There are games of choice within the actual game when it comes to playing sports and it ramps up to a fever pitch when their pockets get fat. I was not surprised when I heard about the altercation between OJ Mayo and Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies in regards to gambling. It is a fraternity among most athletes and taking the competitive spirit to some other form is a constant.
Professional athletes have been taught since they were in middle school to be ultra competitive and once they reach the professional level and so much free time on their hands sometimes that competitive spirit can get out of hand.
Professional basketball players have a lot of free time and it seems like they are always on a plane with few options to pass time.
If you were a fly on a wall, you would see players watching movies, reading books, sleeping, listening to music or playing one of three card games that give you the chance to win or lose a lot of money in a couple of hours.
The three games are Tonk, Boo-Ray and Poker.
When I first got into the league, Tonk was the game of choice. It is a rapid version of Gin Rummy where you were dealt five cards with a variety of ways to win the game. This probably is the safest game in regards to not losing your shirt.
I never played Boo-Ray for obvious reasons, but it is a card game that was extremely popular in southwest France and made its way to the U.S. You are dealt three cards and the money multiplies to crazy levels as the game moves forward.
The most popular game in the States and among athletes is Poker. This game is obviously addictive and can cost individuals a lot of money if they are not careful.
I remember losing about $5,000 on an eight-game road trip while playing in the NBA. I was sick to my stomach and it could have affected my play on the court, but I also remember winning about $6,000 another time and I had a tremendous game. Still, it never affected my relationship with my teammates and that’s the tricky part when it comes to gambling. Some people accept defeat and will not allow it to affect their jobs. Some others don't.
This is why I applaud Lionel Hollins for banning gambling on his flights. It was obvious some players allowed it to affect the way they connected as teammates – which undoubtedly could lead to the floor if not careful. Mayo and Allen ruined it for their teammates and that breaks an unwritten rule among players. Now they will be forever known as the guys that made Grizzly road trips boring.
We are talking about grown men. Because of that, it would be a mistake for every team to ban gambling. When cordial, it promotes team unity and allows players to get to know one another off the court.
I would rather get on a plane and see players talking, playing cards and having a good time than a plane full of players with headphones on or sleeping.
Show me a team that does not bond off the court and I will show you a losing team on a consistent basis.
Without mentioning names, I once played on a team where we had three poker games going. We had the junior game, the varsity game and the professional game. I played the varsity game with the coaches, a limit seven-card stud game. The most I could lose on any given trip was maybe $300 hundred.
The professional game was a steroid game of poker that bordered on insanity, but the four players that played were the best of friends and tremendous leaders on our team. Still to this day, these four guys are great friends even though at times they lost thousands of dollars to one another.
One player once told the other to come over to a pool party he was giving so he could be the first to jump in the swimming pool he purchased for him.
I played in Charlotte with Muggsy Bogues, Alonzo Mourning, Kenny Gattison, Scott Burrell and David Wingate. We had a Tonk game that was all about making each other laugh. The money was small, but the laughs were tremendous. That card game was the biggest stress reliever I ever had gambling.
My biggest gambling adversary is Mike Woodson, the former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks and one of my best friends in the world. He and I would stay up all night playing Tonk and the winner might accumulate $10. The challenge was to win. That’s all that matters when it comes to something that has been ingrained in you most of your life - competitiveness.
The challenge for players and individuals in general is to know that gambling can become an addiction and destroy a way of life that you worked hard to build for you and your family.
That is something Tony Allen and OJ Mayo have to consider. A $1,500 debt caused them both to bring attention to something that grown men should have handled in a professional way, but by no means should every team pay for their mistake.