The NBA hasn’t had a real (or uncovered) gambling scandal since booking games became legal in more than select locations. Unless you count Scott Foster’s streak of holding down playoff teams that employ Chris Paul — which is currently at 14 games after the Suns’ loss to New Orleans in Game 2 on Tuesday night — as a controversy, there hasn’t been an overt case like in the NFL when Calvin Ridley got caught tossing the Falcons into a couple of parlays while he sat home for the majority of the season.
Cue ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who blamed awful, retaliation-worthy behavior by Boston fans toward Kyrie Irving not on Kyrie’s contentious history with the franchise or Celtics fans’ history with Black players but rather on the increase of legalized gambling.
I’m not a pro gambling guy. I don’t wager on sports because I don’t have the money, but also because I get my rooting interests the old fashion way, through long-held-yet-shifting biases. However, in defense of the many degenerates I know, they were gambling long before it was regulated.
The guy who gets drunk and shouts an obscenity or two at Bogdan Bogdanović for coming up short of 19 points, thus sinking his same-game parlay, was going to get drunk and tell a player to go fuck himself anyway. Assholes are assholes, and the world isn’t all of the sudden overrun with an influx of them, it’s just easier to catch them being assholes on camera than it was in the past.
Irving flipping off fans isn’t a new occurrence. Then-Bronco QB Jake Plummer gave his own team’s fans the bird in 2004. (Colorado sports faithful are low-key ruthless. They booed Paxton Lynch for simply entering a preseason game, and the entire Buffs student section has been kicked out of football games many times for throwing debris on the field.) And going way back, there was Jack McDowell who, back in 1994, gave Yankee fans the finger for booing him as he walked off the mound, garnering him the nickname, The Yankee Flipper.
I get where Woj was coming from because it’s a player’s perspective, which is the only viewpoint he values because that’s how he’s able to have the relationships with players that he does. Taking on the league, his employer, and their business partners is valiant, even if it is easier to do when you have the job security that comes with signing a five-year, $7 million per year deal with ESPN.
There are a lot of people who agree, and disagree, with the insider’s take, and of course the anti-gambling crowd leeched onto it. When I wrote an article warning sports leagues about the risks of jumping into business with gambling sites, I was thinking more along the lines of Ridley or disgraced ref Tim Donaghy. Not a couple of guys from Southie, who are genetically prone to getting pissed off, getting pissed off over a second-half overs bet gone wrong.
The outlets who rebuked Woj, calling him a “dummy” for not taking into account that sports betting isn’t legal in Massachusetts yet, similarly need to calm down. As previously mentioned, just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it’s not happening. You think the guy listed in your phone as “Tony P” isn’t going to take a texted-in, Vegas-set, in-game wager because it’s not lawful in the Masshole State? Penciling in your $20 bet is like No. 5 on the list of illegal shit he’s done in the past 24 hours, and it’s probably the least harmful out of all of them.
Could comments and harassment from the stands contain increased vitriol because money is at stake? Absolutely. That said, the line for what’s acceptable gets crossed by all manner of fans, and how far it’s crossed only matters as much as people’s outrage says it should.
Whether they’re racist fans, drunk fans, or “morally corrupt” gambling addicts isn’t the issue. They’re all varying degrees of assholes who should be banned from games if the line de jour is crossed. Improving the fan experience requires improving fans as a whole, and I don’t think curbing societal decay falls under Adam Silver’s realm of responsibilities. (Turning a profit for the league does, though.)
The logic that the NBA is responsible for abhorrent fan behavior because they let the sinners into the chapel doesn’t work if reprobates were already among the clergy.