SPORTS DOCTOR- Wanna bet? If it's on sports, keep it down low

A little advice: if you gamble, keep it to yourself. 

This advice may not be popular with the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup, and Belmont Stakes breathing down our necks, but in the words of Levar Burton, you don't have to take my word for it.

As far as vices go, nothing is as romantic as gambling. Marie Antoinette, Edgar Allan Poe, Wild Bill Hickock– even Cleopatra– are the stuff of gambling legend. So what if one had her head cut off and another had his blown off? It only adds to the attraction.

In films, where we get most of our history, gamblers are debonair, handsome, irresistible fellows. Paul Newman, Humphrey Bogart, and George Clooney all played gamblers, desirable even when they lost. All aboard that train.

But in real life, losing isn't sexy, unless one is the president of a small principality who orders it to be so.  Unfortunately "Inside the NBA" isn't even a duchy, much less a principality, and Charles Barkley has no subjects. 

After years of  "compulsive" gambling, Sir Charles' pockets are over $10 million lighter– he lost a third of that in a six-hour period. With the right spin, losing the GNP of a small country can be pretty sexy, but it's much harder to gussy up a casino debt of $400,000.

That's just tacky.

Still, $400,000 has done what $10 million couldn't. Charles Barkley is going to stop gambling. 

"I'm not going to gamble anymore. For right now, the next year or two, I'm not going to gamble," he said.

Can you see Humphrey Bogart's saying that?

It's like imagining attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting with Bill Hickock– not happening. It's not very manly to admit one has a "crippling disease, which prevents (one) from exercising complete rational self control."

Gunslingers weren't known for acknowledging weakness to avoid jail time or selling out their posses and calling it "cooperation." As tough as the NBA claims to be, it's no Deadwood, and Tim Donaghy is no Bill Hickock.

The disgraced referee who bet on his own officiating has disgraced himself even more by implicating his peers in a letter to the NBA. Not even Paul Newman could make groveling look good, and the pasty-faced Donaghy isn't wooing the NBA or the US Attorney's office with his "cooperation."

Joel Litvin, NBA president for league and basketball operations, said in a statement: "The letter is the desperate act of a convicted felon hoping to avoid prison time."

In all fairness to Donaghy, nothing is sexier than avoiding prison time. 

I doubt even Charles Barkley ever bet he could drink $500,000 worth of wine at once or wagered $40,000 on one golf swing, but I could be wrong. To most of us, even $5 lottery tickets are just too pricey.

I could be wrong there, too. 

In the US, more than $380 billion is gambled illegally on sports– and not all can be attributed to Sir Charles. If the average American's annual wager consists of $20 on the NCAA, the Super Bowl, or the Kentucky Derby, that means 19 billion people bet on sports illegally. 

Considering the US population is only 301,139,947, every man, woman and child in America could be betting $1261.87.If I'm not (and I'm not) and you're not (who knows?), then somebody is betting quite a chunk of change, and they're probably not wearing a tuxedo while they're doing it. 

Most of Charles Barkley's commentary is unintelligible, which is too bad because he's pretty smart about basketball. But he's orating like Lincoln to let the world know he's quit gambling. It's no coincidence that Barkley‘s announcement comes just as Joel Litvin dismissed Donaghy's revelations about the NBA's illegal gambling.

Tuxedos are hard to come by in prison, and famous gamblers usually never make it there alive anyway. So if you gamble, try not to become famous. And if you're already famous, don't gamble, especially if you work for the NBA.

But if you must, remember this: a Dead Man's hand is aces over eights, and please sit with your back to the wall.