Some Chicago Bulls frustrated by the reality of sports gambling in the NBA: ‘It takes away the purity of the game’

In the six years since the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the NBA has embraced the new addition to basketball culture with open arms. And if this year is any predictor, the influence of sports betting in basketball will only grow throughout the coming seasons.

But this past week has served as a warning for sports leagues throughout the country — from stars like MLB’s Shohei Ohtani to bench players like the NBA’s Jontay Porter, the rise of legal gambling ushers in problems as it does profit.

For Chicago Bulls players, the proliferation of sports gambling has shifted the dynamic of being a professional athlete — both on the internet and on the court.

Forward DeMar DeRozan described the main development simply: “You’re getting more fans talking crazy to you because you’re messing up their parlays.”

DeRozan said he has never had an interest in betting. So he was initially confused when he began to see fans bring signs to games listing the over/under for the night’s betting lines. In recent years, it’s become commonplace to hear fans shout from the stands — complaints about a busted parlay or pleas to miss a free throw to make the under.

This was an adjustment for players across the league. Nikola Vučević said he felt a similar surprise when several fans sent him requests for money on Venmo after losing prop bets on games. (Vučević has since made his Venmo account private.)

“It’s inevitable,” Vučević said. “People like it. They do it. You just have to understand that you’re going to bring in some people that don’t actually care for the actual sport and for the integrity of it. They just care for the money, for the betting. If you’re OK with that, it’s fine. But you’ve got to be ready for the negativity that’s going to come with it.”

For the NBA, striking a balance with betting goes beyond fans. That became sharply clear this week following an ESPN report that Porter is under investigation by the league for allegedly manipulating his performances for the Toronto Raptors to fulfill prop bets throughout the season.

“Any time you bring that into the game, there’s always going to be potential problems,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “There just is. I don’t know what the cost is in relationship to the risk. I’m sure the NBA has evaluated all that stuff. But I think when you’re bringing that in, there’s obviously more enticements.”

This isn’t a new issue. When Donovan played for Providence as a collegiate athlete, the FBI sent agents to speak to his team about the realities of throwing games. Donovan believes this was a direct result of the point-shaving scandal at Boston College, in which men’s basketball players were paid by members of an organized crime syndicate to prevent their team from covering the spread throughout the 1978-79 NCAA season. With sports gambling now legal in many states on a variety of online platforms, it’s even easier for players to potentially manipulate betting odds.

The NBA employs similar tactics by annually providing education and resources to athletes to help them avoid illegal gambling endeavors. Those measures will likely be intensified in the wake of Porter’s investigation, which could result in steep consequences for the Raptors.

But Donovan acknowledged the risk remains as long as legal gambling is a fixture of the league.

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“When you open that up, bad things can happen,” Donovan said. “You just hope it doesn’t happen and guys can be smart and wise on that stuff. There is a line there that certainly if it gets crossed can be really unfortunate so you try to educate the guys as best you can.”

Even with concerns of match-fixing and point-shaving, the NBA isn’t just tolerating gambling — the league has embraced betting as an integral part of its economic future.

A week before Porter came under investigation, the league announced its plans to roll out a new function on League Pass that would display live odds during games and allow viewers to place bets through DraftKings and FanDuel.

This is the latest step in the league’s partnership with the sports gambling industry. The NBA formerly partnered with DraftKings and FanDuel in 2021, which included the launch of the NBABet channel on NBA TV. It’s the reality of basketball now — games have evolved to become a product for gambling in addition to a leisure activity for fans of the sport.

But for veterans like DeRozan, this reality isn’t necessarily the ideal.

“If you a fan, you a fan,” DeRozan said. “I just feel like it takes away the purity of the game and the love of the game. It should be about being a fan. I don’t think you can necessarily be a complete fan if you’re worrying about somebody getting three assists or whatever it may be.”