that he never “fixed” a game with dubious calls. “I didn’t have to,” he says. “It was too easy using my insider’s knowledge.” After he resigned from the NBA and pleaded guilty in 2007, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison, lost what he describes as his $300,000 annual salary and his six-figure pension, and was ordered to pay $195,000 in restitution. His gambling exploits netted him only $100,000 in winning bets, he swears. “But I didn’t really do it for the money.”
A few days before Easter, at 8:30 a.m., Donaghy and I are sitting at the kitchen counter of his modest townhouse in Sarasota, studying his website, Refpicks. It’s a handicapping service for sports gamblers that employs a dozen other handicappers around the country who specialize in sports other than basketball. Donaghy himself only makes picks for the NBA, using his knowledge of the officials for each game. “I’m the only handicapper in the country who bases his picks on the refs,” he says. He’s successful roughly 60 percent of the time — that’s about five points higher than most professional gamblers, which means that in the world of sports gambling, the name Tim Donaghy is gold. In the real world, that name is mud. Donaghy is usually referred to in the media with a prefix, like a tail pinned to a donkey: “disgraced referee” Tim Donaghy.
This is the year that NBA tanking went off the rails. The Philadelphia 76ers, for starters, exemplified a whole new level of basketball seppuku with a team so willfully awful that the New York Times Magazine felt compelled to publish a feature story about their willful awfulness. The Sixers’ smarty-pants front office—Philadelphia’s general manager, Sam Hinkie, has a Stanford MBA, as the profiles of the team’s losing ways inevitably noted—believes that the best way to make a bad team good is to first make it horrific. By descending into “tank mode,” the Sixers hoped to lose enough games that they’d receive one of the valuable first picks in the upcoming NBA draft.
The team’s multiyear experiment in trading better players for worse ones and stockpiled draft picks is the grandest of the tank projects, but it’s not the only one. The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and other teams were accused of plunging into the tank for large swaths of this season. Which is sad. Tanking makes for ugly basketball and it throws off competitive balance. It encourages teams to sit their most exciting players (as, for instance, the Knicks did with Carmelo Anthony) or just trade them away (as the Sixers did with nearly every decent player on their roster). Perhaps worst of all: Fans of tanking teams find themselves not only watching putrid hoops but also perversely rooting against their hometown squads. You know something has gone awry when Knicks coach Derek Fisher feels pressure to apologize to fans for winning.
How to solve the problem? The best tanking solution would be relegation, as happens in European soccer leagues. Each year, the bottom three teams in the continent’s top divisions are kicked out of the league and relegated to a lower one. Regrettably, with NBA teams currently selling for $2 billion apiece, it’s unlikely we’ll get owners to agree that a few of them should be banished to the D-League each year to compete against the Sioux Falls Skyforce. (No one believes this will happen—otherwise we’d see a bidding war for last year’s champion, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.)
A more likely solution would be for the NBA to flatten out the lottery odds. Right now the worst team has a 25 percent chance at the top pick while the 14th-worst team has a 0.5 percent chance. We could switch to a true lottery, in which all 14 non-playoff teams would get an equal 7.14 percent chance at the top pick. Or, more progressively, we could massage the system so that each team’s odds are closer but not equal. But this still wouldn’t entirely remove the incentive to tank. Besides, NBA owners recently rejected a plan along these lines.
Another draft scheme that’s gotten lots of attention is “the wheel”—a system in which the draft order would be set far in advance so that a team’s draft position would have zero to do with its on-court performance. This would eliminate any reason to tank, but it would also do nothing to help bad teams get better. The worst team in the league might end up picking dead last in the draft. The best team might pick first. Making the rich richer and the poor poorer would be an unacceptable outcome of any lottery reform. As horrible as the status quo is, some version of reverse-order drafting—and the increased parity it helps create—is still a worthy goal. So the problem seems intractable.
But fear not, NBA fans! A superior answer exists, and a friend of mine has invented it. It’s fair, it’s elegant, and it’s fun. My friend calls it the “You’re the Worst!” draft.
How would it work? On the day before the regular season began, the NBA would hold a “You’re the Worst!” draft. Selection order for the YTW draft would be determined like any standard reverse-order draft—the team that had the worst win-loss record in the previous season would pick first, the team that had the best record would pick last. But the teams wouldn’t be drafting players. They’d be choosing the rights to another team’s position in the next NBA draft.
So, for example, the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finished this season with the worst win-loss record, would have the first YTW pick in the fall when the 2015–16 season started. One day before opening day, all of the league’s general managers would gather together in a room. The T-Wolves would look around that room and decide which team they thought would finish worst in 2015–16. (They would not be allowed to choose themselves, tempting as that might be.)
INDIANAPOLIS — Two star freshmen, a solid senior and some of the trademark defense Duke has long been known for have the Blue Devils back in the national championship game.
And in Indianapolis, no less.
Justise Winslow scored 19 points, fellow freshman Jahlil Okafor added 18, and senior Quinn Cook had 17 to lead top-seeded Duke to an 81-61 victory over Michigan State on Saturday and into yet another title game in the city known for a 500-mile auto race.
The Blue Devils won it all in Indianapolis in 1991, their first title under Mike Krzyzewski. The winningest men’s Division I coach, who has a 9-3 record in national semifinal games, led them to their fourth and most recent title in 2010.
“The city’s great, and even if we didn’t win tonight, the city would still be great and the venue would be great,” Krzyzewski said. “This team, though, deserved to be in it. So it makes it even better. They’ve been so good in this tournament, and the stage has not been too big for them.”
The start against Michigan State didn’t look too promising for a trip to Monday night’s title game. The Spartans were ahead 14-6 just four minutes into the game, making five of their first seven shots and the first four they took from beyond the 3-point line.
“I’m very much in favor of high school kids going pro,” said Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino last week.
Pitino, who will lead his Louisville Cardinals against North Carolina State on Friday in the Sweet Sixteen round of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, was commenting on a perennial question regarding America’s beloved March Madness: the validity of the NBA’s age limit, which essentially pushes aspiring pros into college basketball whether they have any desire to attend college or not.
The age limit was set at 19 prior to the 2006 NBA draft. League Commissioner Adam Silver, who took over his job little more than a year ago, has said that raising the age limit to 20 is one of his top priorities.
The head of the NBA players’ union, Michele Roberts, though, is not interested in that at all, making it a potential sticking point the next time the league and players attempt to craft a collective bargaining agreement, which could be as early as 2017. “You have a limited life to make money as a basketball player. Anything that limits those opportunities is distressing to me. I view [the age minimum] as just another device that serves to limit a players’ ability to make a living,” Roberts told Sports Illustrated in November.