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The twisted irony of the Jontay Porter scandal

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There is a twisted irony in the situation Jontay Porter finds himself in. I will get back to you. But first, if you’ll allow me, here’s a eulogy of sorts.

From an early age, Jontay molded his game in the shadow of his oldest brother, Michael, who was one of the most mesmerizing scorers I had ever seen at the high school level. Less than 18 months younger, he was a perfect addition. Where Michael was a brash and athletic scoring machine, Jontay was a floor-bound passing savant. His playing was exceptionally mature, intelligent and nuanced. He was a pick-and-pop threat from 3, a super-smart communicator on defense, and a distribution center as a big man. On the field, Jontay was his older brother’s keeper. They’ve both been snake-bitten in their own ways: three spinal surgeries for Michael, two major knee surgeries for Jontay. But while Michael would eventually find his feet with the defending champion Denver Nuggets, Jontay found himself largely aimless in the wilderness until this season.

Porter, who signed a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors in December, showed, fully healthy for the first time in his professional career, that he was the player he should have been at the highest level. The craft and spatial awareness he demonstrated when setting screens, combined with his exemplary passing vision, made him an immediate threat in dribble-handoff situations. (I may or may not have made a few irresponsible Marc Gasol comparisons in some group chats.) In the final game of his NBA career, Porter recorded eight assists in less than 21 minutes – only 24 other centers in all of NBA history have achieved success. comparable performance. In the 37 games he played — and will ever play — in the NBA, Jontay had a career assists-to-turnover ratio of 2-to-1.

There’s the irony. He had always been a good decision maker on the work floor.

But a series of questionable off-field choices have thrust him into the infamy of modern sport in this landmark moment. On Wednesday, less than a month after the NBA opened an investigation into “betting irregularities” involving Porter, he was handed a lifetime ban from the league for a litany of violations. Porter is the first player to receive a permanent ban for violations unrelated to the NBA’s substance abuse policy since 1966, when Roger Brown and Connie Hawkins were barred for their association with a 1961 NCAA point-shaving scandal. The Porter investigation found that Porter had placed at least 13 bets (none involving games he had played in) through a friend’s account from January to March this year, with stakes ranging from $15 to $22,000. He bet against his own team three times in multi-game parlays, each time betting that the Raptors would lose. He didn’t hit any of those parlays, though it’s unclear if that was a result of any Raptors wins. (There weren’t many in that three-month period.) Porter’s bets totaled $54,094; he was paid $76,059, a net win that was less than the highest single bet he placed.

The most egregious violation occurred on March 20, prior to that evening’s game between the Raptors and Kings, when Porter “disclosed confidential information about his own health status to an individual known to be an NBA gambler.” Another Porter associate had placed an $80,000 parlay on Porter-specific prop bets for that game, betting on the unders – which promised to yield a $1.1 million profit if successful. Such a high value bet on a mediocre player was immediately flagged as suspicious by licensed sports betting operators and reported to the league. (As such, the bet was frozen and not paid out.) Jontay played a total of two minutes and 43 seconds against the Kings that night before sitting out the rest of the game, due to illness.

Porter’s passion for gambling did not come out of the blue. He started investing in cryptocurrencies in college. He performed an operation social media account has been sharing stock and cryptocurrency trading tips since September 2020 and claims to be the co-founder of a swing trading advisory service and community – the kind get rich quick echo chambers on Discord that have become a dime a dozen since the early days of the pandemic, exploding in popularity after the legendary short squeeze on GameStop stock. (Porter once tweeted about the service his main accounttwo days after the first GameStop short squeeze occurred on January 22, 2021.)

But for someone whose main hobby and sideline was promoting ideas about financial freedom and literacy, his recent actions (and those of his colleagues) haven’t exactly reflected much of the latter. There may be different mechanisms at play between sports betting and stock trading, but ultimately both are heavily influenced by the transaction volume in the market. Considering liquidity risk is one of the very fundamental elements of understanding how this all works. Knowing that, you’d never try to get away with an $80,000 parlay bet in a legitimately barren market on a fringe player coming off the bench for a tanking Raptors team. According to the the League’s reportPorter – who clearly knew the trend line of his numbers, having played at least 20 minutes per game in the previous four games – deliberately manipulated the game and his place in it. All for the chance to win $1.1 million, less than the salary he earned playing 11 games for the Grizzlies in 2021. On a literal bet against himself. It is human to minimize your own self-esteem. It’s another thing entirely to treat yourself like shitcoin.

