The NBA was in a bad place as the 1970s slunked into the 1980s. Attendance was low, interest in the pro game was diminishing, and a league-wide drug problem was crippling the relative health of its players. Cocaine was an easy, frequent buy for NBA types, and in the years before a collectively bargained drug testing program was put into place, some NBA players were allowed to score at will in the hours following a home contest frequented by four digits’ worth of fans.
A new report from Brian Tuohy, as detailed in his book Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI, appears to implicate some members of the 1981-82 New York Knicks as throwing games in favor of the whims and bets of their high-end drug dealer. The New York Post and Sports Illustrated recently revealed portions of the portrayal.
“Over . . . the last two months, all three [players] have given . . . tips on when to bet the Knicks to lose. This has occurred seven times and six of the tips were good,” according to FBI files citing two unnamed “sources.”
At the same time, FBI moles began to suspect the Knick trio were “betting against themselves.”
In November, an informant told the feds one of the schemers owed a “large . . . gambling debt” to a Luchese crime-family bookie.
“So many people say it’s impossible to fix a game because guys are paid so much money,” Tuohy told The Post. “But you can see how easily they can get hooked on some drug, be gambling themselves and get in deep with a bookie.”
“Source stated that to his knowledge, none of the players receive any money for the tip, but simply do it as a courtesy to their dealer. One such tip was the Knicks-Bullets game in New York about two (2) weeks ago. Another game was the Knicks versus San Antonio last Tuesday, which was good. The type of tips are not regarding point shaving but rather key players not playing. The latest tip was on the Knicks game on March 23, 1982 which was the only one that did not work out.”
All eyes should focus on former Knicks guard Micheal Ray Richardson, New York’s best player on that particular team, and the first player to be banned for cocaine use by the NBA’s drug testing policy. Richardson vehemently denied participation in the maneuver in a talk with the Post:
“Hell no!” Richardson, 58 and living in Texas, told The Post when asked about the point-shaving allegations. “We never did anything like that.”
In the second of two games as referenced by Tuohy’s report, the Knicks lost to a very good San Antonio Spurs team by 23 points. Richardson scored 25 points in only 34 (blowout) minutes in the contest, making 12 of 20 shots and dishing six assists. Hardly the work of someone trying to fix a game for the opponent. In the loss to Washington, Richardson fared worse – missing 11 of 18 shots on his way toward 14 points, but he did play 43 minutes … kind of missing the mark on the “players not playing” ideal as described in Tuohy’s book.
Speculating about other players on that year’s team would be pointless and downright dangerous, as participants like Bill Cartwright and Sly Williams (who played, and played well, in the games listed above) were known for having brittle bodies at the time, and there’s no real way of knowing who was and wasn’t giving it their all in specific games that the FBI has signed off on investigating.
All we can really point out is that this was a terrible way for legendary coach Red Holzman to end his coaching career. And an unfortunate hallmark for a league that has come a long way in the three decades since.