Commentary

The games go on

Pro athletes gamble on their off-the-court diversions even after Gilbert's run-in

Updated: April 9, 2010, 9:00 AM ET
By Eddie Matz, with additional reporting by Chris Broussard and Molly Knight | ESPN The Magazine
John HendrixGambling games aren't just prevalent among NBA players -- they're rampant in every league.

This article appears in the Apr. 19 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

"Idleness teaches a man to do many evils." --Geoffrey Chaucer, Tale of Melibee, c. 1386

Nobody in the NBA gambles. In fact, nobody in the NBA has any fun whatsoever. Not since Gilbertgate, anyway.

When the league suspended Wizards star Gilbert Arenas 50 games on Jan. 27 for bringing guns into the locker room -- over a card-game dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton -- the fun went pffft. So instead, guys spend every minute of every flight sleeping. Or reading. Or talking, listening to music, watching movies or playing video games. To be clear, there is absolutely no card playing whatsoever. Because if there were, then there might be gambling, and nobody in the NBA gambles. At least, this is what the league would have you believe.

But let's not be naive. As a husband and father of three small children who works full-time, disposable income is the only thing I have less of than free time. And despite this lack of leisure time and spare change, I still find a way to get together with a few buddies and play cards every now and again. For money. Because this is what guys do.

Now imagine you're a professional athlete. Your yearly tax bill is higher than the annual salary of 99% of the people in the free world, and about the only thing you have more of than disposable income is free time. Sure, you train your butt off, play lots and lots of games and are constantly on the road. But the reality is this: On a typical workday, you're required to report as much as three and a half hours early essentially to get dressed, talk to a few reporters and stretch out. Because of your job, you spend an ungodly amount of time stuck on planes, though unlike other vagabond professionals you don't have to waste your flight time ­doing research or preparing presentations. You spend it chilling -- hard. And more ­often than not, that chilling involves the playing of cards. Because this is what guys do. "I'm not sure the Arenas incident has discouraged people from gambling," says one NBA player. "I'd say if you were on a team that gambles, you're probably still gambling."


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