Confessions Of A Point Shaver Former Arizona State star Hedake Smith reveals how he and his accomplices fixed basketball games

November 09, 1998

It should have been the greatest night of my life--June 29,
1994, the night I was expecting to be drafted by one of the 27
NBA teams. It was a night I had dreamed of since I played Bitty
Basketball as a nine-year-old.

My mother, Eunice, gathered the whole neighborhood at our
three-bedroom house on Ella Street in South Dallas to watch the
draft on television. She hung signs congratulating me and
telling me how proud she was of me. Mama was saying, "My boy's
fixin' to get drafted!" She cooked enough fried chicken and soul
food to feed most of Dallas.

The first few picks whizzed by without anyone at the party paying
much attention, but as the last half of the first round started,
I sat down in front of the TV to see where life and basketball
were going to take me. The end of the first round turned into
the middle of the second, and before long I found myself sitting
almost alone. Nearly all my so-called friends had left. By the
time Zeljko Rebraca from Serbia was announced as the 54th and
last pick, only me, Mama and a couple of others were left in the
house.

Over the next few days everyone in the neighborhood wondered
what had happened to Ella Street's "sure thing." I had believed
that I would be a late first-round or early second-round pick. I
know some of the neighbors were wondering if my not getting
drafted had anything to do with rumors that I had helped a
gambling ring by shaving points during my senior year at Arizona
State. I had denied knowing anything about point shaving, and
everyone who knew how competitive I was believed me. Everyone,
it seemed, but the NBA.

Whether league officials knew it for sure or not, they were
right. I'd done it. I'd been at the center of the biggest
point-shaving scandal, in terms of money wagered, in college
sports history. Now I was paying the price.

Within minutes of the end of the draft, I was cruising the
freeways of Dallas in my black GMC Typhoon. It was ironic
because the Typhoon--with a Pioneer stereo that had 212 speakers
and rims that were so shiny they sparkled--was the only thing I
had left from all the clothes, jewelry and other stuff I had
purchased with the money I was paid in the point-shaving scheme.

The longer I drove that night, the more depressed I became. Not
only had I just lost my future, but I also couldn't tell anyone
why. I could no longer dream of buying Mama a new house. I had to
live a lie, always denying the truth but never coming up with
another reason that I wouldn't be in the NBA.

What hurt most was lying to my mother, my best friend in the
world. My father left us before I was old enough to know him,
and Mama never had another child, so she and I have always meant
everything to each other. It was my mother who gave me my unique
nickname--Hedake. When I was little, she says, I ran around so
much I gave her a headache. She decided to get a personalized
license plate with that name on it, but Texas only gives you six
letters on a plate. By the time she shortened the name, I was
Hedake.

With Aaron Hall blaring from my stereo, I thought about how I
could explain to Mama what point shaving was. Even harder than
that was figuring out how to explain why I had done it. During my
time at Arizona State, I had been well taken care of. I always
had a nice car while I was in college--a Cherokee, two Mustang
GTs, a Rodeo, a Sierra K1500. I had jewelry, clothes and a nice
apartment my senior year. I always had cash in my pocket.

But I had those things because I was well liked by certain
Arizona State boosters, not because I was a gambler. In fact,
before I found myself in this point-shaving mess, the extent of
my gambling had been shooting dice with friends in high school
for one or two dollars a throw. Trust me, shooting dice at
Spruce High didn't prepare me for the high-stakes gambling that
swirls around college athletes.

As I drove, I kept asking myself why I'd ruined my future for
less cash than I would have made my first week in the NBA. I
replayed over and over how I'd gotten myself into this mess, but
as the sun started to rise, the question became, What do I do
now? I decided to act confused about the draft snub and try to
make money at basketball anywhere anyone would pay me.

Until then I'd had an amazing life in basketball. I'd been one of
the nation's top-rated high school point guards in 1990 and had
been recruited by nearly every major college. I chose Arizona
State over UNLV because I'd heard the Rebels might go on NCAA
probation, and I immediately started playing quality minutes for
the Sun Devils.

After my junior year I was chosen for the U.S. World University
Games Team, of which I was a captain and which I led in scoring
in the gold medal round, even though I'm only 5'11". I entered my
senior season as the leading returning scorer in the Pac-10.

