Molinas: the old Piston banned for gambling

Although he never played in Detroit, the most notorious fixer of college basketball games owns a place in Pistons history.

For the first time in decades, the name of Jack Molinas well-known in the 1950s and 1960s before he was gunned down by the underworld in the 1970s — popped up after the NBA’s recent lifetime banishment of Toronto journeyman Jontay Porter for betting on games.

Seventy years before Porter, the NBA banned Molinas for life in the league’s initial gambling scandal. He was a rookie forward for the Fort Wayne Pistons, four seasons before Fred Zollner moved his franchise in 1957 from Indiana to Detroit, at the time the country’s fifth-most populated city.

Molinas wasn’t an average rookie, drafted third overall out of Columbia, where he was an All-America, the captain and the Ivy League’s second-leading scorer and rebounder. At the time of an indefinite suspension in early January 1954, he had been selected to play in the All-Star Game by averaging 11.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 29.9 minutes a game. He could rack up points with a one-handed push shot from the outside (the jumper had yet to rule the sport) and a hook shot from close range.

The day of his suspension Molinas told the Associated Press that he only had bet on the Pistons to win. “I’ve never done anything dishonest in my life,” he boasted. He offered to play for free if the NBA allowed it, which would have been a shrewd move because Molinas later said he made exponentially more gambling on games as a Piston than his $10,000 salary for playing in games as a Piston.

His NBA career was over after 32 games. But his legend was only beginning.

Molinas had grown up in Brooklyn, where he relished hanging out with the racketeers who frequented a bar run by his parents. As a youth, he worked for a mob-backed bookie. As a young adult, he bet against his own team in college, shaved points and masterminded the largest game-fixing ring on record.

“To Molinas, playing in a rigged ball game was more exhilarating than playing it straight,” Charley Rosen wrote in a 2002 biography, “The Wizard of Odds.” “Was it time to kick a pass out of bounds or get called for a three-second violation? Or should he go on a scoring binge to make his own statistics respectable? … Molinas loved the idea of playing so many secret games at the same time.”

Operating on a tip from the New York Post’s sports editor, the NBA’s president, Maurie Podoloff, hired detectives in New York and Fort Wayne to prove Molinas had bet on Pistons games. Molinas even signed a statement admitting his guilt.

In later years, he charged that several Pistons teammates threw games and shaved points but would not include him in their schemes.

After his banishment, Molinas bounced around in the old Eastern League, failed to beat the NBA in state court, graduated from law school, unsuccessfully sued the NBA in federal court for $3 million alleging antitrust violations, and ran a years-long nationwide point-shaving operation that rocked college basketball in 1961. He used cash and prostitutes as lures in a scandal that implicated nearly 50 players and 27 colleges.

In 1963, when Molinas was sentenced to prison for 10-15 years, the New York judge lambasted him: “In my opinion, you are a completely immoral person. … You callously used your prestige as a former All-America basketball player to corrupt college basketball players and defraud the public.”

Paroled after five years, Molinas moved to Los Angeles for his final act. He set himself up importing fur, collected on a $500,000 insurance policy after the unsolved murder of his business partner, dabbled in producing X-rated movies and was awaiting trial for interstate shipping of pornographic films at the time of his grisly death.

At 2 a.m. on Aug. 3, 1975, Molinas was shot in the back of the head in the backyard of his luxurious Hollywood Hills home. He was 43.

“Jack Molinas always did things in a big way,” the New York Times wrote in his obituary. “He was fascinated by gambling and the rackets. He was a flashy dresser, drove oversized cars, liked to flash big bankrolls and was almost always surrounded by beautiful women.”

In “Foul!,” a 1972 book about playground legend Connie Hawkins, whose career Molinas nearly ruined, author David Wolf wrote: “A handsome, charming guileful young man, (Molinas) was totally amoral and absolutely convinced he could get away with anything. … (Once) some irate backers dangled Molinas by his legs out the window of a 15th-story hotel room until he promised to repay the money they’d lost on a game he guaranteed.”

Months before his death, Molinas told the Philadelphia Inquirer that as a collegian in the early 1950s he bet against Columbia and shaved points, although he was not ensnared in college hoops’ first betting scandal. He also summed up life: “I didn’t care about the money. I never did. Gambling was action. Winning was glory. Money was just a way of keeping score.”

For 32 games, he was an NBA all-star. Forever, he will be a Pistons pariah.

3 replies on “Molinas: the old Piston banned for gambling

Comments are closed.