Michael Jordan & Isiah Thomas | NBA Gambling Scandals

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– Alright we’re going to talk about pro basketball superstars and NBA Hall of Famers Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan and their proclivity for gambling large amounts of money. In my expert opinion, both of them at least had serious, serious gambling problems that almost possibly cost them their legacy and parts of their career. Luckily for them, it didn’t. – And betting is legal. For what I bet, yeah it’s a little bit more than I wanted to lose.

I mean, I didn’t bet to lose, but I lost it and I paid off all my debts. I didn’t wanna go to NBC or anyone else and let them know hey I lost $500,000. I’m gonna pay it this, I’m gonna pay it that way.

You know, I thought I was taking care of what my responsibility was. To lose $300,000 is easy acceptable from the public, but to say he lost one point two, then the public’s gonna look at it and say oh god, that’s a lot of money. You know, that’s one point two. Maybe he does have a problem. – I use the term investigative lightly for Isaiah.

Oh sorry, for Michael Jordan. But both Jordan and Isaiah were investigated by the FBI for their ties to gamblers and their high stakes gambling and how it possibly might have compromised them. No charges were ever filed in either case and with the Isaiah Thomas investigation, it was much more intense than the MIchael Jordan one, but as a lot of people know, Michael Jordan, it’s documented that he was writing six figure checks, in some cases possibly even seven figure checks, to cover gambling debts and the media followed him in the 1990s before some of his playoff games, especially if they were playing in New York and the Knicks and the Bulls had a big rivalry and a lot of times the media would follow Michael Jordan the night before games and see him gambling in Atlantic City let’s say 11, 12 at night. So some questions definitely arose. – [Voiceover] Oh no doubt about it.

I mean, it was amongst the circles of the inner people involved in the NBA that he had a gambling problem and the commissioner asked him to step away from the League until he got those demons corrected and then he was gonna come back and that’s exactly what happened. So it was definitely something that everybody talked about. – [Voiceover] So you’re gonna confirm that that David Stern did, that is the reason why, in your eyes, that Michael Jordan stepped away from the NBA because of the problems he had with gambling circles?

– [Voiceover] Oh definitely. I mean, you know, I never had a conversation with David Stern about it, but it was definitely something that was discussed in locker rooms and discussed at lunches between the referees and people from the NBA League office. – His father ended up being killed in 1993 while he slept in his car at the side of the road and there initially were some implications that possibly had to do with gambling debts that never actually panned out and that wasn’t true, but Michael Jordan definitely was kind of playing with fire with some of that stuff, but it never bit him. Isaiah, it came a little closer to biting Isaiah.

Isaiah’s name came up in a really big Mafia racketeering case in the late ’80s, early ’90s, that all spawned, or a lot of it spawned, from after hours casino nights that Isaiah was hosting at his mansion in suburban Detroit. So all this news was actually broken on the eve of the Pistons repeating this NBA World Champions in 1990 and unfortunately for the Pistons, it dampened some of the spirits of the repeat effort. In fact, the Sports Illustrated kicked them off the cover of that week’s Sports Illustrated issue and replaced it with an article within the pages of the magazine and I believe the headline was “Repeat championship tainted by” or something like “roses are tainted” or something along those lines of that the Pistons championship was a bit tainted by this news about Isaiah’s name popping up in this big Mob case where he was called in front of a federal grand jury to account for hundreds of thousands of dollars of checks he was cashing through a friend of his, a best friend of his, a next door neighbor of his, who’s a convicted Mafia associate and he was cashing hundreds of thousands of dollars through that man by the name of Emmet Denha, had a chain of grocery stores and Isaiah was cashing, running it through this Emmet Denha who was a convicted Mob associate and the fact that the FBI was setting up a surveillance shop in front of Isaiah’s mansion a lot in the late 1980s watching these Mafia-hosted dice games. – What happened was Denha had a market where he was able to get large sums of cash in the LCN figures, used Denha’s market to take the gambling proceeds and convert them into cash. – Emmet wanted to be liked by a lot of people and I don’t think the feeling was mutual. I think he was being used.