But that’s the byproduct of making sports betting as accessible as it has become: it fuels impulses that lead to more bets. You can make a bet faster than you can process the consequences. You can’t see how the analytics mainframe checks every transaction in the country from the Parlay Builder interface on your phone. You only see the numbers you want to see. It’s not hard to see how people become addicted. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that the NBA fought against legalized gambling. In 2012, the four major U.S. sports leagues and the NCAA sued New Jersey over a bill that would legalize sports betting within the state; in 2014, they would sue New Jersey again. Legalizing sports betting, the leagues argued, “undermines the public’s faith and trust in the character of amateur and professional team sports.”

But then something changed. That same year, in 2014, the NBA entered into a strategic partnership agreement with FanDuel, which included an equity stake. FanDuel was purely a daily fantasy sports operation at the time, which exempted it from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, as fantasy sports received specific permission. Days after FanDuel’s announcement, Silver, then in his first year as NBA commissioner, published one New York Times op-ed titled “Legalize and regulate sports betting.” The writing was on the wall and the NBA would be the first to get in on the ground floor. In the ensuing decade, the cognitive dissonance generated by legalized gambling and its interplay with professional sports reporting has been so all-consuming that it appears as white noise. (Speaking of: This story is brought to you by The bella FanDuel affiliate.)

Porter’s decision is exactly what the NBA feared:And hoped – when it was doing business with the sports betting out there. The legalization of sports betting was seen as a way to install and enforce measures that could monitor market volume on a global scale and address glaring discrepancies while bringing the action into the open. From that standpoint, the NBA can easily view this situation as a proof of concept for preserving the integrity of the game and the legal gambling industry as a whole. A lifetime ban on gambling and endangering the integrity of the game is clear and unequivocal. That the watershed ruling could be imposed against an aspirant like Porter rather than an established star meant the decision would come largely without resentment from fans. It was a no brainer. While it raises the question of how other, more morally heinous transgressions have been handled with relative leniency, the answer is as it always has been: the NBA is a business, and its express duty is to expand and protect its business interests above all else. The lack of clarity in that area speaks for itself.

Porter will be immortalized as an example and as a punch line. There will certainly be others, whether in the NBA or another major league, who will see the half-steps Jontay has made and apply revisions more deftly. The attraction is always there. And for players at the bottom of the pecking order looking up, it must be difficult to tame the sense of desperation at keeping a dream alive, however possible. I keep wondering about the person behind the news cycle, and what decisions he made that led to it this. He was thinking about quitting the game in 2022, as described in a Sportsnet profile published in early January. During his brief stint with the Memphis Grizzlies from 2020 to 2022, he took “several ibuprofen” before games to treat pain in his knees. It’s a known ailment in the family: In addition to Michael’s surgeries, both of his sisters were forced to retire at one point due to knee problems at Mizzou. His older sister Bri had five ACL tears in middle school and high school.

My thoughts go back to March 2019 and a story I read that evening. Jontay was at the Denver Nuggets practice facility watching his brother Michael play one-on-one against a friend. Less than five months removed from tearing his ACL and MCL in a bizarre landing during a scrimmage, he was eager to play. He was a potential first-round pick in the 2018 NBA draft but opted to stay at Mizzou to strengthen his stock, only to suffer the setback. The knee surgery was a disappointment, but Jontay was on track to be ready to compete by 2019 draft night. In fact, he had undergone a check-up a few days earlier in March to be cleared to run and jump, but had to cancel the appointment due to the Bomb Cyclone snowstorm that dumped nearly a foot of snow in Denver. At that moment he felt fine. And he would be acquitted anyway. So he joined in. “I think the competitive nature took over,” Porter said The Kansas City star. “I didn’t really think about my knee. I kind of went for it. I felt invincible.”

As the intensity increased in a one-on-one against Michael, Jontay felt his knee pop. “Why would you play?” Michael yelled at him, according to the Star article. At the end of March, Jontay would undergo his second knee surgery in less than six months. An irrational impulse changed the trajectory of his career forever. Five years later, almost to the day of his second operation, another would completely destroy his career.

“I’m only out for a year,” Porter told the newspaper Star back in 2019. “I have so much time to invest in other things. Ultimately, I can’t be angry that a year is being taken away from me.”

What about a lifetime?

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