Howard Ratner makes a lot of bad bets in Uncut Gems. He bets that Kevin Garnett is willing to pay $200,000 for a rare black opal; he bets that his younger girlfriend will not, given the opportunity, hook up with The Weeknd; perhaps most incorrectly, he bets that hired thugs will react rationally to being locked inside of a bulletproof closet for the length of an NBA game.
However, the movie is best known for the series of increasingly desperate wagers Ratner places on the 2012 NBA playoffs in an attempt to claw out of mountains of debt. Adam Sandler’s character has become the face of degenerate sports gamblers everywhere: Uncut Gems is not the first movie to feature sports gambling as a plot point, but I’m pretty sure it’s the first one that forces viewers to watch a character sweat out an over/under prop as its dramatic climax.
The NBA action around which the story revolves is also uncut. Some movies create fictional sports leagues to match their narrative needs; the Safdie brothers, who wrote and directed this film, searched long and hard for a set of real NBA games to fit into the script. As they explained to The Ringer’s Alan Siegel, their initial plan was to use a stretch of Knicks games from the 2010-11 season in which Amar’e Stoudemire scored at least 30 points in nine consecutive outings, but eventually decided to work with Kevin Garnett and home in on the 2012 playoff series between the Celtics and 76ers. The footage and details from the games are all unaltered—for example, Ratner mentions that the Sixers were a one-point underdog in Game 3, and they were actually one-point underdogs in that game.
With Uncut Gems streaming on Netflix (and the anniversary of Game 7 of that Celtics-Sixers series!), now feels like the perfect time not only to revisit the movie and that series, but also to break down Ratner’s sports betting tendencies. He’s shown as being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but it’s never specifically stated whether that debt came from gambling. (Ratner has plenty of other expensive habits.) I wouldn’t take his advice on marriage, business ownership, cash management, or basically anything else—but just how well did the guy know sports? Let’s examine each of his wagers to see what we can learn.
Bet No. 1: Wagering Without the Opal
Ratner’s first bets come just minutes into the movie, when he visits his bookie, played by Mike Francesa. It remains odd that the New York sports radio icon is Ratner’s bookie; plenty of famous nonactors make cameos in Uncut Gems, from Garnett to The Weeknd to “All Gold Everything” rapper Trinidad James, but almost all of them play themselves to demonstrate the strange world in which Ratner runs. So one might imagine that Ratner also knows Francesa, and that the movie implies that Francesa supplants any income from his very prominent radio show by accepting massive sports bets. Apparently not! Francesa actually plays a character named Gary. All hail the Gambling Pope!
But I digress. Ratner comes to Gary with three bets:
- Over on Game 2 of the Lakers-Thunder series
- Under on Kobe Bryant’s point total
- Sixers +1 on Game 3 of the Philadelphia-Boston series
These bets all would have been disastrous. That Lakers-Thunder game was hideous—the final score was 77-75, miles away from hitting the over of 196 points. (The over hit on four of the five games in this series, so maybe Ratner was on to something.) Ratner doesn’t specify what the over/under was on Kobe’s point total, but his reasoning is colossally flawed. He says he’s taking the under because Kobe is “passing more”; Bryant went 9-of-25 shooting with four assists. Kobe averaged 3.4 assists in that series, well below his career average of 4.7 assists per game. And I would’ve wanted a bigger spread to bet on the eighth-seeded Sixers against the Celtics, who ended up winning Game 3 by 16 points.
Before the game starts, however, Ratner changes his bets after meeting with Garnett and lending him the opal that puts many of the movie’s events into motion. So while Ratner doesn’t technically play these bets, we get a glimpse at what type of bettor he is without the inside knowledge that one team’s star player has a magical stone. It’s not pretty.
Bet No. 2: The Dumbest Bet Mike Francesa Has Ever Heard
After lending Garnett the opal, Howie sprints back to Gary and places a six-way parlay:
- Celtics to win the opening tip
- Celtics to win and cover a one-point spread
- Celtics to win the first half
- Kevin Garnett over points
- Kevin Garnett over rebounds
- Kevin Garnett over blocks
Ratner also places a lightning bet on the Celtics—win $1,000 for every point by which Boston beats the spread, but lose $1,000 for every point by which the Sixers do.
Francesa—I’m done calling him “Gary,” because come on, it’s Mike Francesa—is baffled, because Howard just bet against the Celtics before returning a few hours later to place a massive parlay banking on the Celtics to dominate in every way. Francesa derides the bet with his best line of the film, delivered with enough New York accent to momentarily transport me to the bagel place across the street from my grandma’s house: THAT’S THUH DUMBEST FUCKIN’ BET I EVAH HOYD OF.
I’m gonna agree with Mike here—it’s a dumb bet. Howie’s back is against the wall, with an increasingly large number of people chasing him for cash. And he just placed a six-way parlay, which means he needs six separate prop bets to hit for this to pay off.
And one of these bets is on the OPENING TIP-OFF! To be clear, I have never heard of anyone betting on the opening tip of a basketball game. Considering that NBA teams don’t really benefit from winning the opening tip—the team that loses gets the ball to start the second and third quarters, so you don’t even gain a possession by winning the tip—nobody puts significant effort into winning the opening jump. Bookies could set lines on opening tips—the stats are out there!—but it seems like a foolish thing on which to gamble large amounts of money. According to that link, KG won 52.2 percent of jump balls in his career, essentially making it a 50-50 prop. And remember, Ratner would lose everything if it misses.
