Stars, Superstars and Poker
March 3, 2008 10:35 AM
My mother raised me to be an egalitarian – with the sense that no one is better than you are and you are not “above” anyone.
Unfortunately, that perspective is entirely counter to the celebrity society we now live in. When we started the World Poker Tour there basically were no poker celebrities. A few people had heard of Amarillo Slim because he had been on the Tonight Show as an oddity guest a few times. And, thanks to the new movie, Rounders, some people had heard of Johnny Chan (in the same way that movie goers came to know larger than life fictional gun slingers).
But, today the world has changed. At the WPT final table Thursday were three of the greatest players in the game – two of them named Phil. And, those two Phil guys are as big as poker celebrities may ever get. Phil Ivey is, by reputation, perhaps the best player in the game. He carries himself like an NBA all-star, travels with a posse and elicits the same envy from guys and sighs from women that any sports superstar would in a crowd. The other Phil, Phil Hellmuth, may be the savviest guy in the game. He has literally built himself into one of the biggest brands in poker.
And, while all this is happening around the sport of poker, I have been clinging to a belief that all players are created equal. And, the reality is . . . whether I like it or not . . . they are not – certainly not in the public’s eyes . . . or their own.
Phil Hellmuth wanted to wear a hat with his initials on it at the final table. We have struggled to be egalitarian and strict with our logo policy (even keeping people from wearing World Poker Tour logos in places other than the left breast pocket dictated by the rules). But, this guy is the Poker Brat. He asked for special consideration . . . and, though I said “no” to him in our telephone conversation . . . I called back a few minutes later and changed my mind.
A few months before, I allowed poker great Dan Harrington to wear his lucky Green Boston Celtics hat at the final table. Not because it was a player’s lucky hat, but because it was Dan Harrington’s lucky hat – that had become part of his poker persona. To require him not to wear it (or to tape up the logo as we had done in another episode) seemed silly. I am well aware that more calls will come to me from our WPT event surrounding logos at tables, but that is the world we live in.
And, my answer will likely be: when you become a Dan Harrington or when you become a Phil Hellmuth -- and you have established a non-commercial brand as a trademark of your poker persona, we’ll be happy to let you wear it on your hat . . . .
And, somehow that feels right. And, somehow that feels wrong . . .
But, it is what it is . . . .