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NBA Point Shaving

Scott Morris | October 31, 2013

With the college basketball season quickly approaching and the NBA’s preseason in full gear, the sportsbooks have already begun accepting bets on regular season, division, and championship wins among others. As bettors begin doing a little research into their favorite teams and players and dissecting the team match-ups throughout the 2013-2014 season, it is unlikely they are thinking that the games will be played in any way but on the up and up. It is rare that any type of obvious cheating is part of any NCAA or NBA game, rare but not impossible. Here is a look back at some of the biggest point shaving scandals that have hit the world of basketball.

1951, the year that college basketball experienced its biggest scandal to date. It was discovered that a minimum of 86 games were rigged between 1947 and 1951. A total of thirty-five players were accused with twenty players ultimately convicted as a result of the scandal, along with fourteen gamblers. In addition, many coaching and playing careers were effectively destroyed.

The mob was involved in its own point shaving scheme during the 1978-1979 college season. Boston College player Rick Kuhn got mixed up with the Lucchese crime family (a notorious New York mob family) and brought a couple additional players into the mix with him. Points were shaved from nine games during the regular season and the players made off with approximately $10,000 for their efforts. Kuhn was the only player unfortunate enough to be convicted and served a 28 month sentence.

While the NBA is yet to have any point shaving scandal exposed there is evidence that point shaving is indeed part of the game and exists throughout the league. A recent paper, written as a senior thesis by a Stanford undergraduate student, highlights the possibility of the existence of NBA point shaving. While the research conducted by the student, Jonathan Gibbs, does not prove without a doubt that this practice takes place, it does come to some very interesting conclusions. Gibbs reviewed 14 years worth of NBA seasons, over 15,000 games that occurred between the 93-94 and 06-07 seasons. In short, Gibbs found that his research “yielded results consistent to what one would expect from point shaving: teams heavily favored fail to cover the spread a statistically significant amount of the time.” A number of highly regarded experts reviewed Gibbs’ methods and agreed that his findings were sound. Maybe it is only a matter of time before a point shaving scandal hits the NBA.

Where there is competition there are two things one can rest assured on: someone is betting on the outcome and some person involved is willing to cheat to win. With a pool of players as big as all those who participate in college level and professional basketball, there are bound to be a few bad apples here and there. All we as spectators can do are place our team loyalties and bets in good faith and hope the players are doing the same.


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