‘It’s an addiction’: NBA’s ties to gambling trouble players past and present

IThere is one constant in life: change. For professional sports, the biggest change of late has to do with gambling. Most US states now offer fans the chance to legally bet on games and player props. And major professional sports leagues like the NBA have also embraced that recent law change. What was once a third-rail topic is now a major source of revenue, for ESPN’s financial guru Bobby Marks says This year, the NBA is “expected to receive $167 million in casino and betting revenue, up 11% from last season.”

You don’t have to look further than ESPN to see how integrated sports betting is with major leagues and the media that cover them. At the very top of the company’s website is a new tab, ESPNBET, the broadcaster’s own sportsbook, which launched in November 2023. Is this a conflict of interest? Maybe maybe not. But gambling seems to be generating a lot of new business in sports. For NBA fans frustrated by the in-game reviews, the challenges and the lengthy replays, much of the blame lies with gambling, especially in the wake of the league’s refereeing scandal. earlier this century. For a company that has lost a lot of money during the pandemic and one that is trying to grow globallygambling promises an influx of cash, and the NBA has done just that two official gambling partners. The League says so promotes responsible gamblingbut it is thought to be so approximately three million problem gamblers in the US and the National Council on Problem Gambling say the risk of gambling addiction among the general population increased by 30% between 2018 and 2021. Betting ads appearing all over NBA broadcasts almost certainly won’t help these numbers.

In his memoir, It’s Hard for Me to Live with Me, former NBA star turned Twitter celebrity Rex Chapman describes his addiction to horse racing betting. He lost more money than he could count on gambling after retirement, and along with the opioid abuse, it almost cost him his family. Yet Chapman’s story is common among athletes and non-athletes alike. So why did the NBA join gambling? Whatever the reasons, it has done so to such an extent that during a recent game between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs on Easter Sunday, advertisements appeared on the court promoting the betting company Bet365. As Steph Curry dribbled the ball up and Victor Wembanyama dunked, the Bet365 logo was below the score table. Not to mention, Mark Cuban sold a majority stake in his Dallas Mavericks a few months ago for major casino owners with a view to bringing gambling to Texas.

Beyond the threat of addiction, some within the league are concerned that the close association between the NBA and sportsbooks is dangerous. Cleveland Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff said he was threatened by gamblers. “They had my phone number and were sending me crazy messages about where I live, my kids and all that stuff,” Bickerstaff said after a recent game against the Miami Heat. “So it’s a dangerous game and a fine line that we’re definitely walking.” Bickerstaff is not alone. Indiana Pacers All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton said he has been seek professional help for his mental health, adding: “Half the world away I’m just helping them make money on DraftKings or whatever. I am a pillar.”

This is a marked difference from earlier in NBA history, before legal gambling became widespread and the league aligned itself so closely with gambling. When asked if he had ever been accosted by a disgruntled gambler, All-Star guard Kenny Anderson, who retired in 2005, told the Guardian: “No, sports betting wasn’t as big then as it is now. They got angry [if they lost] but they weren’t really directing it at me. And All-Star Michael Ray Richardson, who was active in the 1980s, added: “Never. Back then there wasn’t as much betting as there is now.”

But perhaps the biggest issue of late comes as the league investigates bench player Jontay Porter, brother of Denver Nuggets star Michael Porter Jr., for “betting irregularities”. (Why there were sports props On the couch players on losing teams is a whole other question.) Since then, Porter’s big brother has done just that come defend himsaying, ‘I highly doubt he would do anything about it [his NBA career] in danger,” while NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Jontay Porter could be banned from the competition for life if found guilty.

Whether or not the league will uncover any wrongdoing by Porter and the Raptors, the question remains: Why is the league creating risk by dealing with gambling companies? That’s something that has occurred to many veterans of the league.

“Why allow it,” asks Lionel Hollins, a former All-Star guard and NBA champion who later coached in the league for years. Hollins tells the Guardian: “[It’s just] Another issue to be monitored and faced by players and coaches.”

Jontay Porter is under investigation for alleged betting irregularities. Photo: Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports

After all, the NBA and its players already have so much on their plate. Sure, they get paid a lot, but they already have to deal with angry fans complaining about wins, losses and fantasy leagues, not to mention media responsibilities. Why add another variable and one with such financial implications to the equation? “[Some have] sports in general is projected to generate over $800 billion by the year 2030,” former Los Angeles Laker and NBA champion Jim Chones told The Guardian. “This was for betting and gambling. So we may already be there. That’s why coaches don’t keep it up. [Owners] get rid of them during the season because the money is too big. The money is so big that coaches become expendable and cheap players become expendable.”

There was a time when some speculated whether NBA legend Michael Jordan’s 18-month hiatus in the mid-1990s was not merely a desire to play minor league baseball, but rather a secret suspension by the NBA. then-commissioner David Stern because of Jordan’s large gambling impulses. But while that theory has since been debunked, the fact that it was considered shows how far apart the league and the casinos were at the time. Now they are best friends. Eleven-year veteran Terry Tyler calls this “hypocritical.” He says, “Remember when everyone thought Michael Jordan was gambling and people were going crazy, and he wasn’t gambling on anything? [NBA-related] … Now all of a sudden it seems like it’s okay. I think it’s quite hypocritical… It sends a bad message.”

For Tyler and many others, this proximity is particularly baffling, especially given the potential consequences and addictive qualities of gambling. “Personally, I don’t gamble,” former Boston Celtic and four-time NBA champion Robert Parish told the Guardian. “Gambling is a problem if you have no control, it is an addiction.”

Of course, even though the NBA is close to gambling, it does not allow its players to bet on NBA games (hence the Porter investigation), although they can do so. betting on other sports. But you might wonder: Isn’t the league committing these kinds of indiscretions by working so closely with gambling? “As far as gambling in a sport you participate in,” Parish says, “that’s a no-fly zone. Because you may have information that could influence the outcome of games. I have been approached by people asking my opinion on whether we will address the point spread [on a given night]. I don’t know if they were fans or bookmakers. My answer was: we, the players, play the games to find out winners and losers.

Parish played in the NBA for 20 years, from 1976-77 through 1996-97, long before sports betting became mainstream in the NBA and other leagues. But now you can imagine the kind of people approaching the league’s stars today, adding pressure and perhaps even illegal incentives at a moment’s notice. Still, it doesn’t look like gambling and sports betting will be happening anywhere else anytime soon. For example, turn on a popular NBA podcast and you’ll likely hear ads for DraftKings or FanDuel. Turn on an NBA game and you’ll see Bet365. It’s hell for the NBA and other leagues to get so close to casinos and their customers. It could end up being a risk that the NBA and other American leagues eventually try to retreat from. The English Premier League, which forged ties with gambling long before the NBA, decided last year to ban betting on sponsors on shirts from 2026. If addictions and scandals around the NBA increase, the league could be forced to make similar decisions.