NBA's Culture of Gambling Feeds Guns and Violence

Teddy MitrosilisAnalyst IJanuary 6, 2010

PHOENIX - DECEMBER 19:  Gilbert Arenas #0 of the Washington Wizards sits on the bench during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 19, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Wizards 121-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Don’t get twisted, Mr. Stern. The two are unequivocally related.

I’m not going to hold Gilbert Arenas over a bonfire and act like he is the poster child of guns, violence and warped behavior in the NBA.

By now you are aware of Arenas’ mess, so I’ll spare you all the details. The rumors that Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton drew guns on each other appear to be false;  however, the reports that Arenas brought unloaded firearms into the Washington Wizards’ locker room and set them out on a chair for Crittenton to see are true.

No, I am not letting Arenas off the hook.

What he did was so incredibly stupid and unfathomable for a guy who signed a contract worth more than $100 million, is supposed to be the face of a franchise, and has more to lose than most people in the world.

Arenas’ subsequent one-liners, jokes and pre-game mock of the situation Tuesday suggest he isn’t taking this issue seriously enough. Of course, he said all the right things in his statements, but really, it’s a non-issue to him.

He’s finding humor in an act that’s not at all humorous, not to mention the Washington, D.C. gun laws he broke in the process.

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Whatever punishment David Stern deems necessary, it will be justified.

But, honestly, an occurrence like this was bound to eventually happen. It’s shocking, but it’s not surprising.

It is human nature to test boundaries and push authority. When young, wealthy and famous adults have access to guns and other temptations, there will be some lines crossed. In honor of the league, you can tattoo that on your forehead.

Stern wants to better address the issue of players carrying guns, and that’s great. But the nature and history of violence doesn’t sprout from thin air.

What Stern needs to pay equally as much attention to is the issue that caused this debacle in the first place.

Arenas and Crittenton allegedly disagreed on a gambling debt, which led to Arenas laying out his firearms. Given the NBA’s culture of gambling extravagance, it made sense. If the league wants to cut down on violence off the court, it must address its history of gambling.

Gambling has been around forever, so this is nothing new. The fact that Arenas allegedly lost around $50,000 playing cards on a team plane is in line with the decades long behavior of NBA players. Every team has card players and those who partake in other forms of gambling during their down time.

We don’t have to dig deep for anecdotes.

Google “Michael Jordan” and “gambling,” and you can entertain yourself for hours. Jordan infamously found himself in controversy when—on the night before a playoff game in 1993—he was seen gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Jordan’s tales of reckless blackjack binges in Las Vegas are legendary, and his thirst for gambling may have been even greater on the golf course. We are talking millions and millions of dollars won and lost through wagers.

In ’06, Charles Barkley admitted he’d lost approximately $10 million from gambling, including $2.5 million in six hours in one night. Barkley refers to his gambling ways as a “problem.” Jordan does not.

The problem doesn’t begin and end with NBA players. Tim Donaghy placed a magnifying glass on referees when he spent time in jail for betting on the games he worked.

Peruse the annals of baseball, football, golf, whatever, and you will find connections to gambling.

The issue is tricky to address because society wants you to believe that gambling itself is bad. I don’t buy that.

I don’t blame athletes, or anyone with a lot wealth, for wagering big. Financial responsibility is on you.

For athletes, gambling is expected because the bets really aren’t about the money. What is $50,000 to Jordan? Nothing.

Gambling,for athletes, is about the obsession for competition. If there is a way to win something, you can expect athletes to join in.

I’d argue that it’s this exact nature that makes professional athletes who they are. Jordan, Barkley, whoever, don't need to win. They have to win. It’s their nature.

When most people’s minds would say, "It’s OK, back off, get 'em next time," an athlete’s mind says, “Never.”

Athletes are born and bred with the mentality to win at all costs. Americans demand that of their sports heroes. On the court, on the field, winning is their livelihood.

Win at all costs.

When that is the nature of a competitor, gambling is merely an outlet for that fire.

Problems arise because the culture that comes with gambling is one of greed, power and criminal behavior.

Matters of money quickly deteriorate any semblance of common sense, and that is when fights break out and guns break loose. Let's include the elephant in the room—alcohol—and you can easily see how “fun with the boys” turns volatile and, sometimes, fatal.

There’s a reason why the Mafia is forever linked with the evolution of Las Vegas: Mob bosses run casinos and hotels because they fall prey to wads of greenbacks.

There’s a reason why organized crime doesn’t operate out of your local used bookstore. Who wants a battered, $3.50 copy of Moby Dick ?

Where large sums of money can be quickly made is precisely where criminal activity will live. That’s Las Vegas, that’s gambling, and that’s where we find many of our athletes when they are away from practice and games.

The chain of gambling, guns/violence, and professional athletes isn’t a difficult one to connect.

I love to shoot pool as a hobby. I enjoy the game and, like competitive athletes, I relish the competition of it. But watch, if you catch me dead even in a family-run pool hall at 1:30 a.m., it’s not billiards that’s the problem; it’s the culture.

Just because Gilbert Arenas made a stupid mistake doesn’t mean all athletes are waiting for their opportunity to self-combust. The vast majority of athletes that own guns are responsible and take the responsibility of owning a weapon very seriously.

We all have the right to bear arms, and the NBA has done a good job with protecting against issues like this one. I’m not sure that there is much more Stern can do on the matter of guns in conjunction with NBA players.

But what Stern can do is look at the culture that leads to such issues.

Once Stern recognizes, and admits, winning wagers tempts athletes as much as winning games, then he may be on the path to further cleaning up his sport.

You can reach Teddy Mitrosilis at tm4000@yahoo.com.


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