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'Covert' Mob Infiltrator Still Blows the Whistle

NBA referee Bob Delaney and former Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan in an undated photo.
NBA/Getty Images
NBA referee Bob Delaney and former Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan in an undated photo.

Nearly 30 years after he infiltrated the mob, Bob Delaney still stays vigilant — on the country's biggest basketball courts.

For three years starting in 1975, Delaney spent his days as "Bobby Covert," the president of Alamo Trucking, a fake business used by law enforcement to catch criminals. He chronicles his time in the mob — and his subsequent career as an NBA referee — in Covert: My Years Infiltrating the Mob.

Delaney was a rookie cop when he joined Project Alpha — a joint operation between the New Jersey State Police and the FBI to break up the Italian mafia's control of the New Jersey waterfront. He eagerly agreed to the assignment because he had spent his childhood among Italians in a New York neighborhood, was familiar with their culture and knew how to fit in. Delaney grew out his hair and spent time at lounges frequented by the mob.

Eventually he gained their trust, listening to his new "friends" brag about their murderous exploits. As he meticulously gathered evidence against the mob, Delaney says he lost sight of who he was, living in constant fear that one false move could cost him his life.

By the time he had enough evidence to send more than 30 racketeers to trial, Delaney was a changed man. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and realized he couldn't go back to law enforcement.

-But Delaney had been a talented basketball player in high school and college, and his previous profession made him an ideal candidate for spotting trouble on the courts. He joined the NBA in 1987, a career move that helped restore his confidence in living in mainstream life.

Delaney spoke with Andrea Seabrook about his years inside the mob, and how they changed him and prepared him for a career in the NBA.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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