The movie based on NBA’s biggest betting scandal hits the theaters

Oliver Noah

The movie called ‘Inside Game’ tells the story of former NBA Referee -Tim Donaghy and it just hit the theatres. If you’re not already familiar with the case, upon seeing the movie you might think that it’s just some really elaborate fiction. But surprisingly the movie depicts a real story of shady betting operations in the 2000s going bad and going public.

The story centers around 3 young boys who grew up together in the Philadelphia area and shared the love of basketball. Only one of them decides to pursue basketball and succeeds while the other two take the road to bookies and drugs.

The movie does a very good job of presenting a realistic picture of a former referee and doesn’t try to paint him as an innocent man who gets dragged down by the circumstances and the wrong people. Donaghy is involved in the shade side of gambling from early on. The referee is in cahoots with other gamblers and is fully aware of what he’s doing.

Behind the scenes of the NBA game

The movie takes you into the behind-the-scenes of the NBA games and the pregame activities and talks that largely shape the dynamics within these teams and with the referees. It highlights just how interconnected these people become and how valuable these lockerroom talks are for determining the outcome of the game. This then becomes a crucial piece of information for someone who is also involved in sports betting.

We learn more about Donaghy’s two friends during the movie. James “Baba” Battista, Donaghy’s buddy, is portrayed by Will Sasso. He serves as a middle man in gambling but ends up spiraling downward with drugs and irresponsible gambling at an offshore poker site called “Provada”. He actively tries to manipulate the outcome of the games, sometimes with more than a million at stake. Another important character in the movie is Martino, who is a low-level pot dealer. We meet him in the opening scene of the movie where he is beaten up in the Atlantic City casino by then gets rescued by Donaghy and Battista.

But then there is the referee and his story. Referees have the unique power to make or not to make calls that will not only determine the outcome of the game but the fate and the gains of many millions across the world. Throughout the movie, you do get to see a more “human” side of the ex NBA referee but largely the portrayal is pretty focused on the betting schemes and his contributions to it. Throughout “Insider Game” You see Donaghy bet thousands of dollars per game while he also cheats on his wife and pays no attention to her, not leaving a very appealing impression on anyone watching the movie. This makes the likelihood of him committing betting fraud that much more realistic for the viewer.

The film depicts in great detail Donaghy’s attempt to temper with the game outcome and influence players without batting an eye. It shows just how much more complex these dynamics are and how much they can actually be influenced from the outside.

Real-life consequences

Some people had voiced concerns that the movie would devaluate the importance of these crimes and romanticize the main characters, their struggles, and their mistakes. But this movie does not glamorize the betting scandal and isn’t trying to sell you the story as anything other than what it is – a fraud and a scandal that ended Donaghy’s career as a referee.

The production process of this film began the same day that the U.S Supreme Court annulled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 allowing every state to offer legal sports betting. This then prompted a lot of partnerships, one of the most famous ones being between the NBA and the MGM Resort. Recently Donaghy himself spoke with the media about the betting schemes in the sports world and said that actually, these types of frauds are still very common and that the games are still manipulated by the league for certain reasons for example for extending the length of a playoff series.

Even though after watching the movie you will probably have a hard time trusting Donaghy’s word, it’s not too far off that similar frauds are still happening inside NBA and the general sports world too.

Considering just how much is determined by the outcome of a single game it’s safe to assume that there’ are always people trying to turn the game into their own. The movie does a great job of highlighting just how little we know about what is happening behind the scene even though we sometimes think we’re aware of the whole situation. This movie also serves as a reminder for anyone trying to engage in similar behavior,  what are the consequences of meddling with the outcome of the game.