In poker, the psyche of a player is just as important as the cards he’s dealt. You have to keep your composure; losing control usually leads to losing money. And lots of it. Sometimes though, even the most level-headed player will get pushed over the edge after suffering one too many bad beats1. In poker parlance, they go on tilt.
The Lakers have suffered through their fair share of bad beats in the past few years. First, they orchestrated a trade for Chris Paul that was famously vetoed by David Stern and the NBA. Then, they pulled off another coup by nabbing Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the summer of 2012, only to have the season derailed by injuries, chemistry issues, and bad coaching. To make matters worse, Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles in the final week of the season and Howard bolted in free agency. The Lakers are getting dealt good hands, only to see them crushed on the turn2 or river3. After decades of facing adversity—Magic’s HIV announcement, Shaq and Kobe feuding—and overcoming them, the Lakers have finally succumbed. The Lakers are on tilt.
That is the only explanation I can come up with for Kobe Bryant’s $48.5 million contract extension. You see, when you’re on tilt, you play irrationally. You get mad, you get angry, you start overplaying hands, raising when you should fold. You’re either going to claim redemption for that last bad beat, or go down in flames trying. So when Jim Buss sees every single good personnel decision he makes lose in the long run, when he sees himself getting hammered in the media, when he feels the pressure of his father’s legacy, it all becomes too much. He tilted. The very next big decision he had before him was Kobe’s contract extension. When rumors surfaced in October that the Lakers would allow Kobe to become a free agent, rather than ignore it like a level-headed poker player would, Jim Buss immediately stepped in and refuted the notion. A month later, and less than a week after Kobe was cleared for practice, the team handed him the lucrative extension designed to keep him a Laker for life.
Jerry Buss was the greatest sports owner of all time, and his experiences at the poker table no doubt helped him in guiding his franchise to the upper echelon. Jim Buss is proving to be quite a different type of owner, a rash, emotional decision maker who may just tilt the Lakers to the felt4.
- Bad beat: to lose a hand that was heavy favorite to win.
- Turn: the fourth and second-to-last community card, dealt face up .
- River: the fifth and last community card, dealt face up.
- Felt: losing your entire stack.