New scene at NBA games: Fans yell at players for their losing bets

NBA players have always received admiration from fans, both at home and on the road. It comes with the job.

But this season it’s getting darker.

The recent emergence of legalized gambling in every professional league and throughout college athletics has impacted American sports in ways thought unimaginable just a few years ago. But along with the potential good that hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue brings to the NBA and other leagues has come something new and disturbing: verbal abuse directed at players and coaches based solely on fans’ salaries.


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Fans can now bet in real time on their smartphone, on all aspects of the game, including minutes, such as how many rebounds a player might get in the first half and how many points a team will score in the fourth quarter. And if their bets don’t pay off, they blame the players.

“It’s getting scandalous,” LA Clippers forward PJ Tucker said recently. “It’s getting a little crazy. Even in the arenas, hearing fans yelling at kids for their bets. It’s unreal. It’s a problem. “I think it’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Teams have yet to make drastic changes to security details, and the NBA has not recommended increased security near the court. But at least one team has added an extra security guard to its bench this season, in response to the growing belligerence infused into gambling. Another team has beefed up its cybersecurity staff to detect particularly hateful vitriol sent by fans to its players online.

“He’s everywhere,” said Ochai Agbaji, a guard for the Toronto Raptors. “It’s the wild, wild west right now.”

For decades, aside from one-off events like the Super Bowl and March Madness, gambling has been the third pillar of sports. College basketball has been rocked by numerous point-shaving scandals. Professional leagues forcefully distanced themselves from betting, even refusing to play in Las Vegas, where it was legal and popular. Then the Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing sports betting in 2018and an epochal change followed.

Fans flocked to the nascent market, and professional leagues quickly changed direction. If fans opened their now-virtual wallets to spend money on games, leagues would want to get in on the action.

Teams now have partnerships with casinos and build their own arenas next to them. Announcers, long allergic to any references to betting, now commonly cite betting information during broadcasts. The NBA recently announced it will allow fans watching games on its streaming app to track betting odds and click to place bets with the league’s betting partners, FanDuel and DraftKings.

(The Athletesc has a partnership with BetMGM.)

But an unintended consequence of this new relationship comes out of the mouths of increasingly annoyed fans.

“You see people on Twitter, you know, fans going back and forth with players on Twitter about how you lost their money,” Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said. “I guess it’s pretty funny. I do not know. I guess I feel bad when I don’t reach people’s parlays. I don’t want them to lose money. But, you know, I go out and try to play the game.

Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said last month that a gambler somehow gained access to Bickerstaff’s cell phone number and left him threatening voicemails, suggesting he knew where Bickerstaff and his family.

“It’s a dangerous game and a fine line we’re definitely walking,” Bickerstaff said.

Toronto Raptors forward Jordan Nwora said the betting comments from fans are “all the time, non-stop.”

“You get messages,” Nwora said. “You feel it on the sidelines. You see kids talking about it all the time.

“It comes down to being in the NBA. People bet on stupid things every day. So I mean, it’s part of being in the NBA, it’s what brings you. I understand. People don’t complain when you play well. I don’t get messages with people saying, “Thank you for helping me.” “

A league spokesperson said incidents of fan comments toward players and team staff regarding gambling were no more widespread than other fan misconduct at this point, but it’s something the league continues to address. to monitor.

The root of much of the fury is what’s known as prop betting, once a bizarre corner of the underground betting universe that quickly caught on among fans. Prop bets are bets on parts of a game that may have nothing to do with the outcome. How long will it take for the national anthem to be sung? How many turnovers will a given player have in the first half? How many total rebounds will there be?


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Prop betting has been the subject of two recent incidents that have raised questions about whether basketball players were under the influence of gamblers. A watchdog has spotted irregular betting patterns on prop bets at some Temple University men’s basketball games this season. The NBA told ESPN last week that it was investigating Raptors forward Jontay Porter after prop betting irregularities were reported involving his performance in two games.

NBA players have noticed the change in fan interests.

“For half the world, I’m just helping them make money on DraftKings or whatever,” Tyrese Haliburton, an All-Star guard for the Indiana Pacers, said last month.

“They are a support,” he added. “You know what I mean? This is what my social media is mostly about.

Haliburton elaborated on his comments in a recent interview with Atletico. He said the verbal abuse during games was much worse than when he arrived in the league four years ago.

“Bettors have this thing called a ‘banned’ list, and that’s when you fail to hit their bet,” Haliburton said. “So they tell me, ‘You’re on my no-go list.’ I’m not going to keep betting on you.” And I think that’s literally been all my mentions for the last six weeks,” he said, referring to social media.

Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony also mentioned the banned list while noting the increased attention and pressure created by parlay bets, when multiple bets are combined into a single bet.

“There were some where I thought, ‘This is disgusting,’” Anthony said. “It’s not disgusting, but it’s funny, in a way, to see these things and see how seriously a lot of people take them.”

The NBA is particularly vulnerable to this new fan dynamic. Its players are not hidden behind pads and helmets and perform close to fans, some of whom converse with coaches and players during games.

Team security isn’t about violent fans – that’s about arena security. Behavior considered “verbal abuse or disruptive behavior,” including talking about gambling if it is particularly unpleasant, can lead to expulsion. Typically, fans receive a verbal warning from arena security that they are violating the rules NBA Fan Code of Conduct, which is promoted at games. A fan who does not stop the destructive behavior can therefore be assigned an a warning card — a written warning that further inappropriate behavior will lead to expulsion. A third incident will result in the fan being removed, although fans can be ejected if they behave particularly badly towards players or staff just once.

The league monitors social media activity through its Global Security Operations Center, with a staff of eight to 10 people. The NBA also shares information with other sports leagues. Some players, coaches and referees tend to attract more attention on social platforms than others. League security meets with teams twice a season to remind them of game protocols.

Bickerstaff, the Cavaliers coach, said he notified team security about the fan who was threatening him. Security tracked down the person who left the messages and texts, but Bickerstaff and the team declined to pursue legal action.

Tatum says the conversation “has definitely changed” from his first few seasons in the league.

“I guess when you hit people’s parlays and do good for them, they tell me,” he said. “But then they also talk s–t. Like I was on the field and I didn’t get a 29.5 or whatever I was supposed to do.

— Sam Amick, Eric Koreen, Josh Robbins, James Boyd, Jared Weiss and Jason Lloyd contributed reporting.

(Photo by Tyrese Haliburton: Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)