The 2002 Western Conference Finals of the NBA between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings--particularly Game 6--contained some of the most suspicious games in NBA history. (Ralph Nader even wrote an open letter to the NBA commissioner regarding this particular series.)

One claim was that the referees were company men who made biased calls in order to extend the series. (NBA series are best-of-7 and, perhaps obviously, the longer the series goes, the more money the NBA and the TV networks make. Also, the Lakers were, and indeed have always been, much more ratings-friendly, so there was an added incentive to have them progress to the next round. So the claim was that in Game 6 in particular, when the Lakers were down 3-2 in the series and were facing elimination, the referees repeatedly made highly dubious calls favoring the Lakers.)

The NBA has, of course, always denied this claim.

My question is this:

Suppose the referees who were officiating that game were to openly confess that they had been mildly biased towards the Lakers. Suppose also that they were NOT in any way gambling on the games and the pure "company men" theory holds---i.e., the referees, on their own accord and without explicit instruction from their employers, simply wanted to extend the series in the best interests of their company. They simply added a slight bias in favor of the Lakers---e.g. whenever they felt a call could go either way, they were more inclined than usual to give it to the Lakers. But they did not intend to go so far as to guarantee a Lakers victory. Would any federal laws have been broken? Consumers and what-not would certainly file a bunch of lawsuits, but would there be any reason for say the FBI or some other federal agency to get involved?

My understanding is that if there's outright gambling involved, then the FBI can step in, but otherwise I am not aware that any law may have been broken (in this hypothetical scenario).

1 Answer 1


18 USC 224, most recently amended in 1994:

(a) Whoever carries into effect, attempts to carry into effect, or conspires with any other person to carry into effect any scheme in commerce to influence, in any way, by bribery any sporting contest, with knowledge that the purpose of such scheme is to influence by bribery that contest, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

In the absence of money changing hands, or any instructions from above ("remember, you're paid on a per-game basis"), it doesn't seem that this would apply.

Nothing else in 18 USC ("Crimes and Criminal Procedure") looks like it would apply, either. There's probably something in contract law that would apply (assuming the referees' contracts have a clause about fairness or the like), but that's civil, not criminal. Likewise, there's probably something in state law about match-fixing that applies, but that's not federal law.

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