Clint Keown
Clint Keown or 'Basketball Clint' is well known around the poker world. The Legend of Clint goes back to 2009 in Las Vegas.

Some poker players come and go, and others stick around. But the legends? They exist forever in the retold stories that will still be spun fifty years from now. If you’ve never heard of Clint Keown, or ‘Basketball Clint’, then the bad news is that you’ve missed out on one of the funniest poker stories you’ll ever have heard.

 

The good news is that you get to read all about it today.

 

Len Ashby has been a cash game player in some of the biggest games on the planet for two decades. He cut his teeth in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, California and other East Coast locations. He still lives and plays in Nevada today and is a regular in cardrooms such as ARIA, the Bellagio or wherever the World Series of Poker lands as well as private games. Len grew up loving sports but he was never as good at any sport the way one of his fellow poker players was – Clint Keown.

 

Meeting ‘Basketball Clint’

 

Len met Clint a couple of years after ‘The Moneymaker Effect’ had kicked poker and gambling into the sky.

 

“I graduated from college in 2004 and was playing a lot of poker. I was going to a lot of casinos in Indiana. Clint was from Evansville, Indiana. He went to school there for a year and was the standout basketball player. He was runner-up in Mr. Basketball, which is basically to say who the best basketball player in the state of Indiana is.”

 

This is saying something. Indiana is one of the strongest states for basketball states in the United States when it comes to high school basketball. They have a lot of talent, and Clint was at the top of it.

 

“I believe he quit school after a year to play poker for a living,” Len continues. “He played some minor league baseball too. Don Mattingly grew up in Evansville, Scott Rolen was a baseball player that played for the Phillies. Clint was better than all of them, they all said that. It’s crazy that he found his way into poker, really.”

 

Once at the table, Clint was a good player, but Len always considered his presence at the poker felt a travesty against the skill he had on the basketball court. Somehow, the pair always seemed to meet on the road and he got to watch Clint in action for the first time in 2009.

 

“Gambling and poker was so much fun back then. Clint was there during the World Series. It was late, 2am. We were playing every day. Clint had just beat this kid out of all of his money – a prominent online player. This kid was talking about basketball and how he’d shoot anyone.”

 

That’s basketball lingo for throwing the ball into the net better than any challenger. Enter Clint.

 

“I’d yet to see Clint shoot. Clint beat him out of $30,000. Fast forward a couple weeks after and there was talk around the poker room about Clint’s gambling and that he would shoot anybody for money at basketball.”

 

Clint Keown at the felt
Clint Keown was a popular player at the felt, but put a basketball in his hand and he was a wizard… as Big Rick and Kelly were about to find out.

 

Making the Bet

 

Late one night, Len was playing in a ‘must move’ $50/$100 PLO game. Biding his time in an attempt to get in the main game (“It was a game with Devilfish in, but no-one was ever going to quit.”), two guys at the table got to talking with Len.

 

“Big Rick was a really nice guy, a recreational player but he could hold his own. Then there was a guy named Kelly who was from Tennessee. He was bald and always had a stogie in his mouth. Kelly could not win a hand the whole World Series. He was losing most days and we were playing short-handed. He looks at me and goes ‘You still got that buddy who likes to shoot basketball? I said ‘Yeah, Clint?’ He said, ‘I think I might have a bet for him’. I immediately grabbed my phone and text Clint ‘Are you awake? I told him to come down to the poker game and he might get some action.”

 

Setting aside the fact that at 2am in 2009 Vegas, there’s a good chance of a prop bet being ‘on call’, I can’t wait to hear how this comes together. Len tells me that he just let Kelly and Rick talk.

 

“I didn’t want it to come off as [a set-up]. I just said Clint likes to shoot and he’s good and likes to gamble. Kelly said he’d bet he can’t make 96 out of 100 free throws getting his own rebounds.”

 

I have to ask about that, because it seems important. Turns out that it is. Essentially, Clint would have to shoot from the free throw line and every time he shot one, he’d have to go and fetch the ball and walk back to the free throw line. The reason Kelly took this angle – quite understandably – was that if you’re stood still on the free throw line, you can keep your feet set. If you get your rebounds, you’re never going to be in that same spot. Mentally, it’s a challenge. You’re seeing a slightly different picture.

 

“I asked Clint if free throws are OK, and he said ‘yes’. So in comes Clint, he walks up and looks completely like someone who would not be athletic or be able to play basketball. He’s not tall; he’s 5’11, maybe six foot. He’s got curly hair, he might have had braces at the time. He just doesn’t come off like an all-star basketball player.”

 

Clint spoke with Kelly and Big Rick. Kelly proposed the bet – that Clint couldn’t shoot 96 out of 100 free throws.

 

“Clint is the worst hustler of all time,” laughs Len. “I mean that literally. Clint’s response was ‘Whoah, wow, 96? I’m more of a three-point shooter.’ He’s not lying when he says that. He says ‘I like to shoot threes but I don’t know if I could do those free throws. Kelly’s whispering with Rick back and forth, he looks up and says, ‘All right I got two bets for you.’

 

The bets were very specific in their numbers. 95 out of 100 free throws would be a tie, 96 out of 100 would win the first bet for Clint. On the three pointers, Kelly and Big Rick agreed that Clint would need 57 out of 100 to win the bet. Each bet’s value? $20,000.

