During poker’s boom in the early-aughts, Phil Ivey was the sport’s first genuine superstar, an intimidating manipulator with an utterly brilliant mind who helped catapult poker (and his own bank account) to dizzying heights. “I like it when I lose so much money I can barely breathe,” he once told a table during the filming of NBC’s Poker After Dark. But then Ivey disappeared, hamstrung by the lingering accusation and subsequent lawsuits that he had cheated casinos out of millions playing baccarat, which begs the question—does poker still need Phil Ivey?
I’ve got history with this guy. I’ve been losing money on Floyd Mayweather, Jr. for years. I am a phenomenal sucker who bets against Floyd every chance I get. I’ve never once believed that he will lose a fight, and on that score this upcoming bout with Victor Ortiz is no different. But I always hope he will lose. My reasons why are embarrassing and have nothing to do with boxing, this sport that I consider myself a fan of.
Floyd is a villain, a contemptible person. He changed his nickname from “Pretty Boy Floyd” to “Money Mayweather” and he takes great pride in flaunting his wealth. He burns hundred dollar bills. He belittles his opponents as homosexuals even long after he has beaten them. In the run-up to all of his fights he goes to great lengths to play the bad guy, and that’s truly what it is—playing. He is a promoter and an entertainer and admits as much. But I fall for it anyway. Despite the fact that Money Mayweather is as skilled a tactician in the ring as anyone fighting today I still root for his defeat. A sucker play, sure, but in betting with my heart and not my head, I am at least in good company.
Growing up in Hot Springs put horseracing in my blood. My grandparents landed there as carnies following the horserace circuit. My father grew up in the barns of the backstretch working as a groom and a hotwalker. He started taking me to the track as a child, teaching me to read the Daily Racing Form at the age of nine. Many years ago my father came to visit my wife and me in New York and he only wanted to go one place, to see the fabled Saratoga Race Course. We took him for Travers weekend, the highlight of the four-week race meet, and he was bowled over by the town and the track. “Why couldn’t Hot Springs do this,” he wondered. “This place is awesome. This is what Hot Springs should be like.”
Sitting under the basket I could hear Artest’s persistent shit-talking all night long. He and Sprewell were jawing at each other hard. And Artest was a physical player, his elbows ratcheting back and forth and side to side like a swirling combine. At one point the ref called a ticky tack foul on Spree away from the ball and Artest was taking it out baseline just a few seats down from where I sat. Some drunk fan standing behind him was going at him. “You suck Ron. I’m glad we didn’t draft you. You sucked at St. Johns and you suck now.”