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Blackjack King Jeff Ma Saw the NBA’s Future in 2007

Sep 15, 2010

Trail Blazers
Trail Blazers

Nobody who watched basketball’s recent FIBA World Championship couldn’t help but notice the emergence of Kevin Durant as the planet’s next truly Hall of Fame-level player; of course, guys like Jeff Ma knew it all along … if only the Portland Trail Blazers had been listening.

Ma, known as one of the players on the infamous MIT Blackjack Team and author of the best-selling “The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business,” also briefly did some consultation work for the NBA’s Trail Blazers. Ma did the bulk of his work with the basketball team in preparation for the 2007 NBA Draft in which Portland famously selected Greg Oden with the no. 1 overall pick over Durant.

Even at the time, Oden was not seen as a sure thing, having played just one year of college ball and having missed a second altogether due to injury, and all of Ma’s numbers pointed to Durant as a better choice for the club.

Unfortunately, Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard was having none of it from the master of blackjack strategy. In a meeting following the reportage of Ma’s final results, Pritchard asked Ma at one point “How do we get your rankings to look more like ours?” At this point, according to the new book from MIT blackjack legend Jeff Ma, “this question seemed proof that he didn’t really get what we were trying to do” and that “he didn’t want [Ma’s numbers] to conflict with what his guy and scouts were telling him,” i.e. to draft Oden.

Today, Pritchard is surely wishing he’d taken the blackjack player’s advice. Maybe next time he’ll go against the gut feeling and do the equivalent of splitting 9s every time.


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One response to “Blackjack King Jeff Ma Saw the NBA’s Future in 2007”

  1. Anonymous says:

    wtf…why is a blackjack player doing calculations for nba drafts? presumably he was hired to do this too?

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