Grizzlies GM Wallace was once a sportsbook ticket writer in Reno

May 02, 2017 3:00 AM
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I’ve often talked about my one year spent in Reno opening, then running, the Cal-Neva race and sportsbook for my good friend Warren Nelson. One good thing I did, not out of foresight but by accident, was hiring Chris Wallace.

Chris was the ultimate basketball junkie. He had a tout service that gave out nothing but teasers. That business model was dead on arrival of course, but Chris wasn’t and lived for his love of basketball.

In 1981 Chris asked me for a job in my sportsbook to be closer to his beloved basketball, not to mention he needed a paycheck. In his early 20’s, he didn’t even bet as far as I know. He just loved basketball.

He told me his dad was from Aliquippa and that was enough for me. Aliquippa was and still is a “football factory” in western Pennsylvania. The Quips have sent 18 kids to the NFL.

I hired Chris to write tickets. It was a perfect spot for him, but not so for our sportsbook as he couldn’t balance his drawer and was always coming up short. Chris was 110 percent honest, but just couldn’t count money. He counted “cecils” from the bottom of the stack, which made me nervous as hell just watching him. If he came within a hundred or so, I’d tell him, “Good job, Chris, we’ll find it later.”

Chris continued his passion for the baskets while writing tickets. He put together his first edition of The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook covering the 1981-82 season. It was betting oriented but he made a good move with his second edition, shifting the theme away from betting.

The rest is history.

It became a detailed textbook, an in depth coverage of every school’s program, coaches, and players. It became mainstream, the “bible” among coaches, athletic directors, the NCAA and media. As a bonus the handicappers still bought it big time.

Chris sold his Blue Ribbon publication in 1996 but it continued publication using his exact template. The Blue Ribbon alone made him a success but his pure love and knowledge of basketball propelled him further.

Chris went from a bad ticket writer at the Cal-Neva sportsbook and his successful College Basketball Blue Ribbon to several high-level front office jobs with different NBA franchises such as the Heat, Blazers, Clippers, Nuggets, GM of the Celtics and GM/VP of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies where he took over for retired Jerry West.

Chris said at his 2007-08 season debut with Memphis, “I feel a kinship to the fans. I was not a big time player or coach. I was a fan before I became a basketball professional, and I’ll be a fan long after I leave this game, and they pull me off the stage.”

And to think I hired him because he mentioned his dad was from Aliquippa. I didn’t see the real Chris Wallace in there.

Take care, Scotty. www.wiseguys.com