 

“I literally had to bite my lip to stop laughing. I mean, Clint could make 57 out of 100 three-pointers blindfold. I’m being serious – I’d back him to do that. I looked at Kelly and Rick and said, ‘You all wanna go right now?’ I went to get everyone racks. It was me, Kelly, Big Rick, and two friend of mine and Clints, Matt and Rich.”

 

The 24-Hour Fitness Center

 

The six-strong gang head to a place called 24 Hour Fitness, after Le rode there with Kelly and Rick. While in the back seat of their car, he gets a text from Clint that reads simply: ’57, ha ha ha’.

 

“I said ‘What about the free throws?’ He replied, ‘Free throws aren’t 100%, but should be OK.’ He said I could have a $5k freeroll. I didn’t care, I was there for the thrill of it, but I was like OK, cool. Kelly and Rick were good guys, They didn’t know I had a piece, but Kelly was wanting to gamble on something and thought he had a decent bet. He obviously didn’t, he was drawing dead.”

 

The posse arrive at the fitness center and surprise a relatively startled receptionist.

 

“We walked in and the girl working the front desk probably thought we were there to rob the place. Kelly’s 6’5”, he’s got this long, weathered trenchcoat on and a cigar in his mouth at 2am. We looked like a bunch of gangsters. I asked the girl for the gym for an hour, threw her $50 for it and we were good.”

 

Once they arrived at the court itself, a teenage boy was shooting hoops. ‘Maybe his Mom was at the fitness center’, Len supposed. To this day, Len has no idea how he ended up there, but it ended up being fairly important.

 

“Clint asked him if he could borrow his ball. The kid agreed and Clint bounced it, ran it up and down, and asked him how much he paid for it. “I dunno, $30.” The kid said. Clint said, ‘I’ll give you a hundred for it right now’. Clint pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and gave it to him. He wanted a good ball to shoot with. The house balls were real slick, with no grip; he wanted a good ball.”

 

According to Len, the kid just took off, never sticking around to watch the show, something which I can’t help wondering about. Somewhere out there, this boy is now a man and just has a funny story about how a guy once paid him $100 for a $30 ball. Back to the court, though. Kelly and Rick let Clint warm up. Len, Rich and Matt are sitting on the floor at the right side of the court, Kelly and Rick are on the other side, Clint is in the middle, limbering up.

 

“It takes a while to shoot 100 free throws,’ says Len. ‘He’s in the 80s and has missed two. He missed one late, I think he made 97. Now I know we know we’re winning the money, ‘cause the other one is a lock. I remember thinking if I’m Clint here, I’m gonna make 60/100 threes. I’m never going to make 80 or 90, because keep it small and they might run it back and bet it again. You just wanna sneak over the line.”

 

This thought process, however logical it might be to Len, completely escapes the star of the show. Because make no bones about it – this is a show, and the performer is now exactly where he wants to be – in the spotlight.

 

“This is what I mean about him being the worse hustler. He just can’t help himself. He starts the three-point bet and makes his first 15. I’m thinking that Kelly is going to kill me. I’ll never forget it. Clint went and got his rebound after his 15th shot, he takes the ball, spins it out in front of him towards the wing where there’s an angle and it’s not a straight on shot. He catches it, turns, then banks it in of the back board. He takes it, spins it up in the air again over to the other wing and does the same thing. Matt is dying laughing – he can’t keep it in.”

 

Paying the Money

 

With the atmosphere very different on the left-hand side of the court, Len hears the clack clack of Kelly’s cowboy boots across the basketball court.

 

“He’s walking across the court and I’m thinking he’s going to kill me, I’m nervous. He reaches into his jacket. He pulls out $40,000 in cash and he just wings it across the court towards us. It’s sliding through the dust on the floor. He just looks at us and says, ‘I don’t need to see any more.’ He didn’t even have to finish the bet because they know it’s over.

 

As the dollar bills flick up through the air, landing in Len and the others’ laps, Clint is laughing his head off. Big Rick and Kelly are gone. But Len can’t believe what Clint’s done.

 

“I’m like, ‘Dude, why did you do that?’ Maybe they’d want to bet again. We won $40,000. I won $5,000, Matt got a little piece of it too. But…’

 

Len still sees Rick at the tables, and they talk about the bet, tell the story to anyone new around the felt who might not have heard it. According to Len, Clint no longer hustles for bets. He lives in Florida, has a child, and grew up. But to this day, if you walk into a Vegas or Los Angeles or likely Florida cash game and get on the intercom to ask if anyone knows ‘Basketball Clint’, you’ll get plenty of takers.

 

But there’s one more thing. The morning after that night, Len got a call. He let it go, slept right through it most likely. But the voicemail light was on when he woke. It was Big Rick.

 

“He said ‘I just have one favor to ask you. I want you to ask Clint for the ball. I wanna hang that ball in my office to remind me of how f**king dumb I am.’”

 

Len is happy to do that one favor for Big Rick and calls up Clint. The reply is what makes Clint Keown one of the most unique people on this poker-playing planet.

 

“He said ‘Man, I paid $100 for that ball, I’m not giving it away.’”