Q&A: Rip Hamilton Talks Athlete’s View Of Sports Betting ‘Kiss of Death’, Longshot Pick To Win NBA Title, His Famous Face Mask And More

The game has changed. During his legendary career with the Detroit Pistons when he sported the now-retired 32 jersey and a trademark face mask to protect a twice-broken nose, Richard Hamilton had no awareness whatsoever about the point spread in any game in which he competed.

A three-time NBA All-Star guard, Hamilton told MI Bets that sports betting was “the kiss of death. It was something that our players association has done a great job on, speaking to us and keeping us engaged on what’s going on and what to do, and what not to do.”

He retired in 2013, before today’s environment where the NBA and numerous pro teams have partnered with multiple sportsbooks. Commissioner Adam Silver has supported legal sports wagering as a major driver of fan engagement, and it has become acceptable for athletes — retired ones, at least — to promote reputable sportsbook brands as Hamilton does now for PointsBet Sportsbook.

Below, get Hamilton’s thoughts about a variety of sports betting subjects and the league today. This article has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

MI Bets: (MIB): How did you come to be involved as a brand ambassador for PointsBet?

Richard Hamilton (RH): Well, it’s interesting because, one, I was very curious about this space, especially after I retired from the game. And any time you’re dealing with sports gambling as a professional athlete, it’s something that we were taught to stay away from. I kind of kept my eye on the space, especially when I retired, just to see how the NBA and some of these networks that I’ve been working with have been doing sponsorships and different deals. And I started to look into it because I figured, if the NBA is starting to buy in on sports betting, then it should be OK not for the active athlete, but more of the retired guy that is interested in that space.

rip hamilton pointsbet
(Courtesy: PointsBet)

MIB: So then PointsBet gets moving into Michigan and it seemed like a good time to get involved?

RH: That’s when I really got engaged with it because, one, as a kid playing a game of basketball, growing up in the park, when you get out there with your buddies and shoot threes, you always tend to bet. So it’s always been a part of our culture pretty much. And one of my friends was in the business, so once PointsBet came to me with the opportunity, I just felt as though it was a match made in heaven. One, because it’s the fastest app that’s out there. When you look at my game and my style of play, I was always one of the fastest guys on the court running off screens and everything else. But also, they were considered the underdog in this space when you got some of the bigger brands out there in a very similar space. And again, like my Pistons team, we were considered the underdogs when we played against the Los Angeles Lakers. I always loved a guy that’s not counted out, but people are not putting all their chips on.

MIB: You mentioned one of your friends. Would that be Mr. Iverson, who was on board with PointsBet in New Jersey, pretty early on after the Supreme Court ruled in May 2018?

RH: Allen Iverson is a friend also, yes. I saw what he did a couple of years ago with the commercial. And I thought that was dope. We also have the same representation, too, but I’ve got another mutual friend that’s in the space, too.

MIB: Sports betting has been — or at least was — stigmatized for a while now, especially around the Tim Donaghy scandal in 2007. How was it viewed during your playing career, from the vantage point of an NBA player?

RH: The kiss of death. It was something that our players association has done a great job on, coming in and speaking to us and keeping us engaged on what’s going on and what to do and what not to do. But it’s something that you kind of pick up as a kid when you first go to college. What was that NCAA scandal? Point shaving?

MIB: Probably the Arizona State scandal around 1994-1995.

RH: Right. So you always knew to just stay away from it. I just thought that my goal would, just like a lot of other kids’ goal, is to make it to the NBA. And you don’t want to derail that by silliness or stuff that you’re not educated on or not aware of what you can and cannot do. … When I was at Connecticut, the coaches really pressed us and kept us on a straight arrow, just saying to us, “Don’t get caught up in people asking questions about the team or who’s hurting or who is playing tonight,” and all that stuff. And I still didn’t understand what the actual point spread was during that time. But it was just something that I always just kind of just stayed away from, because my goal was to be a professional athlete.

MIB: You said you didn’t really know what the point spread was at that time. Was there any awareness if your team was favored by a little in a game? By a lot? Underdogs?

