Poker is a big part of NBA culture. This isn’t surprising given how poker is a form of recreation to pass time on those long flights across the U.S. and is also a great way to bond with teammates. In addition, playing poker requires laser-like focus, mental toughness, and a competitive drive — three things that easily appeal to NBA players. Of course, it helps too that they can play for large sums of money.
With that said, let’s take a look at six notable NBA players —three retired, three active — who play poker:
The league’s most notable poker player is the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan
. His Airness has been playing poker since the early 1990s, a decade before the poker boom of the early 2000s. And he played a lot, notably in his Dream Team days. Charles Barkley, in an interview with Scott Van Pelt last year, revealed how he, Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Magic Johnson played poker “every single night,” with Jordan playing huge amounts to “buy the pot.” Today, MJ still plays regularly, and for big pots.
One of the earliest to truly gain notoriety playing poker was Paul Pierce, an NBA champion, a Finals MVP, and a 10-time All-Star. While Pierce was making a name as one of the NBA’s premier scorers, he was also drawn to the felt — and got pretty good at it! And as Poker.org
notes in its list of athletes-turned-poker stars, Pierce considers poker as more than a hobby, even appearing in “Poker After Dark.” What’s more, The Truth regularly competes in high-stakes tournaments, including the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Two-time MVP Stephen Curry
is another frequent poker player. Unlike Pierce, though, Curry isn’t competing in high-stakes tournaments — yet. He is, however, one of the ring leaders of the Golden State Warriors’ regular poker games on the team plane, the other being teammate Draymond Green (who once counted poker legend, Phil Hellmuth, as his mentor). The two’s love for poker is well-documented and has rubbed off on the Warriors’ brass, who now hosts an annual charity poker tournament every January.
Westbrook, like Curry, is one of the NBA’s top point guards, having won the MVP in 2017, getting named to nine All-Star games, and averaging a triple-double in consecutive seasons (2016−2017, 2017−2018). And also like Curry, Westbrook plays poker in his spare time — often on his smartphone. Mr. Triple Double, though, isn’t one to back down from an actual game of high-stakes poker. The NYPost.com
reports that Westbrook played at the Tiger Jam Experience charity poker tournament in 2019, where he beat host Tiger Woods in a dramatic fashion.
Finally, there’s Tim Duncan, 5-time NBA champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 15-time All-Star, and 10-time member of the All-NBA First Team. Arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history, Duncan is also into poker. But as to be expected, the newly minted Hall of Famer is more of a play-with-friends type, though he makes the occasional appearance at charity tournaments. That said, he’s pretty good, and is described by the aforementioned Hellmuth as one of the NBA’s best on the felt.
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