Word broke a few days ago that Memphis Grizzlies teammates OJ Mayo and Tony Allen got into an altercation aboard the teams charter flight. It is alleged that a gambling debt between the two led to taunts and eventually blows that left Mayo visibly bruised.
This situation will bring back memories of the Washington Wizards situation last year with Gilbert Arenas, when a gambling debt between him and teammate Javaris Crittenton escalated to such a point that Agent Zero brought guns to a game.
Scribes have been quick to say that the Association needs to outlaw gambling aboard team planes and that these situations are avoidable. But similarly to anything that is prohibited, the players will simply find new ways to gamble away from the watchful eye of team executives.
There is a culture amongst NBA players, and surely many other professional athletes. They are young men given millions of dollars and they possess little in the way of financial management skills. So they grew up playing cards and dice games, so why not put some of their expendable income on some games.
The Grizzlies have now banned gambling from their flights, and supposedly only one other team has a similar policy in place. Many teams acknowledge that the gambling takes places, but without money on the table, it is difficult to police.
The card game that many of these players are playing while cruising at 36,000 feet is called Boo Ray. Originating in Louisiana, it is a mix of poker and spades, with shades of euchre involved. The way that so many guys get into debt playing the game is due to the fact that you must match the pot if you lose a hand. With some players making twenty times what their teammates do, tempers surely rise quickly when debts get out of hand.
Some urban legends say that Michael Jordan himself was influential in introducing Boo Ray into mainstream NBA culture. It is well known that MJ likes to gamble, and it would surprise few people if this way indeed all his doing.
One of the long running rumours in the NBA around the time that MJ decided to take a year away from the game to play minor league baseball was that he had found himself so deep in gambling debt that the death of his father was, how you say, not a coincidence. While no one truly knows the truth behind this allegation, the story has some legs to it. Jordan was a reputed gambler, took an unexpected step away from the game following the mysterious murder of his father and then promptly returned and continued winning.
The culture of gambling in the NBA traces back at least this far, and the amount of money being thrown about mixed with the bravado of these young entitled athletes has reached a boiling point. These factors mixed with the media age we live in, where unnamed sources can create full credible stories that become front page in a matter of minutes, make it difficult for any of these teams to hide from these situations when they do arise.
Without a doubt there have been countless other alternations between teammates over the years that no one in the public knows about. Women and gambling are often fought over, but now everything is in the public sphere and it is difficult to keep anything away from the media.
So is there any solution to this madness? Well similar to many minor situations that are quickly ignored, no one will take serious action until something serious happens. When a teammate shoots another over a gambling debt, rather then just pulls a gun on him, people will really pay attention. Sure Arenas was suspended for a significant period of time, but the culture did not change in the league.
The same can be said for the concussion discussion in the NFL. When a player finally gets hit so hard in an NFL game that he either dies or is becomes a quadriplegic, then people will finally get serious about changing the nature of the game.
Change is difficult to institute and people get comfortable in their ways. They must be scared into changing their way of life, and that is exactly what it will take for the gambling culture in the NBA to change.