News of the illegal betting bombshell that rocked the NBA had already spread by the time Team USA players woke up Friday morning at Wynn Las Vegas.
The 17 players, in town for minicamp to prepare for next month’s FIBA Americas Tournament, were shocked to hear over breakfast that former veteran NBA referee Tim Donaghy allegedly bet on and possibly influenced the outcome of games that he officiated.
The NBA and USA Basketball instructed players not to address the subject following the team’s first practice session at Cox Pavilion later in the afternoon. Many players complied, refusing to comment or speaking only in generalities.
"It’s a shame. It’s unfortunate," said the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, one of the few players willing to address the topic. "But the league is on top of it, and I’m sure they’ll handle the situation accordingly.
"It’s very surprising. The NBA hasn’t had any scandals when it comes to gambling that I can remember. It’s a very serious issue."
Detroit’s Chauncey Billups said: "Of course it’s disturbing for everybody. I was surprised like everybody else."
From the time players enter the NBA, Toronto’s Chris Bosh said, they’re warned about gambling and associating with the betting element.
"We’re told as rookies to stay away from gamblers," Bosh said. "The NBA does a good job of informing us about gambling."
But when someone responsible for protecting the integrity of the game abuses that privilege, it shakes the sport’s foundation.
NBA commissioner David Stern issued a statement addressing the situation.
"We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation to bring justice to the individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again," Stern said.
Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball managing director and the Phoenix Suns’ chairman and CEO, said he was as stunned as the players to learn of the federal investigation of Donaghy.
"Obviously we were all taken aback when we heard the story like everyone else," Colangelo said. "Now it’s up to league and the FBI to do their thing."
When asked if this was the darkest day in NBA history, Colangelo, who has been involved with the league since 1966, struggled for an answer.
"I’m not going to make comparisons to anything, but everything goes without saying," Colangelo said. "If you’re in basketball and something like this happens, there’s nothing good to say."