Point shaving is arguably the biggest cardinal sin in the basketball world. While there has been several cases of it involving college basketball, the NBA has had relatively few incidents of point shaving, that is not to say that the scandals have not affected the NBA, quite the contrary.
Of the four major leagues in the US the NBA has been the most ardent opponent of betting on games, especially during its early years. The league has soften its stance in later years, but is still waging a fight against the state of New Jersey over online betting.
Point shaving is when a bookie or better convinces a player or official to help a favored team not make the spread. For example, if a team is favored to win by 10 points, the player or players involved make sure that the team wins by fewer than 10 points. This is accomplished by intentionally missing shots, committing turnovers or fouls, or in the case of a corrupt official making bad calls.
Basketball is an extremely easy sport to manipulate because of the tempo of the game and the affect just one player can have on the game. The NCAA is much more susceptible to point shaving than the NBA because of the NCAA's strict emphasis on amateurism. NCAA players do not make any money and are often struggling college students, while the NBA players are making millions of dollars. It is much easier for a bookie to convince a poor college student to miss a few shots for a few hundred dollars than it is to convince a millionaire NBA player to do the same thing.
When a point shaving scandal rocks basketball it can take years for the amateurism game to recover and its ripple effects are usually seen at every level of the game.
The first big point shaving scandal occurred at the City College of New York and would spread like wildfire to multiple schools and players. CCNY had won the NCAA and NIT tournament as was seen as one of the greatest college teams in history, but three players were being paid to keep scores close. An investigation by the New York City district attorney’s office soon spread out of the greater New York area all the way to the University of Kentucky,
The CCNY scandal came to light when Junius Kellogg was offered a grand to point shave in a game vs Depaul. Kellogg refused and went to his coach who referred him to the DA's office. After several stings involving informants with wires the NYPD arrested several players from CCNY, and LIU; most notably All-America forward Ed Warner, center Ed Roman, and guard Al Roth, of CCNY. In all, 32 players from seven colleges admitted to taking bribes between 1947 and 1950 to fix 86 games in 17 states
Several members of the Kentucky Wildcats team, who were involved in the scandal, had since graduated and become player-owners of the NBA's Indianapolis Olympians and would see their promising NBA careers come to a shattering end.
Ralph Beard and Alex Groza where two of the best NBA players of their era but both had taken less than $500 bribes while in college. Both would be convicted of the offense and ordered to stay away from basketball for three years. NBA commissioner Maurice Podloff than issues a lifetime ban to both players and made them sell their stake in the Olympians. The Olympians folded the next year.
College basketball would have another scandal in 1961 when Jack Molinas, who had previously been involved with the CCNY scandal but his extent was not known until 1961, was indicted in a point shaving scandal. Several New York area players where barred for life from the NCAA and the NBA, one of those was Connie Hawkins.
Hawkins was innocent but got barred anyway, and would fight the NBA in court for nearly six years before being allowed to play in the NBA in 1969.
One of the most damaging scandals came about in the late 1970s when the Boston College Eagles where involved in a point shaving scandal that nearly brought down college basketball. The Boston College scandal reads almost like the plot of a thriller-mystery crime drama involving basketball, the mob, drugs and an airplane heist.
The scandal began when the Perla Brothers of Pittsburgh and high school friend Rick Kuhn, who was on the BC basketball team, thought they could make a lot of money by fixing games. Through some connections they got in contact with Henry Hill, a Lucchese crime family associate from New York, who was severing time in federal prison for drugs and racketeering.
With backing of the mob, who agreed to pay the players, the trio began laying large bets with different bookies around the country as to not arise suspicion, the mafia backing also helped keep any potential thugs away if the bookie found out that they were being swindled.
The first test run of the point shaving scandal failed as BC was favored by six but one by 19. This enraged the Perla's and Hill who got other BC players involved. They famously told some players that “you cannot play basketball with broken hands” to get compliance from the players.
The second test was success as BC was favored by 12 points but won only by 3, making the mob very happy and it was decided to move forward on a bigger scale.
The point shaving continued for various games until a game against Holy Cross where BC failed to maintain the spread and the mob lost money and its interest and the point shaving ceased.
While the scandal was going on Hill and some other Lucchese crime family associated committed the largest robbery on American soil when they robbed a Lufthansa airliner of nearly $6 million in cash and jewels. It was the arrest for this robbery, which Hill would spill the beans about the scandal. Had Hill not gotten arrested it is possible that this scandal would have gone unnoticed.
The biggest point shaving scandal in NBA history hit the league in 2007 when official Tim Donaghy was indicted for fixing NBA games between 2003 and 2007. It is not certain which games Donaghy fixed, but the point spreads moved several times for games right before tip off, an indicator that big money was being placed.
The NBA has been tight lipped on the scandal and has claimed since day one that Donaghy was a rouge ref who point shaved because of high gambling debts.
Donaghy has maintained that others are also involved in fixing games, not for the mob or their own purposes, but for the leagues interest. He points to the 2002 Western finals saying that he knew before the game that the Lakers would win, and the Lakers did end up shooting 18 more free throws than the Kings.
Despite all this, the NBA and NCAA are still heavily betted on and while point shaving will not come from the players in the NBA, the refs still remain a constant target. This has caused the NBA and NCAA to raise salaries to try and keep integrity.
In all the know cases of point shaving, the consequences for the offenders have been sever. Donaghy was sentences to a year and a half in prison, many of the BC players where given light jail sentences and barred from future basketball events, the Olympians were disbanded and those University of Kentucky players where barred for life, and CCNY and LIU basically had their programs ruined by the scandal.
The scandals also tend to bring down organized crime factors as well, as the Lucchese family had many associated indicted in the years following.