Monday, February 27, 2012

Wonderful Elegance! No Good at All!

Dear Mr. Morey,

My plan was to watch last night’s two huge, meaningless, self-congratulatory spectacles, and then write you a letter about which NBA All-Stars and Oscar nominees I believe to be overvalued, since I know from reading your Twitter messages that you’re a movie fan and since assessing value is one of your specialties. After all, you're the NBA’s version of Billy Beane (by reputation, at least). I planned to devote space to discussing Aaron Sorkin in particular. In 2011 you wrote about Moneyball for Grantland—though you hadn't yet seen the movie, an unfortunate approach—and the year before, on Twitter, you weighed in on The Social Network, praising Rooney Mara and Andrew Garfield, but disliking the movie overall: "1D characters & should celebrate hard work & smart execution more." (No other GM in NBA history has ever used a phrase like “1D characters.” Another reason I’m glad you run my favorite team.) I was going to say that Sorkin’s work is extremely overvalued, that he makes good drama at the expense of reality, which is questionable since he writes about real people. From there I'd talk about the other Best Picture nominees I believed to be overvalued, even ones that I enjoyed. But first I wanted to see how the night actually unfolded. And now that both the game and the awards are over, with nothing very interesting occurring during the game and two movies I haven’t seen winning most of the awards (The Artist and Hugo), I realize I shouldn’t have gotten so worked up. I'd promise myself that I won’t watch either event next year, except I always do that, and anyway, the All-Star Game’s in Houston next year. Still, after spending way too much time thinking about which movies didn’t deserve any accolades, I’m reminded of something the great Houstonian Donald Barthelme writes at the end of his story "The Party": "Is it really important to know that this movie is fine, and that one terrible, and to talk intelligently about the difference? Wonderful elegance! No good at all!"

But before I leave this topic and finally admit that opinions are basically worthless, let me point out that the movie 50/50, not nominated last night, should have been a contender, just as our Kyle Lowry should’ve been at the All-Star Game. Both 50/50 and Kyle Lowry were ignored in favor of performers who’d been overvalued because of past experience, the classic GM mistake. If you haven't already, you should definitely watch 50/50, Daryl. But be warned: it’s not about statistical analysis. It’s about cancer. Also be warned that there’s a decent amount of explicit sexual humor in the movie, almost all of which comes from the mouth of Seth Rogen. (This is the only element of 50/50 I could’ve done without; I’m getting tired of the emotional-movie-with-penis-jokes template). In other words, you probably shouldn’t watch it with your son, like you did with Rocky (according to Twitter). But the performances in that movie—from the main characters, including Rogen, and also the more minor ones—are incredibly good, in my opinion. Check it out.

And in the first half of this shortened season, Kyle Lowry was also incredibly good: 15.6 points per game/7.6 assists/5.3 boards/2.0 steals and the consensus best player on a team entering the second half at 20-14, the same record as the Lakers and one game back of the Mavs. Nobody seems to know that Kyle Lowry is among the league’s best point guards, just like nobody seems to know that 50/50 was among the year’s best movies and like nobody knows that the Rockets are among the league’s biggest surprises so far. But this is just another reminder that opinions don’t matter. Once again, you’ve put together a competitive team with a bunch of nice pieces but without any big stars (at least by public perception). You’ve gotten very good at this. There are opinionated people who say you should be tanking this season for a high draft pick and opinionated people who criticize you for not landing us a superstar (like superstars grow on trees and like David Stern didn’t already manipulate this tree before the season started) and, of course, opinionated people who criticize you for cutting Jeremy Lin, even though we already have an all-star caliber starting point guard and one of the most solid backups in the league, plus a third PG who could probably play somewhere else and sits the bench for us. But these people and their opinions have nothing to do with you, Daryl. All you and Kyle and the people who made 50/50 can do is just continue to work at the highest level you can and concern yourself as little as possible with what everybody else thinks (while still being honest about ways in which you can improve). I’m sure you already know all this, so I guess I’m just reminding myself.

Instead of worrying about whether “this movie is fine, and that one terrible,” and instead of having opinions about other people’s opinions, my new goal is to be like George Whitman, the recently deceased owner of Shakespeare and Co., the great English-language bookstore in Paris. According to his obituary in the New York Times, George Whitman once wrote the following about another Whitman: "Perhaps no man liked so many things and disliked so few as Walt Whitman, and I at least aspire to the same modest attainment." That's not a bad way to spend one's life. I'm gonna aspire to this attainment, too, at least from now on. And among the things I like—the things I’m a great fan of—is your work as the Rockets GM, Daryl. You haven’t always been lucky, and luck plays a huge role in a team’s success, but you’re an incredibly smart guy, and a cool guy, and Rockets fans always know you’re working hard to make our team better. As a fan also of Houston’s professional (and now semi-pro) baseball franchise, I’ve experienced over the last few years what it feels like to root for a team with a clueless GM, and it isn’t fun. This makes me even more grateful to have you around. Following your work as GM is like watching the work of a great director: the movie may not be perfect, but it's obvious that every decision has been carefully considered. And that’s a nice feeling, as a fan. So thanks for that, and good luck in the second half and beyond. I know you haven't stopped working to improve our team.



P.S. If I wasn’t done having opinions, I’d say—along with others who’ve made the same point—that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Art Howe, a former Astros manager, was a lazy and egregious injustice. P.S.H. is incredible and definitely one of my favorite actors (and his Oscar speech a few years back was my favorite Oscar speech of all-time—he mentioned Astral Weeks and the NCAA Tourney in the same speech!), but Art Howe is the first character he’s ever played who’s based on a real-life person I’m familiar with, and now I find myself questioning all his other performances. What if the Mattress Man and Brandt were nothing like that in real life?

P.P.S. Did you see Will Ferrell’s pre-game introductions at the Hornets game a few weeks ago? Maybe the funniest was the one he did for D. Rose: "AT GUARD, NUMBER ONE, HIS FAVORITE MOVIE IS THE NOTEBOOK...Derrick Rose." The day after I saw that video, I happened to overhear a college kid telling his teacher (not me) that he’d made a list of his 50 favorite movies of all-time and though he also had a lot of Sandler and Schwarzenegger movies on the list, he’d surprised himself by putting The Notebook in his top ten. At first I snickered in my silent eavesdroppy way, but then I realized, Hey, I enjoyed that movie, too. And, anyway, why should anyone want to make fun of someone for enjoying something?