Everything was looking up. Then, in November, I started making
bad decisions. My gambling started when a friend of mine, Rick,
an Arizona State student from the Chicago area, told me he was
getting ready to bet that the Arizona Cardinals would beat the
spread in their game with the Dallas Cowboys. Being from Dallas,
I argued with him for a while. Then he challenged me: "If you're
so sure, why don't you put your money where your mouth is?" He
told me he was calling his bookie and could add a bet from me. I
jumped in for $100.

The Cowboys were 13-point favorites but won by only five. I had
lost my $100. "Don't worry," Rick told me, "you can make it up on
Monday Night Football."

That Monday night I took the Buffalo Bills, who were 3 1/2-point
underdogs, against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers won
23-0. Within a matter of weeks I was betting on anything I
could, trying to win enough to balance out the money I owed. I
even got to where I was betting on hockey, a sport I knew almost
nothing about. I was two weeks into the only losing streak I'd
ever had in my life when Rick told me the bookie wanted me to
pay up, or he wanted to see me.

I had a monthly scholarship check coming that I was supposed to
use to pay the rent on my off-campus apartment, but it would
have taken almost the entire check to pay off my debt. So I
decided to try and talk my way out of having to make the payment
when I met with the bookie, who, it turned out, I had known
since just after I'd arrived at Arizona State. He was a student
from New York named Benny Silman, and you'd never pick him out
in a crowd as a bookmaker. He was average in every way and
didn't even make up for it with personality. He was quiet and
kept to himself. I'd met him when he was hanging around a former
teammate of mine.

"No problem," Benny told me after I explained my situation. He
let me keep betting on credit. I would win a bet or two but never
enough to get over the hump. Benny and I became what I would call
friends, betting a few dollars on Sega video basketball games we
played against each other at his apartment and bigger dollars on
real games. In just over a month I was in to him for $10,000.

In December, Benny and I went to The Dash Inn, a popular bar
near campus. We were drinking a few beers when Benny casually
told me he had a way for me to erase my debt: All I had to do
was make sure we didn't win by too many points. He made it clear
he didn't want me to lose any games, just make sure we didn't
cover the point spread. He said he'd wipe out my debt, and we
could make some money together. He knew I was sending money and
airline tickets home to my mother--I told her I was earning it
by working part time--and he said I could send even more if I
would just work with him. He made it sound simple. He never used
the term point shaving, never made it seem like it was dangerous.

I said I'd do it. He told me he'd wait until the right game,
that he wanted the circumstances to be perfect. I learned later
that what he wanted was a game in which we were heavily
favored--that would give us more room for error--and I was
guarding a player who could score big if I let him.

You see, that's what people don't understand. Yes, I shaved
points, but I didn't do it by throwing wild passes or taking
horrible shots or missing free throws. Those are the things
everybody looks for. Because I wasn't that obvious, no one
suspected me.

People who have watched tapes of the four games the FBI
investigated have said it was impossible for me to have been
shaving points. In one game I tied my own Pac-10 record by
hitting 10 three-pointers. In another I sprained my left ankle
and had to leave in the first half but came back in and played
well, prompting the opposing coach to call me a "clutch" player.
I shaved points playing defense. I was respected as one of the
best defenders in the Pac-10--I was third in the league in
steals per game as a senior--which meant I usually drew the
other team's best guard.

It took almost two months for Benny to pick the right game for
shaving points. He chose Oregon State at our place on Jan. 27,
1994. I was to guard David Drakeford, a sweet-shooting guard. We
were favored, and Benny told me that if we won by less than a
certain number of points--he would tell me the number on game
day--he'd wipe out my $10,000 debt and pay me another $10,000.

I was a little nervous. I wasn't sure how to shave points, and
Benny hadn't given me any instructions. It just made sense to
let the guys on the other team score to keep it close. I made
myself feel better by always saying that I wasn't making my team
lose, just helping myself out of a bad situation.

Two or three days before the game, Benny told me he didn't think
I could do this on my own and felt I needed another player
working with me. I knew that my backcourtmate, Isaac Burton,
liked the things that I had--the cars and the jewelry. He'd said
he wished he could get some of that, so I figured he was the
perfect partner. To this day, I feel worse about dragging him
into this mess than just about anything else. I went to see
Isaac and laid the deal out to him the same way Benny had to me:
We weren't losing the game; all we were doing was winning by
less. I didn't act like it was a big thing, and I told him that
if we won by no more than the number Benny gave us, he'd get a
couple thousand dollars. To show him I was serious, I gave him
$1,000 up front out of some of the money Benny had lent me.

