The NBA Finals is one of the biggest annual events on the American sports calendar. And with the rapid growth of legal, regulated sports betting across the United States, the Finals have also become a busy time for the nation’s sportsbooks.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in bets are placed at US sportsbooks over the course of the two-month NBA postseason, with an estimated $5 million in bets being wagered on each NBA Finals game at Las Vegas sportsbooks alone.
While the overwhelming majority of bets are placed by basketball fans backing the team they love, or casual sports bettors looking to add to the excitement as the battle for NBA supremacy heats up, highly publicized, high-stakes wagers placed by professional sports bettors have become increasingly common.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest bets placed on the NBA Finals in recent years, and how things worked out for the high rollers making those wagers.
Bucks Attract Big Bets in March to 2021 NBA Championship
The 2021 NBA Finals marked the end of a 50-year championship drought for the long-suffering Milwaukee Bucks. It also produced huge paydays for several anonymous sports bettors making bold bets on the Bucks.
Online sportsbook Borgata reported that one sports bettor got in on the Bucks four weeks prior to the start of the NBA Finals, laying a $300,000 bet on Milwaukee to win the NBA championship with odds of +110. That generated a tidy payout of $330,000.
The action heated up further at BetMGM, which took to Twitter with news of one sports bettor placing a massive $820,000 bet on the Bucks as a -200 wager to clinch the title with a victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Finals. While a sloppy second-quarter performance left Milwaukee trailing by five points at halftime, the Bucks bounced back in the second half on their way to a 105-98 series-clinching victory, and a lofty $410,000 payout for one steely nerved sports bettor.
A Heavy Loss on The Hawks
Things didn’t go quite so well for one hardcore fan of the Atlanta Hawks. In the five decades since the Hawks relocated to Atlanta from St. Louis, the club had never advanced to the NBA Finals. That did not deter one brave sports bettor, who placed two five-figure bets on the long-suffering Hawks with DraftKings during the final days of the 2021 NBA regular season.
The sports bettor wagered $20,000 at +10000 on the Hawks to claim their first NBA title since 1958, with the potential payday of $2 million. The same bettor also placed a $20,000 wager at +4000 on Atlanta to win the Eastern Conference for the first time, which had the potential to generate $800,000 in winnings.
As the early rounds of the postseason progressed, the Hawks looked like they may reward the loyalty of this devoted sports betting fan. Atlanta impressed while disposing of the New York Knicks in five games in the first round, and followed up with a sensational upset over the Philadelphia 76ers in a wild seven-game clash in the second round.
That excitement reached a fever pitch as the Hawks knocked off the heavily favored Bucks with a 116-113 win in Milwaukee to open the Eastern Conference final. However, injuries would work against the Hawks, who saw their championship dreams, along with the hopes of one courageous sports bettor, dashed by the Bucks’ eventual series victory in six games.
Floyd Mayweather Lives Up to Nickname with Massive NBA Finals Bets
Best known for his legendary exploits in the ring, Floyd Mayweather Jr. proved to be a reliable bet throughout a two-decade-long pro boxing career, compiling a perfect 50-0 record and winning an unprecedented 15 world championships. Appropriately nicknamed “Money”, Mayweather has also enjoyed steady success with big wagers at the sportsbooks.
Mayweather first made headlines by backing the Golden State Warriors with big money wagers during their run to the 2016 NBA championship. After claiming an impressive $221,000 win with a bet on the Warriors to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the Western Conference Finals matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mayweather once again backed the Dubs in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, cashing in on Steph Curry and co. in a first-half bet in the series opener and pocketing a tidy $63,000 in winnings.
“Money” continued his roll in Game 4 of that series, once again backing Golden State with a second-half wager that paid out $90,000, as the Warriors took a short-lived 3-1 series lead. However, nothing compares to Mayweather’s betting exploits during the 2013 NBA playoffs.
Undeterred by a heartbreaking 93-90 loss to Indiana in Game 5 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Final, Mayweather reportedly dropped a tidy $5.9 million wager on the Miami Heat to cover as 7-point favorites in Game 6. And LeBron James and company did not disappoint, as the Heat romped to a 117-92 win over the Pacers and the second of three straight trips to the NBA Finals.