Monday, July 30, 2007


Gambling and Sport-Basketball

“Five will get you ten, old Mackey’s back in town!” A line from Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife.

And so it goes with sports today. There are very few sporting activities that are not covered by the gambling phenomenon.

Gamblers stake their odds on all continents, since time immemorial.

No matter what the game, there will be odds, there will be takers. There will be winners and losers. Some of it will be legal.

Most countries have tried to take gambling out of illegal hands, and have legitimized the activity. Lotteries, pools, selection of winners: all for the benefit of society. All perfectly legal.

In the United States, the state of Nevada has led the way in the gambling world. Las Vegas, its gambling capital, was carved out of the desert almost a hundred years ago to become the gambling Mecca for North Americans.

But it is illegal gambling that gets athletes into trouble, one way or another.

Many spectators do not enjoy their sporting events unless there is a “little on the line”- a side bet, here or there. It may be with a bookie, it may be between friends. But in order for some to watch the games, there has to be money involved.

One of the problems related to this need is the fact that most illegal bookmaking activities are conducted by gangsters, thugs, and convicted felons. They may wear the nice suits, they may have the pretty ladies on their arms. But they are mean, and they do not tolerate losing. And if you owe them money, because you lose at gambling, you had better pay up. Quickly.

It appears that a relatively young National Basketball Association referee, Tim Donaghy, bet on NBA games, and “disclosed confidential information to others with respect to NBA games that would enable them to place wagers with an advantage.” According to Commissioner David Stern, “Mr. Donaghy is the only referee who is alleged to have bet on NBA games.”

Stern is an articulate, very careful lawyer, and he chooses his words carefully. His words are selected from a 14 page transcript provided by the NBA from an interview with ESPN. In order to emphasize the severity of the situation, he had this to say: “I can tell you this is the most serious situation and the worst situation that I have ever experienced either as a fan of the NBA, a lawyer for the NBA or a commissioner of the NBA.”

The integrity of the game is at stake. It has been jeopardized, because of gambling.

In 1951, another NBA referee was charged for taking bribes to fix scores by his calling of fouls. Sol Levy was convicted on six of seven counts; however, he won an appeal the following year, on a technicality.

Michael Jordan, along with many other NBA players and officials, likes to “put a little on the line” when it comes to a friendly game of golf. Charles Barclay has gone to some length to let the public know that it is his money, and he can gamble if he wants.

Jordan’s gambling habits are a little extraordinary. In 1991, he admitted betting more than $50 000 on golf games played with James “Slim” Bouler, who has since been convicted of selling cocaine.

During the 1993 finals, a San Diego businessman, Richard Esquinas, alleged in a self-published book that Jordan owed him $1.25 million, in the wake of a ten day golf gambling binge. Jordan claimed he never bet anything near a million dollars on a golf game, and that he merely gambles as recreation.

On both occasions, the NBA supported Jordan, but some critics claim that the investigations were “soft” because Jordan was such a powerful box office draw in the league.

Jordan “retired” in 1993 to play baseball for the Chicago White Sox organization. Fortunately for him, Chicago Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf also owned the Birmingham Barons in the White Sox chain, and he continued to pay Jordan at his NBA salary.

Also in October of 1993, Jordan’s father was murdered by a pair of young thugs. There is an element of mystery surrounding his death, perhaps because of Michael’s activities at that time.

Following his year of baseball, Jordan decided that he would return to basketball. But he needed Stern’s permission. No reason has been given why Jordan would need Stern’s permission. You decide.

There was a Boston College betting scandal in the 1980s, and there was recently a point-shaving scandal at Arizona State.

Handicappper Brandon Lang recently related his opinion to “The mob has had its hand in fixing and shaving games going back to the late ‘40s. They’ve always been under question for getting teams to shave points. The fact that they finally got an official, Donaghy, isn’t surprising. Listen, this is just the first guy to get caught.”

Basketball is not alone as a professional sport with gambling problems. Players have been expelled from every other major sport for similar discretions. Rarely an official. And this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

James Hurst
July 30, 2007

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