The morning of the game, Benny called me and said Isaac and I
had to make sure we won by six points or fewer. The Sun Devils
were favored by 14 1/2, but Benny wanted a cushion in case the
line moved before he put his money down. During pregame warmups
I looked at Isaac and said, "The number is six." He knew exactly
what I meant.

I was playing with a jammed right pinkie, but for some reason I
couldn't miss. In the first half I scored 28 points while making
seven of eight three-pointers. Everyone was cheering me--and I
was fixing a game. I played so well that the score nearly got
out of control. Late in the first half, we were ahead 40-27 and
threatening to make the game a blowout. I went out for a short
breather, and Drakeford hit a three. I hurried back in, but
realizing Drakeford was warming up, I gave him a little space
the next trip down the court, and he hit another trey. In a
matter of seconds the Beavers had cut the lead in half.

One of the advantages of being a great shooter, which I am, is
that you know exactly how much space another shooter needs to get
off a good shot. I stepped back a half step from where I would
normally guard a shooter like Drakeford, and he had the room he
needed. No one else noticed.

The score got close in the second half as I continued to give
Drakeford open shots, but in the end we won 88-82. I had a
career-high 39 points and hit 10 of 16 three-pointers. After the
game everyone was patting me on the back, and when I returned to
my apartment Benny was there with a handful of $100 bills--100 of
them. He said I'd played so well that at times I'd driven him
crazy. I paid Isaac another $1,300 and told him more was coming.

I had passed the test. Now Benny knew he could trust me. He
picked our home game two days later against Oregon as the next
game to fix. We were favored by 11 1/2. I told Isaac of the plan
and promised him another two grand if we were successful.

Benny again told us to win by six or fewer--and we did, 84-78.
Once more I slacked off on defense, but this time I
unintentionally had a mediocre game on offense, with 13 points.
Isaac didn't play particularly well, either. Again, people who
looked at the tape couldn't see any sign that either of us was
trying to hurt our team.

The next day, Benny gave me $20,000 in $100 bills. I delivered
20 of them to Isaac in the parking lot outside the basketball
arena, and he acted real cool about the money. I went out and
bought $7,000 in jewelry. I bought clothes, shoes, anything I
wanted. I felt so flush that if a friend said he liked a new
ring I was wearing, I would give it to him and buy myself
another. I gave the Rodeo to Mama--she still drives it--and put
a down payment on the $28,000 Typhoon. I was out of control.

I used some of my cash to place other bets. I even put money on
our team in a couple of the nonshaved games I played in. For our
Feb. 17 home game against UCLA, in which we were 3 1/2-point
underdogs, I gave Benny $10,000 to put on us. With a few seconds
left against the Bruins, we were behind by six. If you watch the
tape, you'll see that I grabbed a loose ball and raced down to
throw up a three-pointer. If I made it, I'd win $10,000; if I
missed, I'd lose that amount. My luck being what it was, I
missed.

An important thing to remember about the Sun Devils that season
was that even before I started shaving points, we were an
unpredictable team. I had prepared during the preseason to be
the shooting guard, but in our first game point guard Marcell
Capers injured his foot and was lost for the year. I had to take
over at point. None of us were ready for that, and it caused
confusion. Also, we were poor at free throw shooting and
rebounding. So for us to have bad games, or bad stretches,
wasn't a surprise to anyone who paid attention to us.

The best evidence of how freaky this team was came the next time
I shaved points, against Southern Cal on Feb. 19. We had beaten
USC by 25 points in Los Angeles and were favored to win by nine
at home. I told Benny I felt good enough about this game that I
could take care of it by myself. He said fine, so I didn't
involve Isaac. The Trojans started out playing well--without help
from me--and just kept on rolling. We didn't have to lose for me
to win my money, but we lost anyway, 68-56. That's just the way
our team was.

The final game I agreed to fix for Benny was against Washington
on March 5 at home. This was a big game for me because Benny had
told me he was going to take the $20,000 he would pay me and bet
it on the game. If we won by 11 points or fewer, I'd get $40,000.
For a guy who grew up in South Dallas, that was an amazing amount
of money.

