ESPN Pumps Dallas Mavericks Ahead Of NBA Finals, Raising Eyebrows

Written By Adam Hensley on June 13, 2024 - Last Updated on June 18, 2024
NBA Finals banner over a rack of basketballs. ESPN analysts may have swayed betting action on ESPN Bet

ESPN is still navigating the gambling world, and it’s important to bear that in mind — especially for people who bet on the Dallas Mavericks in the 2024 NBA Finals.

Currently, the Mavericks are down 3-0 to the Boston Celtics in the series. That’s not entirely surprising. The Celtics were the NBA’s best team for the entire season, with the league’s top offense and a top-three defense.

Still, a whopping 89% of all ESPN BET wagers placed on this series were on the Mavericks. Objectively, that’s a high number. By comparison, DraftKings noted that 55% of its finals bets were on Dallas.

Dallas has a very deep hole to climb out of. Sure, there is a world where the Mavericks can make this comeback and take home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

But when wagering on any sport, it’s important to remember that some places fans turn to for sports analysis have a gambling angle.

In Texas, sports betting is not legal, but interested parties can make picks on the NBA Finals using social sportsbooks like Fliff.

Nine of ESPN’s 17 NBA experts predicted the Mavericks would win the series

ESPN polled its basketball minds before the NBA Finals tipped off, and nine of their 17 experts predicted an upset:

  • Kendra Andrews
  • Jerry Bembry
  • Israel Gutierrez
  • Chris Herring
  • Tim Legler
  • Bobby Marks
  • Dave McMenamin
  • Omar Raja
  • Ohm Youngmisuk

Additionally, Stephen A. Smith, one of the faces of ESPN, predicted a Mavericks upset. This came after he had repeatedly proclaimed the Celtics as favorites to win the title all season leading up to the Finals.

It’s worth noting that ESPN has a team dedicated specifically to sports betting. These people did not provide a Finals prediction in the same space as the NBA analysts. Erin Dolan, for example, is the organization’s betting analyst.

But questions will always come up when a company that has a direct gambling component has its analysts picking upsets in a championship. Again, these analysts, such as Smith, Legler, and Marks, are not giving gambling advice. At least, it’s not branded that way. However, the fact that ESPN BET had such a high percentage of Finals bets on an upset compared to other books raises some eyebrows.

And for fans and sports bettors, it’s hard to separate the two entities while watching a program or consuming social media.

ESPN still learning to navigate the gambling world

Earlier this year, ESPN — specifically, host Rece Davisgot into hot water.

Dolan appeared on a segment with Davis, discussing what she viewed as the best bet in an NCAA Tournament basketball game between UConn and Northwestern. Dolan said her analysis suggested bettors take the under in the point total, which did end up hitting.

Davis was quick to agree with Dolan’s suggestion. But the language in his delivery missed the mark. He said,

“Some would call this wagering or gambling. I think the way you sold this, I think it’s a risk-free investment. That’s the way to look at it.”

Sports betting operators cannot use terms like “risk-free” or “free bets” in their promotions. Gambling, in any way, shape, or form, is not risk-free. A customer must risk their money to potentially earn a payout. Regulators are constantly cracking down on this issue and how odds are advertised to customers.

Analysis and reporting vs. gambling advice – something others are still learning

It’s not the same thing, but this sort of expert analysis from people tied to a gambling entity resembles something that happened almost a year ago.

In June of 2023, just hours before the NBA Draft tipped off, Shams Charania, an NBA insider with The Athletic, tweeted that Scoot Henderson was “gaining serious momentum” to be taken No. 2 by the Charlotte Hornets. That didn’t end up happening, as the Hornets selected Brandon Miller.

Where things came into question was that Charania was, and still is, a brand ambassador for FanDuel. His tweet significantly shifted the betting odds on the No. 2 pick ahead of the draft. Miller was the favorite to be picked second until Charania’s post, sitting with -650 odds on FanDuel at that time. Once Charania posted his analysis online, those odds plummeted to +420, and Henderson’s odds jumped to -700, making him the clear betting favorite.

This didn’t sit well with bettors who wagered on Henderson following Charania’s tweet — so much so that FanDuel released a statement saying that it does not get advance notice when Charania posts breaking news on his social media platforms.

Again, this isn’t exactly the same thing. But when reporters share their analysis on which team will win a series, it’s important to remember that the platforms they’re speaking on can have gambling ties.

ESPN BET customers could just be enamored with how well Luka Dončić and the Mavericks played in the postseason. And it’s always enticing to pick the underdog in any event based on the potential payout. ESPN BET had Boston at -225 to win the series outright, while Dallas sat at +180.

But this a great example of how difficult it can be to separate betting analysis and true on-court analysis. Boston presented many matchup issues for Dallas, evident through three games. The Celtics were the best team in basketball for the entire season, and nothing has changed so far.

It’s prudent for bettors to do their own research and remember who they’re getting their analysis from before wagering.

Photo by Eric Gay / AP Images
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, who covers the legal sports betting and iGaming industry. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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