Luckily for him, things go well. Garnett won the tip and dominated the action. Boston led Game 3 by 11 points at halftime, and took a 27-point lead late before a meaningless Philly run cut the final margin to 16. That means Boston won both team-related legs of the parlay, and netted Howie a good sum on the lightning bet. Plus, Garnett led all players with 27 points and 13 rebounds. We don’t know exactly what the over/unders on the prop bets were, but Howard seems confident that Garnett cleared the points and rebounds portions of the bet.
Howard watches the game and celebrates his big score, sexting up a storm with his girlfriend and preparing for life as a man free of debt. He briefly mentions that he won $600,000 on his $40,000 bet, which sounds about right for a six-way parlay. Unfortunately, Ratner soon discovers that his brother-in-law/loan shark Arno met with Francesa to cancel the bet and ensure that $40,000 wasn’t lost. Howie’s payday is ruined.
However, Arno actually did Ratner a favor. Howie apparently must have gotten so wrapped up in the Celtics’ winning the tip, leading at halftime, and winning the game while Garnett hit the overs on points and rebounds that he forgot that he also placed a bet on Garnett hitting the over on blocked shots. Garnett had no blocks in Game 3, making it impossible for him to hit the over and killing the whole parlay. The movie doesn’t mention KG’s lack of blocks, simply taking Howard at his word that he would’ve won the bet. Given the Safdies’ interest in the basketball accuracy of the film, I think it’s safe to assume that Ratner would have lost the bet canonically.
This demonstrates why Howie’s bet was The Dumbest Fuckin’ Bet Mike Francesa Has Evah Hoyd: If Howard had simply bet on every leg of his parlay individually, he would have won five of six bets and gone up tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, he made a parlay dependent on Garnett dominating in every possible statistical category, and should have lost.
Bet No. 3: Howie’s Big Score
Garnett buys into the opal’s powers, especially after returning it to Howard and going 3-of-12 from the field for nine points in Game 4 of the series. So he agrees to buy the opal directly from Ratner for $175,000 ahead of Game 7. Desperate to climb out of his financial hole, Howard takes the cash and hands it through a window to his girlfriend Julia to prevent the goons in his waiting room from snatching it away. Julia then flies via helicopter to the sportsbook at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut to bet on Game 7. (The Mohegan Sun doesn’t actually have a sportsbook, since sports gambling is illegal in Connecticut; apologies to any poor souls who watched Uncut Gems and headed to the middle of Connecticut in hopes of throwing down $50 on an NBA game.)
This is the climactic scene of the movie. If Howie wins, he’s debt-free; if he loses, it seems like gun-toting thugs in his office might kill him, or at the very least take everything he owns. With everything at stake, Howie is slightly more risk-averse with a three-way parlay:
- Celtics to win the opening tip (OK, he’s not that risk-averse)
- Celtics to win straight up
- Kevin Garnett to have more than 26 combined points and rebounds
By placing a combined points-rebounds bet, Howard eliminates the danger of losing $175,000 because KG failed to record any blocks despite having an otherwise great game. And as Howard tells Garnett personally, 26 is way too low a line for KG’s combined points and rebounds. Garnett would have hit the over in six of the seven games in that Celtics-Sixers series, and 14 of the Celtics’ 20 postseason games in 2012.
Plus, betting on the experienced Celtics to win Game 7 at home was smart—like I said earlier, the Sixers were the no. 8 seed, and made it to that matchup largely because Bulls MVP Derrick Rose suffered a cataclysmic injury against Philly in the first round. The bet hits: Garnett tallied 18 points and 13 rebounds, well above the 26 combined points and rebounds required to hit the over, and the Celtics won Game 7, 85-75.
The Mohegan Sun hands Julia some duffel bags full of money—about $1.2 million, although hey, it’s possible the casino subtracted a few hundred for the suitcases. She heads back to New York to share the winnings with her Howard.
Although his pre-opal bets were trash, and his six-leg parlay showed rash overconfidence, Ratner displayed his sports-betting savvy with his final wager. He took advantage of a mispriced line on a specific prop (as well as some inside information) and parlayed it with a conservative moneyline bet to cash out big time. And that’s the last bet of the movie! Howie wins! What a happy ending to an exceedingly stressful film!
So what can we learn from Howie’s progression from an unsuccessful sports gambler into a gambling-related millionaire?
- Don’t get overaggressive with parlays. Even if you know almost everything there is to know about a game, you still might lose. Besides, the desperate nature of your parlays may convince your debt collectors to reach out to Mike Francesa and cancel your bets.
- Sportsbooks should start taking bets on the opening tip. Clearly, Howie identified something telling about KG’s jump-ball matchups with ground-bound Sixers big man Spencer Hawes, going 2-for-2 on those gambles.
- It is very helpful to know whether a basketball player playing a big role in an important NBA game has recently come into possession of a magic opal, through which one can see the entire universe.
Follow these rules and your sports betting experience is guaranteed to turn out great—just like it does for Howie. This is how you win!