RH: Not at all. Not at all. It’s crazy because my wife always says, “Hey, when you’re playing basketball, you’ve got to put on blinders.” Blinders, kind of like a horse, like you got tunnel vision. I never really got caught up on stuff outside of the game. So when people would say, “Hey, you’re a 10-points underdog or whatever, to be honest with you I didn’t know what the heck they were talking about. I was just more like, “OK, you know what, Rip? Our goal is to win a national championship in college. And I got to be able to do everything, to put my team in a better position, and to be prepared to go out and win that game.” So I kind of blocked out all the outside noise.

MIB: Obviously, there’s a difference between a professional athlete and a collegiate athlete. You mentioned your experience at UConn. Right now there are differences in state laws on sports betting around the country, especially regarding betting on college games. Within Michigan, you can bet on the Wolverines, or the Spartans, etc. However, in some states — New Jersey and Virginia, for example — you can’t bet on the in-state college team. Can’t bet on Seton Hall in Jersey, or in Virginia, law says you can’t bet on the [Virginia] Cavaliers. The lawmakers’ thinking around that generally is that, one, it’s not a great look. Two, if that were allowed, there’s greater potential for exposing the college athletes to corruption. Do you disagree or agree with that thinking?

RH: I just think the game has changed dramatically. Information is at our fingertips now. So I think that the kids now are more aware of their surroundings and what’s going on. It’s a different era, especially when it comes to social media. I see this kind of like the marijuana industry — another situation where people came around. Because you see marijuana has medical advantages. It was helping people with chronic pain, especially with helping them get off the actual hard opioid-type drugs and the effect that it has on people long-term. So I just think this is a situation where they’re taking it step-by-step. They’re starting with professional sports, some states like you said, in Michigan saying that it’s OK and some states it’s not. But I think eventually that you’re going to be able to bet across the board.

rip hamilton jersey retirement
(Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)

MIB: Okay, some basketball questions now. Excluding the Pistons’ 2003-2004 championship season, what’s the most memorable chapter of your Pistons career?

RH: I think when we got Rasheed Wallace [in the 2004-2005 season]. That was huge for us. We were already a good team. We weren’t a great team yet. I thought once we added him to our roster, it brought in a guy that can force the double team on the post. Me and Chauncey were on the perimeter, and teams used to always either blitz us in pick-a-roll situations or blitz me in pin-downs. So now, having another guy that you couldn’t leave his body, especially coming off a curl, really allowed us to be unguardable. But defensively, we were always great.

MIB: This season, which team that’s not the Lakers, Nets, Clippers, Bucks, or Jazz — the top five in the NBA championship betting market — do you think has the best shot to win the NBA title? I got the PointsBet odds pulled up and those five teams are 10-to-1 or lower. So one team outside those that you think has got a decent chance to make a run.

RH: Man, if I had to say someone other than that, you got to go with the Denver Nuggets. They’re a very talented team. I think in previous years they lost games because of their youth, and now, they made it all the way to the Western Conference finals last year, right?

MIB: Yep. Lakers got ‘em in 5.

RH: Yes. So that was a great experience for them. [Nikola] Jokic is playing at an all-time high. He could be a guy that could be considered in the MVP race. You know what [Jamal] Murray did in the bubble. He’s a guy that loves big moments. Willie Barton didn’t play a lot last year in the bubble because of his health. Having him back and then you got young guys like Bol Bol and Porter, guys like that are ready to take the next step. So I would say the Denver Nuggets.

MIB: That’s 25-to-1. Book it.

RH: Flip it.

MIB: Last question: If you play in a competitive game these days, pickup or otherwise, do you still wear the trademark face mask?

RH: [Laughs.] No — I only wore that in the game. I tell people, “I never wore it at practice. It was only worn in the game.” That was just like once the cameras are on you, kind of like Batman and Robin, Batman just kind of wanted you to pull on his cape when they really needed him to save something. That’s the only time I throw it on. Right now, I’m not getting paid to hoop no more, so I keep it in the chamber.

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