Mitch Creek's story
Over the course of my career in basketball, I’ve seen two colleagues file for bankruptcy after having issues with gambling.
Both of them were great guys and very successful before they lost relationships, careers, opportunities and great lifestyles. They put their money through poker machines until they had nothing left.
One of them, in particular, really struggled. For him, there were two or three years of constant relapses, while he was in and out of programs to get help.
But we didn’t learn about any of this until it was too late. By then, he had already ripped a lot of people off, ruined friendships and moved away.
Looking back now, I wish I’d known earlier because I could have helped. I could have sat and talked with him or gone with him to meetings to get professional help.
But I didn’t get the chance to do that; or maybe I just didn’t see the signs that were there. Back then, I didn’t fully realise how gambling addiction can stay hidden and lead good people down bad paths.
‘I Had to Know the Truth’
I was unknowingly caught up in all of it, when this friend of mine approached me asking for a short-term loan to support his business venture.
I wasn’t aware that this person had a gambling issue. He sold the idea to me well and I decided to lend him $7,000.
I trusted him because he was a mate.
The short-term loan turned into years of me chasing him for my money back. It was a constant stream of excuses and empty promises.
For a long time, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I’d known him to be a good bloke. But the money never came through.
The truth of it all only came out when I started hearing the stories. A friend asked me, ‘Did you ever have a bad experience with this particular person?’
Until that point, I’d just kept the whole thing to myself, but I had to know.
It turned out that this guy had convinced many other friends to give him short-term loans as well. And gambling was behind it all.
I couldn’t believe it.
He’d been a personal friend who became a part of the basketball organisation through me, and then ended up screwing a lot of people over.
I was in awe of the scale of it.
I’d trusted this person enough to introduce him to my family. I’d even told my dad about the opportunity and we spoke about going in it together. In the end he decided not to, which I’m very thankful for now.
The whole experience really opened my eyes to what can happen when gambling has a hold of someone.
‘No One Is Ever Beyond Help’
I’d seen the impact of alcohol problems in my extended family when I was young, and the bad choices that come from that, but I don’t think I realised the full extent to which addiction can change someone until this experience.
And although I still feel betrayed by that friend, I’m very aware that I probably don’t know the full story. I’ve learnt that with this kind of thing, people often don’t have much control over their actions.
Gambling can be a way of masking other problems in their life such as work stress, relationship stress or trauma. The root cause can lie deep within, and a person’s feelings of guilt and remorse for what they are doing can lead them to take even more risks, as they try to make back the losses.
These days I often think about how this sort of thing can be prevented if people get ahead of it early.
I hope that the guy at the centre of this story is getting the help he needs now and taking ownership of his problems.
If he’d been able to call me earlier to have a conversation, I’m sure we could have worked it out. I would have been understanding, because it’s sad to know how much he himself lost as well.
Everyone makes mistakes, but no one’s ever beyond help.
How Athletes Come Unstuck
I’ve never been someone that likes to gamble much, aside from a few small bets with teammates after training on who is the better shooter.
But indirectly, it’s in front of me all the time.
I’ve noticed that some athletes start gambling as a form of entertainment in their spare time, once they’ve begun to make a great living off their sport, earning big money.
They don’t realise how their actions are beginning to form a habit. It might begin with some gambling in their downtime, then they’ll be on the sports betting apps during travel days with the team or heading to the casino after games.
It’s easy for people to get swept up in it.
In America, where basketballers get paid a lot of money, I saw guys gambling as much as I make in a whole year. It was crazy.
Gambling problems can strike at any time, but when athletes transition into the phase of their career, or retirement, where they’re not making as much money, I’ve noticed that’s when they often run into trouble. If they keep the same habits around gambling, they can really come unstuck.
But the important thing that everyone needs to understand, is that you can always get help and regain control of your situation.
In Australia, gambling is a big part of our culture. It’s crazy to hear all the different promotions that betting companies run, designed to make it enticing to gamble. Things like if you put $200 into an app, you get an extra $150 for ‘free’.
I try to keep out of what my friends are doing, it’s not for me to judge them, but it does astound me how acceptable, and accessible, gambling has become in Australia.
I don’t have a sports betting app on my phone but if I wanted to, I know I could download a program, load a thousand dollars into my account and gamble it all on the next horse race, in just a couple of minutes.
The fact that it’s so easy to part with your money is scary.
Given that it’s so profitable for these companies, I don’t think gambling is going away anytime soon, so we need to educate people so that they can do it responsibly or know when to stay away entirely.
Help is available, so talk to a mate or someone you trust before it’s too late.
It worries me, in the sense that I have a lot of friends who like the punt, and I wonder if they know where the line is. How do you know when enough is enough?
I’ve seen people go over the line enough times now, that I don’t want anyone in my family, or that I care about, to end up in that place.
If a friend or family member came to me for a chat about their gambling now, I’d sit down with them, in a space where they’re comfortable, and make them aware that I’m there for them and want to help.
Whether they chat to me or with a professional, I’d just want them to know that I love and care for them, and that I’d be happy to help them put together a game plan, so we could tackle the problem together.
Catching the American Carrot
I’ve caught the NBA carrot a few times now and not been able to hold on. It’s still dangling in front of me though, I’m hoping to get back over there and catch the carrot again.
My first crack at America was in 2018, as a training camp player with the Brooklyn Nets. I was with them for more than a month but didn’t get picked up.
I played in the G-League with their affiliate team, the Long Island Nets, and then got brought back for two 10-day contracts in Brooklyn. That was followed by a 10-day contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who eventually handed me a full spot on the roster at the end of the season.
I was with the Timberwolves for pre-season, played really well in the Summer League, and thought I’d done enough to get a contract, but still no offer came.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but we decided that the best thing for me would be to come back to Australia and play at a high level in the NBL.
I joined the league’s newest franchise, South East Melbourne Phoenix, and I’ve loved the challenge of helping to build them into a great team.
We’ve had a fantastic first season and we’re building a strong club on the court and in the community, which is how we’ll measure our success when the dust has settled on this debut season.
Then it’s back over to America to dip my toes in the NBA waters. I’ve already showed them what I can do, and I’ve improved on certain things since then. I’ll be trying to work my way back onto a roster.
The world of NBA try-outs is crazy. Resilience and mental toughness are things you have to develop. You need to be able to withstand the pressure of both success and failure.
It’s not about results, it’s about the process.