Poker is becoming increasingly entwined with the NBA – but why is this game becoming so prevalent among basketball players, whilst other sports such as football and baseball distance themselves to a far greater extent?
It would seem that there are a number of prevailing reasons for this, namely the combination of vast personal wealth among the players, a lenient governing body in the NBA and an abundance of downtime – although it is also worth noting that poker’s increasing popularity and celebrity endorsements have also gone a long way towards revitalising the sport for a viewing public.
Jay Williams, the former Chicago Bulls point guard, admitted last year that personal betting between players is rife in the sport – including $20,000 bets on single games of ‘rock, scissors, paper’ – and so playing poker in grand tournaments seems a natural extension of this.
Several NBA players – including Earl Barron, Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion and Jordan Farmar – have all made appearances at tournaments commissioned by the World Series of Poker (WSOP) over the last twelve months, and whilst Barron’s $3,004 prize for finishing 613th at the 2015 ‘Millionaire Maker’ event remains the only one of them to have earned a cash prize with the organization to date, these tournaments offer excellent exposure to their fans.
As well as these televised events allowing fans to see how their heroes behave under pressure, they also allow supporters to try to match their achievements on a stage that doesn’t force them to sprint up and down the court. It is even easier than ever to get in on the action with online casinos such as Red Stag Casino allowing fans the chance to hone their skills and play for real cash prizes across a range of stakes that match any budget. And for basketball enthusiasts, an additional benefit of indulging in online play is that you often don’t know who you’re competing against: it could even be Earl Barron himself!
The NBA are certainly getting behind this shift in the public perception of poker: Commissioner Adam Silver last year leading the charge for Congress to consider legalizing sports betting around the United States, and many have predicted that it won’t be long before a regulated framework is adopted.
If that does happen, one can only speculate on how much closer poker and professional sports will become; but with more longevity and plenty of money to be made at the card table – not to mention the adrenaline rush and exposure it offers – the future looks bright for this budding sports relationship.