Thursday, June 01, 2006

Owning Barkley

(May 4, 2006)

Philip Seymour Hoffman doing his thing.

Last night I watched the 2003 film Owning Mahowny for the first time. The movie centers around a compulsive gambler named Dan Mahowny. Now, I wish I could say that I was bright enough to watch this film solely because of the film's obvious connection to the recent news about the gambling problems of NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley and popular PGA Golfer John Daly. That wasn't why I popped it in my DVD player. I popped Owning Mahowny in because A.) It had been sitting in my collection accumulating dust for the last two years; and B.) It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of my longtime favorite actors.

Still, even though Hoffman's performance was riveting, I couldn't help but to think about the Chuckster, one of my all-time favorite athletes, as I watched.

Owning Mahowny was inspired by a true story. There actually was a Toronto bank vice president that used his position to steal money in order to pay his gambling debts. He started taking $10,300, which was the sum of his first gambling debt owed to some goons down at the horse track. By the end of the movie Mahowny had miraculously taken the Bank for $10.2 million. What's even more miraculous, is that he lost it all. Every single penny. He had fantastic luck with his Bank, sneaking money through airports and customs, even at the casinos from time to time. The problem was that he couldn't walk away. Watching Hoffman stuck to that table reminded me of the way a heroin addict is tragically magnetized by a needle. As long as he had access to money, that was money to lose.

A nice mug shot of Sir Charles.

Charles in Charge?

That is where Barkley comes in. Yesterday, I was dumbfounded when I read that Barkley admitted to losing around $10 million to gambling and said "Do I have a gambling problem? Yeah, I do have a gambling problem but I don't consider it a problem because I can afford to gamble." That sounds an awful like Mahowny to me.

It's sad, because even though Chuck said back in the day that he wasn't a "role model," he most definitely is. It's not just that kids of all colors and economic backgrounds look up to him, but also the NBA players of today. Yes, they might want to "be like Mike" (who also seems to have a gambling problem), but they also want to be like Chuck. Today's young athletes are less educated than ever and news like this is bad news for their futures. It seems to me that they have a hard enough time managing their disposable income. Role models such as Chuck only enable them to be even less responsible with their money. Chuck is often the first person to talk about Hurricane Katrina victims or running for office, but it's hard to take him seriously when he is in such a state of denial. Just listen to him "It's not a problem. If you're a drug addict or an alcoholic, those are problems."

Can't you see Barkley twenty years from know? I can see him. He's dead broke and borrowing money from filthy-rich buddies Nike CEO Phil Knight, Michael Jordan (who probably really does have too much money to ever go broke from gambling, but may have lost his father because of his problem) and Tiger Woods to survive the way former Eagles owner and compulsive gambler Leonard Tose did when he borrowed from Dick Vermeil and others. He's going down a nasty path. He's not a professional poker player or a suave sports gambling expert, he's a poor gambler that thinks he has too much money to ever go broke.

Tell that to Mahowny, or better yet, John Daly. Daly said that he has lost an estimated $50-60 million gambling. I was shocked to find out that Daly even had that kind of money. He can't be worth that much, can he? And if he is, and really did lose that much, how is he staying afloat financially? At least Daly is coming to grips with his problem. When asked about his problem he admitted that his gambling could "flat-out ruin" him.

At least Daly's moved past the denial stage. He's got that on Barkley.

Gambling can be fun and entertaining, but is nasty in its addiction form. I've seen compulsive sports gamblers bet ten or twenty times what they started out betting earlier that day, on games they hadn't even really liked coming in, just to recoup their losses. Mahowny once called in $1,000 dollars on all the MLB teams; he took all of the away teams in the National League, and all of the home teams in the American League. He was playing $70,000 a hand in Atlantic City. When gambling gets to this point it isn't just about losing disposable income. It's like a drug addiction. You lose touch with reality on your way to losing everything. Friends. Family. Reputation. Everything. Mahowny was lucky. He only ended up doing a six-year stint in prison as someone's teddy bear and owed basically every dollar he earned once he was released from the can. It can get worse. At least he kept his life, because many people that get that sucked in don't make it out.

I'm not trying to be a square here. I think gambling is a perfectly fine habit if you can control yourself. It is no different than drinking. Lots of people can enjoy throwing down some serious drinks, but some people are awful drunks. You know the kind of people that get banned from all drinking establishments by their P.O. or have a breathalyzer in their car. Those people shouldn't drink, just like compulsive gamblers shouldn't gamble.

I guess I just don't want to see one of the beloved sports heroes from my youth ruin himself and his legacy. There is still time for Barkley to accept and curtail his problem, and he better. Or else his biographical film will end up being called Owning Barkley.


Post a Comment

<< Home