If you want to experience all the highs and lows of sports betting in one industrial-strength dose, go back and watch the meaningless final moments of a game between the Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks last December.
The Celtics, playing at home against a bad Mavs team, were up 10 points with under a minute left, so the game was effectively over. The players were mulling around on the court, and those not playing appear to be heading for the locker room.
As the clock ticked toward 0:00, someone tossed Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews the ball. The five Celtics on the floor, probably already thinking about dinner, appeared to take no notice. Matthews hoisted a 3-pointer toward the rim, and the shot swished through as the final buzzer sounded.
A few Celtics looked at Matthews as though he’d just got on the elevator and pushed every button — the etiquette of this kind of stat-padding is questionable — but the game was over and nobody much seemed to care.
Well, almost nobody. In the front row, behind the Celtics bench, a young man in a blue T-shirt watched the final shot swish through and collapsed like he’d been shot. You can see him on the TV broadcast of the game — he had very good seats, and his anguish made “SportsCenter” — holding his head in his hands as he appears to fall through the floor.
The Celtics had started the game as 7.5-point betting favorites. The final score, thanks to the garbage-time three-pointer, was 90-83.
Now, maybe that guy in the T-shirt was not betting on the game. Maybe there really is a trapdoor under one seat in Loge 22, Row A. Or maybe he just received word that his beloved cat had been eaten by coyotes. Maybe Wesley Matthews stole his girlfriend.
Attempts to find the guy via Zapruder-level video analysis of every available piece of footage from a mundane early-season NBA game were unsuccessful — he was wearing one of those Roger Goodell-with-a-clown-nose T-shirts and had a little beard, so that narrows it down to roughly 500,000 Boston-area sports fans.
But if I had to bet? I’d put a couple mortgage payments on the idea that this guy had Celtics -7.5.
For decades, Massachusetts has been missing out — legally, at least — on the best part of sports betting: Bad beat stories, in which gamblers recount the unlikely, unfair, and downright strange ways in which they managed to empty their wallets. Unless you’re betting way more money than you should be, a hardcore bad-beat story is at least as fun as winning a bet.
Now, as we move toward the legalization of sports betting following a Supreme Court ruling this week, here are a few of the agonizing ways Boston fans could have lost — or won! . . . but probably lost — money in recent years.
Sept. 7, 2017: Chiefs 42, Patriots 27
The season-opening loss to the Chiefs was bad enough for Patriots fans, but imagine that you also had the Patriots over, which oddsmakers set at 28.5 points. At home on a night celebrating the previous season’s Super Bowl win, that might have seemed like easy money — especially with the Patriots leading 24-21 in the third quarter and James White streaking toward the end zone. But a penalty — illegal forward pass — negated the play. The Patriots kicked a field goal and never scored again.
Sept. 28, 2016: Yankees 5, Red Sox 3
Red Sox fans probably remember this game even if they didn’t bet on it: The Teixeira game. The Sox were up 3-0 heading in the ninth inning, and the game (along with any money on the Red Sox or the under) seemed safe. Then Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira launched a game-winning grand slam over the right-center-field wall. However, if you had money on a random regular-season baseball game, you were sort of asking for it.
Dec. 17, 2017: Patriots 27, Steelers 24
That infamous incomplete pass in Pittsburgh that led the NFL to change its rule determining what is and isn’t a catch? It might have secured home-field advantage for the Patriots, but it sucked the life out of anyone who bet the over, which for this pivotal game between high-powered offenses was set at 53 total combined points. Had the Steelers kicked a tying field goal after the not-quite-a-touchdown, the over would have covered. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger promptly threw a game-ending interception.
May 9, 2018: Celtics 114, 76ers 112
The final moments of the Celtics close-out victory over Philadelphia were pretty dramatic, but imagine if you had the Sixers +1.5? With 2.4 seconds left and the Celtics up 1 point, Marcus Smart went to the free-throw line and missed his first shot, and that bet seemed safe: Smart would miss the second shot intentionally to burn time, ending the game — and Celtics fans hedging their emotions by betting on the Sixers were going to thread a very small needle, winning both the game and the bet. But even though Smart tried valiantly to miss by heaving the ball hard at the rim, it rattled around and dropped through.
If you had the Sixers, you lost your bet because a professional basketball player couldn’t miss a free throw. On purpose.
Devastating. You know, for entertainment purposes.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.