They took advantage of that ’cause he was a degenerate gambler. They probably gave him a break on some of his losses and he cashed checks for them, cashed very big checks, and he got into trouble for it. – Wanted to gamble for very high stakes. The Mafia afforded them those opportunities.

The Mafia specifically the Giacalone crew, their number one gambling lieutenant, a guy by the name of Allen Hilf. The Giacalone’s were the faces of the Detroit Mob from the 1960s into the 2000s. Anthony Tony Jack Giacalone and Vito Billy Jack Giacalone, they ran most of the gambling through Allen Hilf and Hilf’s crew was kind of known as the Capitol Avenue Social Club crew ’cause they ran out of the Capitol Social Club in Oak Park and Allen Hilf led that crew along with Freddy “The Saint” Salem who was a Middle Eastern Detroit wise guy who you know both Allen and Freddy were not Italian, but afforded the same level of respect and really reached the levels of power that only Italians in Detroit had in the past and you know these guys provided venues for high rollers and a lot of times they were floating games. They’d be one place on a Tuesday, one place on Thursday, one place on a Saturday to kinda throw the FBI off, but one of the ways they were able to lure high rollers was they were able to convince some local celebrities, local pro sports athletes, guys like Isaiah Thomas and Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns, the pro boxing world champion from Detroit, to host these casino nights where the Mob would be the house and you’d have high rollers coming from all levels of society, from doctors, lawyers, judges, to drug dealers, pimps, loan sharks, mobsters, and then professional athletes. It’d be this hodgepodge and you know Isaiah was really, like I said before, was playing with fire with this and there were allegations that he was a point shaver for the Detroit Mafia. Again, these allegations never came to fruition and the actual case that he was called in front of the grand jury for to account for the suspicious check cashing activity, you know, the FBI came out and said that he was not a focus of that investigation.

It was still focused on the Giacalones and Allen Hilf and they would eventually be convicted in 1991 of the case along with Jackie “The Kid” Giacalone, Billy Jack’s son and the alleged current godfather of the Detroit Mafia. And you know, Isaiah was fingered by a number of federal informants for shaving points and there were three specific games that were pointed at by these informants that all took place in late 1989. One of them, Isaiah had his worst game of his career possibly.

I think he shot like one of 12. He had two points and seven turnovers. Another one he pulled himself out of the game literally 60 seconds before tip-off so the line couldn’t change in Las Vegas. Now, these are just allegations. You know, Isaiah Thomas has never been convicted or even charged with point shaving, but he was investigated by the FBI. There are many people connected with the Detroit Mafia that insist he was on their arm and was working for them at a certain point.

In fact, Allen Hilf, who’s been dead now for a couple years and I said was probably the most powerful non-Italian member of organized crime in Detroit, he at the very last let’s say 15, 20 years of his life, he didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about Isaiah Thomas. He really hated Isaiah and reasons why, I don’t know, that can be for you to speculate about. But Allen Hilf, who was alleged to be the point man on the Isaiah Thomas point shaving allegations really had a bitter hatred for Isaiah at the end of his life and Isaiah ended up not being charged and the Giacalones did, Allen Hilf did. They ended up being convicted and doing prison time. But these were very, you know, Isaiah and Michael Jordan both were in my opinion, in my research, were really skating on thin ice with the level of money they were gambling and whether or not Isaiah was shaving points or not, whether or not he was too close to the Mafia or not, the fact of the matter is Isaiah was gambling huge sums of money, so was Michael Jordan, and you know perception is everything and the perception is there that you could be compromised because of the crowds that you’re running in, the people that you’re doing this gambling.

This was 25 years ago. This year when that news broke in 1990 and Isaiah Thomas has since gone on to be in the front office of NBA teams as well as a businessman and MIchael Jordan is running the Charlotte Bobcats right now. So just some interesting tidbits on some NBA superstars, guys that I grew up idolizing, maybe you did too. But make no mistake about it, Isaiah and Michael Jordan were both running in some pretty fast circles.