05 March 2008

Rockets Win Again with Rookie GM

The Houston Rockets just set a new team record tonight, winning their 16th game in a row. They've won 4 in a row without Yao, a remarkable feat even if it was not tacked onto such a streak. (No one in the NBA has had a longer winning streak this year.)

The New York Times wrote this about the Rockets' General Manager,
Morey, the rookie general manager of the Houston Rockets, is a wizard in the field of quantitative analysis, a friend of Billy Beane’s and a “Moneyball” true believer. He is the N.B.A.’s highest-ranking stat savant, the first mathematical magician to run a team.

Although all this is probably true, it misses what I think is the more important point about Daryl's success.

I met Daryl about 12 years ago. At the time, he was a recent college grad fascinated by oddly obscure ideas like self adaptive complexity. We clicked (there are not too many people who share interests in systems dynamics or find the ideas behind them stimulating) and since then I've followed his career with an odd mix of pride and amazement. The reporters frequently comment on his great mind, but Daryl is simply a likeable and delightful person.

Before sitting in Fenway Park watching the Red Sox with Daryl, I fancied myself a baseball fan. Listening to Daryl casually debunk various "myths" of baseball and support his claims with data, I realized that I was not really a baseball fan: I had odd bits of knowledge and interest in the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. I realized that Daryl's most off-handed comment carried more weight than anything I had thought about for years.

Daryl is not just adept at analyzing data and determining what it means. He lets the data take him where it will - whether that is to the most obvious or most counter-intuitive conclusion. He does not just do this with sports data. He has done this with his life. I don't think that I've ever met a person who seems less concerned with tradition - that of others or even his own. Daryl accepts what the data says and is willing to test plausible theories - in any domain. Years ago, he put me on his "board of advisors," a move that amused and flattered me and has come to mean even more as his career continues to thrive. (That he would name me to such a position is proof that he's not just comfortable with data but is comfortable with odd ideas.)

Daryl did not play basketball in college, much less the NBA. His father does not own a team nor work as a famous sports analyst. Daryl’s career has not just risen with amazing celerity - he has done it on his own merit. I rather doubt that his high school friends would have pegged him as "most likely to be an NBA GM by 35."

There is a great deal I admire about Daryl. Perhaps what makes him most unique is not his ability with numbers and statistics but his willingness to accept the reality those numbers represent. Analysis can be taught. I’m not sure that Daryl’s willingness to change in response to the analysis can be taught and it is that – more than the actual analysis – that seems to me the truly extraordinary thing about his life, his career and his performance.

And Daryl – congratulations on the winning streak. You may just want to tell reporters that you’ve tried winning and tried losing and you just can’t see any advantage to losing or even one good reason to lose again.


cce said...

So cool that you've sat next to this Daryl and watched the BoSox and I know exactly what you mean about the sudden realization that your fandom is paltry and amateur in light of someone else's total understanding of the game. I have an uncle in law that makes baseball that much more fun for the knowledge he brings to spectatorship, all the back stories, all the stats, an education on baseball just waiting to be happen if you can choose the right seat, within earshot, and sit back for the ride.
So go Rockets and go Daryl. I don't know the NBA too well but can see that this is history in the making.

LSD said...

Score one for the off-beat thinkers! It's nice to hear about good people finding success in such dramatic fashion.

Pretty cool that you are one of his counselors, too.

Allen said...

Ron, did you ever think that maybe, JUST maybe, your non-traditional thinking is EXACTLY one of the reasons why Darryl has you on his board? "Yes" men/women and/or those who grab hold and cling like morays to sharks are easy to find, especially when you're on your way to the top or have arrived. Having friends who are more interested in your ideas/thoughts/musings than your net worth/title/position is the harder find but oh-so-much more treasured.

Ron Davison said...

for the benefit of you Boston-area sports fans, I should have mentioned that Daryl worked as the COO of the Celtics before his move to Houston.

I prefer the term consigliere. I just makes me feel so much more dangerous.

Thank you for that thought. I'm glad that you've recovered your natural optimism in the wake of the whole lottery investment debacle.