I didn't know it at the time, but Benny had told a bunch of his
gambler friends about our deal, and they were running around Las
Vegas placing bets against us. On top of that I had told another
friend of mine, an Arizona State student from a wealthy family
in Phoenix, what was going on. He loved to bet but had my lousy
luck, so I thought I'd help him out by telling him to bet on
Washington. But he told a bunch of his friends, too. Before long
so much money was being wagered against us that the spread
changed 42 times in one day--dropping from 11 points to
three--and the Las Vegas sports books suspected something was
up. On the morning of the game, one Vegas oddsmaker called the
Pac-10 to alert it to the possibility that points were being
shaved.

I didn't know any of this was happening. What I did know was that
our team came out that afternoon and played horribly. We didn't
make any of our first 14 shots--I missed four of them--and were
quickly down by 11 points. We didn't hit our first field goal
until nearly 12 minutes were gone. One of the TV announcers even
joked that it looked as if we were trying to lose.

The funny part is, our miserable play had almost nothing to do
with point shaving. It was just one of those bad stretches we
were prone to. I admit that because I had so much money riding on
the game, I wasn't playing that hard on defense. But Isaac wasn't
involved in shaving points in this game. By halftime our team had
taken the lead, but only by 25-23.

I was subsequently told by a federal investigator that on the
way to the locker room, our coach, Bill Frieder, was informed by
a Pac-10 official that a fix was suspected. I'm not sure if
that's true, but once we got in the locker room, Coach started
screaming about how badly we were playing. While he was yelling
at the team, he was looking at me. At least that's how it felt.
He told us that there was a Portland Trail Blazers scout in the
stands and that he was going to walk out and ask the scout to
leave, that he didn't want the NBA considering players who were
playing this bad.

He never mentioned point shaving, but I can tell you that I knew
no amount of money I could earn from Benny Silman was worth
risking my NBA career for. I went out and played the second half
as hard as I could. We won 73-55. We'd easily covered the spread,
meaning I lost the $20,000 that was bet for me on the game.

But that was nothing compared with what Benny and his friends
dropped. Federal investigators later told me that those guys lost
more than $1 million.

When I went home that evening, I rounded the curve into my
apartment complex and saw Benny standing outside waiting for me.
He walked up to my Typhoon and asked me what I had been doing in
that second half. He was really mad. Another gambler, Big Red,
who was sitting on the steps of my apartment, also wanted to see
me.

Big Red was big. He probably weighed 400 pounds. He told me he
had bet a lot of money on the game because Benny had told him I
could be trusted. I was as scared as I've ever been. I was sure
he was going to break my legs. He told me, in a voice I won't
forget, that he wanted his money back. He said he'd lost $75,000
that night and wanted it all back from me, or else. I went
upstairs, got all the money I had left from the previous games,
probably about $3,000 or $4,000, and gave it to him. I told him
that I would be signing with an NBA team in the next few months
and that if he'd leave me alone, I'd give him the rest of his
money once I got my signing bonus. Luckily for me, he accepted
that promise and left with Benny.

I had been home for a couple of hours--it must've been around
10--when I got a call from one of the team trainers. He said
Coach wanted all of us back at the activity center for a meeting
that night. My heart was racing as I drove down there, but I had
to act cool. Coach told us that the FBI believed there had been
point shaving going on in that day's game. He told us he knew
who had done it and wanted that person to step forward. I didn't
move. I thought he was bluffing. He was.

As we walked out, Isaac was going nuts. "What do we do?" he kept
asking. I told him never to say anything to anyone and this might
go away.

There were a lot of stories in the newspapers the next few days
about suspicions that the Washington game had been fixed. Benny
called me a day or two after the game and said it was "getting
hot" in Phoenix. He was leaving town for a while and reminded me
not to say anything. That was the last time I spoke to him.

I don't know if it was the respect I'd earned as Arizona State's
No. 1 alltime scorer or as a team captain, but nobody came to me
and asked if I was involved--not Coach Frieder, not the FBI. As
the draft neared, it seemed that everything had blown over.
Maybe it wasn't that big of a deal. But when I didn't get
drafted, I knew suspicion had to be the reason.

I was doomed to life in the minors and spent the next three
seasons bouncing around the CBA and pro leagues in Argentina,
the Philippines and France. Don't get me wrong, I had some great
days, some great experiences. But it wasn't the NBA. I think my
mother wondered why she was getting postcards from Manila
instead of Miami, but I couldn't tell her.

