Spoilers ahead. Beware if you have not watched Uncut Gems.
“What am I watching?”
That’s the one thing that kept circulating in my mind as I navigated through the whirlwind of emotions — anxiety, anticipation, fear, anger, frustration and shock — that Uncut Gems left me facing all on my own.
Netflix could not have released this at a better time. With sports on hiatus and near a return, nothing could scare you into a reality check better than Adam Sandler’s performance. If you want to watch a horror film, this is it.
The general consensus I have seen on social media seems to be that people who are in the sports betting industry or wager on sports regularly hate the film, but recreational gamblers love it.
Here’s what I think: It was brilliant.
“But that’s not how sports betting works.”
Then you’ve never had a true gambling problem or known someone who has. As bettors, we seem to quickly forget how privileged — yes, privileged — we are to live a life not having to deal with loan sharks or underground bookies who do in fact use muscle to collect on debts. Instead, we walk up to a counter, place a bet, get a receipt and, if it cashes, you walk out a few dollars richer. Or you use your credit card online or any cryptocurrency (oh geez, you have it easy) and get paid via a variety of options.
I have friends who run their own book and instead of hiring a 6’5” meathead to do their dirty work, they just take the hit because, obviously, the risk is not worth the reward, leaving tools to skim out on a payment more often than a bookie likes to admit.
Have you ever almost been run over by a car with a guy in it toting a Glock because he doesn’t want to pay the five grand that he owes? I know someone who has.
But that’s neither here nor there. If you can watch this film with an unbiased view, then you’ll realize there are lessons to be learned. At the very least, it’s a hell of a good reminder.
Uncut Gems Takeaways
First of all, Kevin Garnett was great in this film. Yes, he was playing himself but the intensity that he brought … well done.
What we can learn from his role: Garnett overvalued his superstitions. You don’t have to. We’ve seen a player like Rafael Nadal fixated on his “routines” before and during match play.
If you eliminate those things, he’s still going to be the King of Clay and will still possess the stamina of a Derby champion and the best forehand on tour.
Garnett’s character was the same. It wasn’t the Ethiopian opal giving him superhuman basketball powers, it was just him all along. Yet, he was willing to go to great lengths chasing a magic that didn’t exist.
The moral: You make the dough. You spread the cheese. You bake the pizza. Don’t worship the pizza. Worship the chef, that’s you!
We all know the saying “you gotta spend money to make money.” OK, but you sure as hell don’t have to borrow money to pay off borrowed money.
What we can learn from Sandler’s Howard Ratner: Don’t ever bet more than you can afford. I know, I know, you’ve heard it a thousand times. Well, you’ll hear it a million more if you want to be in this business for the long term. Set your bankroll accordingly and stick to it.
Howard was a true degenerate. He wasn’t just gambling with money, he was gambling with his personal life. He had a mistress that cost him his marriage. He allowed his son to go with him to his apartment, risking that the boy might see his mistress. The son may not have seen her but he did learn about her.
Howard even gambled with his friends and family. He owed money to his brother-in-law (Arno), screwed over his father-in-law (Gooey) and put his lady friend at risk by sending her out to do his dirty work, placing a large sum of money on a wildly absurd bet.
You saw Howard owe multiple people. He was buying life on margin. Buying stock on margin is a term on Wall Street when traders borrow money from a broker to purchase stock. It’s obviously risky because if your plan goes wrong, you lose money in two ways as opposed to one — the initial money you had plus the money you borrowed. This was Howard’s entire day-to-day life. “Nothing is going my way,” he said at one point, but it was his decisions putting him in those spots.
The moral: If you’re in a hole, don’t dig lower to get out. The way out is up. If you’re digging deeper, you’re not going in the right direction. If you’re down, take the loss and stop or lower your sizing. It’s like poker. If I get stuck in a $2/$5 no-limit game, I’m not jumping up to $5/$10 to make up for the losses, I’m instead dropping down to $1/$3 and grinding it back up.
Howard thought he owed money to threatening but logical people. He owed money to multiple people and perhaps because they were friends and family, he never seemed to take it seriously.
Dealing with intimidating people isn’t scary. Dealing with illogical people is. You can’t talk sense to a senseless person. If you try to and they have any kind of a violent bone in them, you can bet they’ll do more than break yours. And as the end of the film showed, this was truer than ever.
Maybe we’re not total degenerates like Howard was. Maybe this was an extreme example of the life of a true problem gambler. Yes, this film left you with anxiety through the roof but that was the point. If you felt your heart racing and were racked with nerves, then you felt what it was like to be in his shoes.
What I suggest: Read the book Fooled by Randomness and you will realize that sports betting is not about you being right, but rather that if your bet worked out, it was good timing. Good timing that there were market inefficiencies you might have been able to capitalize on.
I loved the movie. I may just watch it again. Let it be a reminder as sports comes back to be disciplined, be smart and be careful to not let your emotions get the best of you.