This article, from the New York Times, features NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who urges lawmakers to legalize (and regulate) sports betting. This is a gutsy move … and the right move. Yes, I know all too well the history of game ‘fixing’ in college basketball and elsewhere. I was 15 years old when the 1951 Fixing Scandal broke, tearing apart top-level programs at CCNY (which never fully recovered), Bradley and Kentucky … and elsewhere.
But, as Adam Silver points out, modern technology has made gambling easy to do: all you need is a Smart Phone. Back in the 1950s, you had to go to a betting parlor or call your bookmaker on the phone. Well, back then, the cops could cover a few betting parlors and a few bookmakers. But, today, how do you cover millions of cell phones? You can’t. So, Adam Silver’s proposal is a pre-emptive strike against the crooks and gamblers that might want to use that technology and anonymity to ‘fix’ games. His voice is huge in this and may sway lawmakers his way.
A personal note. I was Freshman Basketball Coach at Michigan State, 1963-65, under Forddy Anderson. Forddy had been the head coach at Bradley when the 1951 scandal broke. He had no idea a few of his players had taken money to ‘shave points’ and he had the No. 1 – ranked team in the nation in 1950-51, when it all blew up. They said he looked at game films all night long, for months, looking for incriminating mistakes. I only talked with him once about it. He said, “Dan, here’s the story; you never want a player that has a Dollar sign for a heart.”
Yes, the spectre of the fixer will always be there. That’s where regulation and vigilance come in to play. But, what player in his right mind would fix a game today for … money? They make millions or will be making millions. So, that doesn’t add up. But shady characters are still around and they may go another route to get to vulnerable players: drugs. Yes, I agree 100% with Adam Silver’s plan here. And he’s wise to point out that the battle isn’t over with legalization. It would not win the war but it would certainly limit the battlefield to reasonable dimensions.