Finally, in March 1997, I got a call from the Dallas Mavericks.
They wanted to sign me to a 10-day contract. I met up with the
Mavs in Atlanta the day they were to play the Hawks. I flew
first-class and was picked up in a limo. When the trainer gave
me my per diem, I saw that it was almost as much as I had earned
in a week in the CBA. As glad as I was for the opportunity, the
experience really made me realize what I had cost myself by
getting involved with Benny.

I had two 10-day contracts with the Mavericks, and when the
season ended they expressed interest in having me at training
camp. I thought I finally had it made. Then the roof caved in. I
received a call from a friend whose voice I immediately
recognized. "You know who this is?" he said. "Don't mention my
name on this phone line." I thought he was kidding. He wasn't.
"Tomorrow you'll get a call from an old college friend," he
said. "He'll be calling you from the Dallas airport, and he's
going to invite you to meet with him. If you go, grab his left
leg and you'll find a wire. He's working with the FBI."

"Get out," was all I could say before he hung up.

As predicted, I got a call the next day from the college
friend--that luckless bettor from Phoenix whom I'd tipped off
about the shaved Washington game. He said he was at the airport
and wanted me to come by so we could talk about "that stuff in
college." I knew I was being set up, but I headed for the
airport anyway. When I got there, however, I called him on my
cell phone and screamed, "You can kiss my a--, and you can tell
your friends who are listening in from the FBI that they can
kiss my a-- too. I ain't coming." I found out later that the
friend had made a deal with the FBI and had told the feds he
could get the goods on me.

I called my agent, Jeff Blakely, who knew I needed to get a good
lawyer. I retained George Klink, who contacted the U.S.
Attorney's office in Phoenix. The government guys made it clear
how much they already knew. On Klink's advice I decided to
cooperate. I admitted that I'd been involved in shaving points.
Frankly, it was a relief. I could finally tell someone the truth.

It was only when the investigation unfolded that I realized how
big this had become. In December of last year, a few weeks after
Isaac and I had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sports
bribery, a federal grand jury in Phoenix indicted Benny and
three of his associates. Benny pleaded guilty to conspiracy to
commit sports bribery and four counts of sports bribery and is
serving 46 months in federal prison in Boron, Calif. His
associates also pleaded guilty in the case and are scheduled to
be sentenced early next year.

Isaac and I are supposed to be sentenced on Feb. 1. No matter
what happens in my sentencing, however, I pay for my crime every
day. When I miss the shot at the end of a pickup game, friends
joke that I was fixing. I know they're being funny, but it
hurts. Where once I was the man at Arizona State, I can't even
go back to campus without hiding my head. I'm ashamed. I'm
embarrassed. I'm sorry.

In the last few months, point-shaving allegations have been
raised at other schools. Having been there, I can tell you how
easily players can be drawn into fixing games. Poor, naive
teenagers plus rich, greedy gamblers equal disaster. As simple
as it was for me, it can only be that simple elsewhere.

I wanted to tell my story in hopes that the next player who gets
mixed up with gamblers can see what I didn't--the end result.
While I await sentencing, the authorities are letting me play
professionally in Turkey. Most of the other players in the
league are guys who couldn't walk on at Arizona State. That's
what has become of my once promising basketball career.

So please, don't take my shortcut. Don't suffer like me. It is
not worth it.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID E. KLUTHO GLORY DAYS Mama's house is still a shrine to Hedake's once promising career. [Stevin (Hedake) Smith] B/W PHOTO: CRAIG MCNAUGHTON CASHING IN Against Oregon, Smith seemed to be playing hard, but he was earning $20,000 by holding the victory margin to six. [Stevin (Hedake) Smith in game against Oregon] B/W PHOTO: CRAIG MCNAUGHTON ACCOMPLICE Burton pulled down some $2,000 a game. [Isaac Burton with basketball in game] COLOR PHOTO: AP/SCOTT TROYANOS PAYING THE PRICE Indicted last December along with three associates, Silman was sentenced to 46 months. [Benny Silman] COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO HOOP DREAMS At a June exhibition with some NBA players in Dallas, Smith tried to prove he belongs in their league. [Stevin (Hedake) Smith in game]

We were drinking a few beers when Benny casually told me he had
a way for me to erase my debt. He made it sound simple.

Isaac liked the cars and the jewelry I had. He said he wished he
could get some of that, so I figured he was the perfect partner.

You would never pick Benny out in a crowd as a bookie. He was
average in every way and didn't even make up for it in
personality.

Because of the point-shaving rumors I was doomed to life in the
minors--the CBA and leagues as far away as the Philippines.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)