Dumb Luck: NBA Dodges Bullet as Jontay Porter Fouls Out

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Jontay Porter got off easy.

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As much as the 24-year-old’s lifetime ban from the NBA effectively slams the door on his stateside pro basketball career, if Porter had tried to manipulate the system back in the PASPA/Bradley Act days, he’d have wound up dead. Swindling $1.1 million from a connected bookie is like begging to be found frozen stiff inside a meat truck or under the LIRR tracks in Richmond Hill, presumably while the soundtrack swells with the instrumental portion of “Layla.”

Luckily for Porter, it’s been six years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the prohibition on sports gambling, a ruling which made it possible for the former Raptor to avoid having to do business with an unregulated book. In lieu of taking the Big Dirt Nap, Porter may now spend the remainder of his allotted three-score-and-ten trying to make sense of a scheme which netted him all of $21,000—a less-than-princely sum in light of the estimated $2.81 million he earned as an NBA backup.

In a sense, the NBA also got off easy. Stupidity and deviousness may make for strange bedfellows, but Porter’s rattlebrained exploits all but guaranteed that he’d be found out before any lasting damage could be done to the integrity of the game. It’s one thing to underperform in order to try and secure a $1.1 million payoff on someone else’s $80,000 parlay—in retrospect, the simple act of placing prop bets on Jontay Porter probably set off all sorts of silent alarms at the sportsbook—but it’s another thing altogether for a professional athlete to maintain a Twitter account (@TayTrades11) that was at least in some measure dedicated to favoriting and retweeting sports-gambling touts. (Just two years ago, Porter went the extra mile and verified his pro-wagering handle via his eponymous account. Really.)

Ultimately, the big, fishy bet made on Porter’s insider trading tip was flagged by an employee of the sportsbook, so the ticketholder didn’t walk away with a seven-figure payday. Since the news broke last month, it has emerged that Porter had placed more than 1,000 bets from a personal VIP account with FanDuel that was active between 2021 and 2023. And while league rules do not prohibit players from betting on non-NBA sporting events, Porter’s seeming propensity to take action against himself and his team is what earned him the lifetime ban.

After the investigation into Porter’s activities began, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters earlier this month that the player was suspected of committing a “cardinal sin,” before noting that a permanent ouster would be his likely comeuppance if the evidence proved conclusive. “That’s the level of authority I have here,” Silver said after the annual Board of Governors meetings. “There’s nothing more serious around this league when it comes to gambling around our games than direct player involvement.”

If the detection of Porter’s skullduggery proved that the system works—casino insiders and other compliance types have been invaluable allies in the fight to preserve the legitimacy of post-PASPA sports—that’s not to suggest that the NBA has seen the last of this sort of thing. As recently as 2017, disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy told San Francisco’s KNBR that the league might lean on the officials in order to ensure that the Cavs-Warriors Finals would go the full seven games, and while his conspiracy theory was disproved in short order—Golden State eliminated LeBron James & Co. in Game 5 on that very same night—the ex-zebra is a walking, talking reminder of the sort of damage one bad actor can do.

If basketball is inherently more vulnerable to the contrivances of fixers and other ne’er-do-wells than just about any sport this side of prize fighting and horse racing, Silver’s actions should prove to be a deterrent to any further shadiness—at least in the near term. When the NBA released a statement last week in which Silver said, “There is nothing more important than protecting the integrity of NBA competition for our fans, our teams and everyone associated with our sport,” the commish wasn’t just talking through his hat. In 2014, Silver was fully cognizant of the challenges that would lie ahead when he penned that New York Times op-ed calling for the legalization and regulation of sports gambling.

Fast-forward 10 years and every major U.S. sports league has embraced the new-ish paradigm, and as a result, even the organizations that were once extremely averse to gambling are now generating billions of dollars thanks to deals with legal books such as DraftKings and FanDuel. Gambling is also likely to have played a not-insignificant role in sports’ unparalleled ability to sidestep the ratings declines that have all but devalued network primetime ad slots. (Per Nielsen, the average broadcast series is now drawing 3.31 million viewers per episode, of whom a paltry 481,927 are members of the 18-49 demo. A staggering 85.5% of the primetime audience is composed of people outside the under-50 set. By comparison, Sunday Night Football last season averaged 20 million linear-TV viewers and 7.08 million adults 18-49.)

In other words, none of this is going away. Since 2018, 38 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have rubberstamped at least some form of legit sports-wagering, which in turn has led to the generation of billions in taxable revenue. Just as your NYC neighborhood now smells like Robert Parish’s favorite bong in the wake of the Empire State’s legalization of the devil’s lettuce, there’s no dispelling the funky odor of the point spread and the parlay.

Thus, there’s probably no getting around the inevitable spasms of poor decisions that will continue to make themselves known at the highest echelons of sports. The hubbub around Shohei Ohtani’s erstwhile interpreter Ippei Mizuhara still lingers over the young MLB season, and while Jags wide receiver Calvin Ridley was reinstated a year after getting caught betting on NFL games, the memory of his suspension may serve as a cautionary tale to other young players who might otherwise come down with the gambling bug. (In a 2023 mea culpa posted to The Players’ Tribune, Ridley took full ownership of his error in judgment, writing, “I just f—-d up. Period.”)

As Villanova sports law professor and former Green Bay Packers general counsel Andrew Brandt wrote in a 2017 paper for the Stanford Law & Policy Review titled “Professional Sports Leagues’ Big Bet: ‘Evolving’ Attitudes on Gambling,” uncertainty is the price of keeping up with the dizzying changes in policy. “The future will look very different than the past in many facets of sports, and it should,” Brandt wrote. “Change is good; it challenges people and forces attitudes and positions to evolve.”

In embracing change, Silver and the other commissioners have installed themselves as sentinels of their leagues’ probity. The actions of 20 Jontay Porters could bring the NBA to its knees; luckily for Silver and the league’s tens of millions of fans, there probably aren’t 20 other guys out there who are equally devoid of common sense. Still, as the events of the last few weeks suggest, vigilance is the only way to ensure that American sports remain on the up and up. There’s always a tradeoff.

“Integrity matters to sports leagues, but so do monetization, licensing and the revenue streams possible in a regulated marketplace,” Brandt said. “Stay tuned; the sports gambling train has left the station.”


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