The Charles Oakley New York Knicks fans know and love — the enforcer, the protector — is still there. Don’t let the white hair or wrinkles under his eyes fool you. The spirit of a player who would rather bloody your nose than shake your hand hasn’t aged a day since he retired from the game 18 years ago.
It’s the arena that has changed. Instead of battling for rebounds, he is battling hunger and homelessness. Instead of protecting superstar players, he is protecting gambling fans from irresponsible decisions.
New York Knicks: Charles Oakley talks to Daily Knicks in exclusive interview
On Friday, Mar. 12, Oakley’s “Oak Out Hunger Tour” makes a stop in New York City at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. The goal of the Oak Out Hunger Tour, co-sponsored by The Charles Oakley Foundation and Entain Foundation US, is two-fold.
First, the Oak Out Hunger Tour, which included a stop in Cleveland during All-Star Weekend, is designed to directly address the issue of food insecurity.
“It’s all about the time you put into what you’re doing and I think the smile on their face when you give them a hot meal with the foundation. We just show a lot of love,” Oakley said.
This work is needed now more than ever.
“Even though it feels as if the worst of the pandemic is behind us, we are still seeing record numbers of New Yorkers visiting us for a hot meal or a week’s worth of groceries,” said Dr. Anna S. Pearson, the Executive Director of the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.
The Holy Apostles Soup kitchen expects to share upwards of 60,000 meals this week, an over 634% increase from their pre-Covid counts.
“We are incredibly grateful to these foundations for selecting our program as a site for the 2022 Oak Out Hunger Campaign, and for all the generous individuals like Charles Oakley who allow us to continue our essential work,” said Pearson.
Martin Lycka, SVP American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain, has joined Oakley for each leg of the 2022 tour. The impact has been clear.
“We kicked up the tour in L.A. on the Super Bowl. We went to Skid Row and we fed about 600 people. Personally, it was quite an eye-opener. Entain is a gambling company and we do cater to our communities, but being personally involved in it really brought it to a completely different level,” said Lycka.
This is more than just a simple photo opportunity for Oakley, who has actually spent much of his post-playing career cooking for various homeless shelters and veterans organizations.
Bo Grey, co-founder and inventor of The Wager Score, said, “Me and Charles typically get up in the morning. We source all the food. He’s got me peeling potatoes, cracking eggs, helping him in the kitchen.”
“And then he takes all the glory,” Grey added, chuckling.
Grey himself deserves plenty of accolades, though. His patented technology (an increasingly difficult status to attain in the Wild West that is digital intellectual property) is a major driver of the second focus of the Oak Out Hunger tour: raising awareness for Gamble Responsibly America, an app strengthened by Grey’s program.
Grey’s elevator pitch for The Wager Score: “Think about Amazon Smile meets responsible gambling. We’re the only real-time affordability check that actually looks at your disposable income to make sure that you’re not losing more money than you should. If we see that you’re starting to get to a point where you’re spending more than your disposable income, we actually intervene to get you to stop…By you betting responsibly I’m going to give 1% of every dollar you spend, win or lose, to charity…so we’re turning gambling losses into charitable donations, which no one is doing.”
The refrain across multiple conversations: Think a FICO score for your bets.
“The Wager Score has the ability to determine the levels of affordability as to how much an individual customer can bet. We are really trying to show the public that sports betting is a very entertaining activity but at the same time they do need to be careful, and they stand a better chance of not slipping down…the precipice of gambling addiction if they are armed with all this information and all these tools,” Lycka said.
While Grey takes a view of The Wager Score as a “disruptive brand” and sees he and Lycka as “the rockstars of responsible gambling” (complete with a bus tour of American colleges and universities to speak to the next generation of gamers), this work isn’t totally underground, either.
BetMGM, which partners with the Knicks and Madison Square Garden, also partners with The Wager Score.
Taking their message to the public is also where Oakley’s reputation as a protector factors in.
As Lycka told me, “What historically the industry has struggled with has been to identify champions such as Charles Oakley (I’m deliberately using the word champion) that would help promote our key causes, especially responsible gambling. To my mind, there’s a clear link between Charles having protected the biggest stars of the game, including Mr. Jordan himself, and him now becoming the face of a campaign that’s really designed to protect the next generation by educating them about responsible gaming.”
It’s a role Oakley takes really seriously.
“When I played, I protected a lot of legends, and I want to protect the young generation through something different: The Wager Score. Bet smart. Give back,” Oakley said.
And lest you believe he writes off everyone in today’s NBA, he’d ask you to pause briefly on that take. Oakley said, “Draymond Green is a guy with IQ that makes the Golden State Warriors go. There’s no other player like him and I give him a lot of respect for how he can make his guys so good and everything on the court.”
To learn more about Oakley’s “Oak Out Hunger Tour” and the work that he does, visit his foundation’s website.