When the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for sports betting across the country just two years ago, there were predictions of sportsbooks on every street corner and millions of new bettors going broke betting on their favorite teams.
You didn’t need odds to tell you that the sports betting revolution was on, though there was still some debate about just how far it would spread. The genie was out of the bottle, and betting on sports was on the way to becoming a respectable mainstream activity.
But no one predicted Michael Jordan would become a bookie.
That’s basically what happened in a deal announced Wednesday between one of the greatest – OK, maybe the greatest – player in NBA history and DraftKings. Jordan is getting a stake in the betting company in exchange for what DraftKings said would be “creative input to the board of directors on company strategy, product development, inclusion, equity and belonging, marketing activities and other key initiatives.”
In other words, he likes the Lakers in six.
That may not be exactly what DraftKings has in mind, though you have to wonder just what long-term value Jordan adds to the company. The short-term is a little easier to quantify, with DraftKings stock up 8% on the news.
But if there ever was anyone in sports qualified to own a chunk of a betting company, it’s the most famous gambler in NBA history.
Jordan’s gambling stories are legendary, even if half of them probably aren’t true. He bet with teammates and others on everything from a 3-foot putt in golf to whether his luggage would come out first on the team plane.
A golfing partner of his from the 1990s claimed in a tell-all book written years later that Jordan owed him $1.25 million from golf bets alone, something Jordan denied. Jordan also famously insisted in 1993 that he didn’t have a gambling problem, saying “I have a competition problem.”
Now he’s not only the owner of the Charlotte Hornets but part-owner of the kind of bookkeeping operation the late NBA Commissioner David Stern never would have allowed anywhere near any of his franchises during Jordan’s on-court career.
To show how far things have come in such a short time, the NBA of today is fine with it all. Actually, the NBA of today is all in on an activity that Stern once warned would be the ruin of the league should it expand out of Nevada.
“NBA team investors, including governors, are permitted to have involvement with sports betting and fantasy sports businesses, subject to safeguards required under league rules to prevent actual or perceived conflicts of interest,” an NBA spokesman said Wednesday.
It’s hard to imagine any of this happening back in the day, which would be the time Jordan was winning six titles in Chicago. At the time it seemed suspicious that Jordan even liked to hang in Las Vegas, where he got married to his first wife and where some of his betting exploits on the golf course and at the blackjack table are still talked about.
Times change, of course, but the seismic shift on sports betting is startling.
For years, the NBA was terrified of anything to do with betting, and it wasn’t alone. The NFL wouldn’t even allow Tony Romo to attend a fantasy sports convention in Las Vegas just a few years ago because it was being held in a hotel that had a casino.
“Our position is not a moral crusade against gambling,” Stern said a few years ago. “It’s just about betting on basketball.”
That’s one thing Jordan claims he didn’t do, even if he seemingly bet on everything else. Unlike Pete Rose, he said he was scrupulous in staying away from betting on the sport that made him famous.
“I only bet on myself, and that was golf,” Jordan said in the “Last Dance” documentary that aired earlier this year. “Do I like to play blackjack? Yeah, I like playing blackjack. There’s no laws with that. The league did call me and asked questions about it. And I told them exactly what was happening.”
What’s happening now is Jordan has a piece of the action. He’s moved to the side of the betting counter where profits are not such a big gamble.
It’s ironic in a way, but telling, too.
For a long time, DraftKings tried to convince people that the fantasy games it was offering weren’t really sports betting – until it got a chance to move into sports betting. For a long time, the NBA and others tried to convince people that sports betting was both a crime and a sin – until, of course, it wasn’t.
Now Jordan has made it official. He’s not just a former great who owns an NBA team anymore.
He’s now willing to take your money on NBA games, too.
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