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Stakes on a plane OK with Celtics

Team won’t alter gambling policy while traveling

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 9, 2010

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ATLANTA - In reaction to the recent upheaval with the Washington Wizards, the New Jersey Nets banned gambling on team flights this week, a move with the express purpose of eliminating infighting among teammates, especially younger players.

The Celtics will take no such measures, according to coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. They aren’t necessary, they say. The Celtics haven’t had many issues with players bickering over gambling or highly charged card games, but they do exist.

Gambling on team flights is as customary in the NBA as chest bumps. For generations, players have passed time on flights with a friendly game of poker, and given the competitive nature of the players, large sums could be wagered.

This occurs on Celtics flights, but according to those involved, nothing close to the reported showdown between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton has occurred. And as long as the players behave and keep their squabbles on the plane, Rivers has no issue with card games.

“I am not going to that extreme,’’ Rivers said about banning gambling. “I think we always overreact to that stuff. Gambling didn’t cause that problem, Gilbert’s actions caused this problem. There has been gambling before I got in the league. There’s been arguments and obviously, because guys make more money now, the stakes are higher. But, having said that, our rule on the plane is they can do whatever they want as long as they keep it under control. They are going to have some arguments every once in a while, but if it divides the team, then it’s a problem.’’

It is believed that a dispute over a gambling debt led to brandishing of guns between Arenas and Crittenton. Arenas has received an indefinite suspension for bringing a gun onto team premises and his making light of the incident in recent days.

Washington police are investigating the circumstances regarding Arenas taking guns into the Wizards locker room. And it has been reported that he placed an unloaded gun near Crittenton’s locker as a joke.

For those who question gambling among teammates, you can do only so much sleeping, listening to music, watching movies, and eating while on long flights. On this three-game road trip alone, the Celtics will spend more than 10 hours in the air over a five-day period and all it takes is a sliver of trash talk, a deck of cards, set of dominos, cash, and you have a furious game.

It sounds like fun, but as quickly as laughter fills the back of a plane, yelling and complaining can follow, especially from a sore loser. Even the NBA’s most esteemed gentlemen are not above taking a teammate’s spare cash.

“Since I have been in the league, we have always played cards,’’ Ray Allen said. “You play to pass the time and have a good time. But just like anything else, you put something on it because we’re competitors. You don’t have to play for large sums of money, but it’s like any time I play golf, I always play for money. When you step to the tee box and I always ask my guys, ‘What are we playing for?’ Seriously because what it boils down to is I like to compete and I like for you to sit over your putt and be nervous. I don’t want to lose anything. I have a reputation to uphold.’’

So if NBA good guys such as Allen get irritated about losing a few bucks, just imagine those players who aren’t as astute at controlling their emotions.

“First of all gambling is part of being a camaraderie towards the teammates, something they can do off the court besides basketball,’’ guard Tony Allen said. “But I think there’s a limit to where people can get emotions involved. The whole situation with Gilbert is an unfortunate situation and I wish they would have used better judgment.

“On the Celtics team, it’s common, if you don’t pay your debts, guys are going to joke about you. If you don’t pay it, that’s like bad on your part. I don’t know what [Arenas] had going on.’’

In regard to guns, Rivers said he has talked with some of the younger players individually but he hasn’t called a team meeting to discuss the issue. Ainge said he will meet with Rivers, principal owner Wyc Grousbeck, and team president Rich Gotham to discuss a plan for approaching the subject of gambling, guns, and behavior.

“We have had some conversations about gambling and I would like to see some players not gamble,’’ Ainge said. “And we will discuss the best solutions moving forward. I do see the potential problems that could arise from gambling on the plane. We haven’t had any issues but because it’s a hot topic right now, it may be time for us to reevaluate our policies, at least have some open discussion and it will probably involve our team captains as well.’’

Ainge said the team has talked about owning guns and the league policies regarding players and gun possession. And it sounds as if that message is about to be emphasized.

“We just have a no-gun policy,’’ he said. “But they have their individual rights to abide by the law. The thing that shocks me is I have been in the NBA for 28 years and I have never seen a gun, on a player, at a practice, at a game, so I am a little frustrated that the image of the league is being tainted based on a handful of incidents the last decade. I get frustrated by people who ruin the image of the league.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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