Behind the Bets

The stars are aligned. Or the planets. Getty Images

Whenever Courtney Roberts uses the A-word, this is what happens: "Eye rolls," she says. "A lot of expletives from hardcore science types. I prefer not to use the phrase 'astrology' when I collect data for research."

I'll be honest—mine rolled too.

My mom is an astrology nut. She once handed me a horoscope for my life that predicted I'd either be president, or a serial killer. No joke. So I was skeptical when readers emailed me about Roberts, whose website, courtneyrobertshome.com, has a nice following among amateur wise guys. Still I wanted to know: Is there really a system here?

Roberts is mapping the heavens, turning random clusters of stars into crystalline answers. She is communicating with the planets; speaking with Saturn, jiving with Jupiter, negotiating with Neptune. She is combining celestial planes and angles with dates on a calendar to come up with predictions. Who will win the NBA Finals? The Super Bowl?

She's got the answer.

If there is any group of people that should buy what Roberts is selling, it's you, the degenerate sports bettor. Crunch all the numbers you want, but certain things defy mathematical explanation. Some bad beats just happen because Neptune and Chiron and Jupiter are in a massive stellian. Don't you think it would be nice to know that kind of thing before you lay 10 dimes on the Lions to cover against the Bloomfield Hills Pee Wee Giants?

Of course you would.

Turns out, she's not some flea market tarot card reader. The woman has an undergrad degree from Florida State and a Masters in cultural astronomy and astrology—earned at a legit college in England. And she's been compiling research for more than a decade that'll make you re-think your opinion of stargazing.

"I calculate exact birth planetary positions of players and where the planets are right now, we call that transiting planets," says Roberts. "They form geometric patterns and I measure those angles. Certain geometric relationships are helpful and others are more difficult."

Roberts isn't trolling Wikipedia for player birth dates. She calls the city where the most important players and coaches—from Derek Fisher to Paul Pierce to Phil Jackson—were born and sends away for their birth certificates, getting not just birthdays but birth times, down to the minute. Roberts probably has the largest collection of famous athletes' birth certificates in the world, easily beating the Stahl brothers' mom.

Back in the days before Internet machines, if Roberts got the Heisman from a city's public records office—Chicago is tough—she wrote actual letters, on paper and everything, to teams. She'd explain she was doing research to improve athletic performance, ask for a player's birthday and include a self-addressed stamped envelope. "A lot of people responded to that," she says, without a trace of shock. Of course, she never mentioned the A-word.

Roberts, who was raised in Florida, became a sports fan living in Boston after college and now works out of her apartment in Queens, has been stargazing since she was a teenager. She layered in sports in 1995, after seeing a demonstration at an astrology convention in Monterey. "I was always looking for a way to show how astrology works because it is so misused and plays to people's lowest expectations," says Roberts. "I wanted to prove it can make lives better. And it dawned on me that sports was the way to do this because it was completely objective."

Once Roberts has the birthdays for a team's top three players and its coach—her specialty is the NBA and the NFL—she starts charting. First she maps how the planets were aligned when the key players were born. Then she looks at the planet alignment for the last day of the regular season, and then she does the same for the last day of the finals. That's when the math kicks in, and she starts diagramming angles and shapes, aspects to astrologers, like some string theory mad man. The tighter the angles between the current planets and a player's birth planets, the better he does. "That's when their charts light up like a Christmas tree."

And who's lit up right now?

I spoke with Roberts in late March, before the NBA playoff seeds had been settled, but after the Lakers, Cavs and Celtics had established themselves as the class of the league. "The fact of the matter is that Phil Jackson was born in a very tight Jupiter, Neptune, Chiron conjunction in Libra and that particular alignment is singling him out," says Roberts. "If he wins it will be record breaking. Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach both had sun and mercury in Virgo. They are great strategists and teachers and pushing the stars forwards.

"Kobe has good aspects, too. He is a Virgo and last year Saturn was sitting right on his sun and it hurt him. But now Kobe is highly efficient and super charged. That should last."

If you don't have your astrology to English dictionary, Roberts likes the Lakers in the west.

"In the east I don't see the Celtics repeating, which is too bad. They got me into basketball years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter and living there and couldn't really move around. But I think Cleveland looks really strong. I'm not sticking my neck out, obviously the Lakers and Cavs are the top two teams, but I can see a lot of planetary reasons why they are they way they are. Ultimately, though, I see frustration for Lebron. Again, because of planetary reasons."

Sorry Cavs fans. At least she didn't use the A-word.

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Chad Millman is a Senior Deputy Editor at ESPN The Magazine, and once wrote a book called The Odds. His column takes a close look at the culture surrounding the bet.