Book Review: Things the Raptors can learn from Shea Serrano’s “Movies (And Other Things)”

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The header image on this post has nothing to do with the subject matter of said post. I went with Raptors coach Nick Nurse because he’s known as something of a “mad scientist” in basketball circles. After his first year as Toronto’s head coach, that descriptor has boiled down to things like: playing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol togther and using a box-and-1 to stop Steph Curry. It’s surprising thinking, sometimes even random thinking — and it ties in thematically with the writing Shea Serrano does in his new book Movies (And Other Things).

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Serrano already wrote a book called Basketball (And Other Things) which is probably the far more applicable book in terms of writing a column about it on a Raptors website. I mean, the name of the sport is right there in the title. Then again, as you may know, I enjoy writing and talking about movies quite a lot. (In fact, you can read my review of Shea’s book over here at Brief Take — that’s two articles just on this subject!) And on top of that, Serrano’s book, and his writing in general, is something that enjoys bouncing between topics that he enjoys. If that means writing a section where, say, Michael Myers of Halloween fame holds a basketball-style post-game press conference, then so be it.

In that random spirit, let’s reflect on some lessons the Raptors can learn from Serrano’s book Movies (And Other Things) — which was released today — as they prepare for the 2019-20 season and their championship defense.

Don’t Let Yourself Be Misunderstood

Let’s start off on a light note here. There really is an entire chapter in Movies (And Other Things) dedicated to the raptors of Jurassic Park. For those who don’t know, the whole reason the Toronto Raptors are even named the Raptors is because of a poll held back in the early 90s — right when Jurassic Park mania was running wild — that led to that title being selected in their name-the-team contest. It was a different time.

In the book, Serrano explains some of the hell the raptors raise in that first Jurassic Park movie — killing people, destroying stuff, generally running amok — but then, in a twist, justifies the dinosaurs’ actions as being totally misunderstood. You see, in each instance when it looks like the raptors are being aggressive and attacking whomever or whatever happens to be at hand, they actually have a good reason to do so — in self-defense. I admit, it’s a bit of a stretch as a thesis, but for our thematic purposes it definitely works when applied to our Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors of 2019-20 are already being looked down upon. The team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, left the squad (something Shea knows a lot about as a Spurs fan), which means their championship hopes are all but dashed. That doesn’t mean Kyle Lowry and crew are prepared to just fold, however. The team still collectively has the heart of a champion and that means something. At the very least, rival teams should not misunderstand Toronto: they’re ready for a fight. So while it’s easy to say the Raptors are now also-rans — or that the raptors were just eating everything in sight with reckless abandon — we have to remember: there’s perhaps more to the scene here than meets the eye.

Nothing Can Touch Those Championship Memories

Heist movies hold a special place in my heart. They apparently mean a lot to Serrano too, as he goes in-depth in one chapter of Movies (And Other Things) to discuss who exactly he’d put on his theoretical perfect heist movie crew. Unfortunately, he only references films prior to 1980, so we don’t get to see what it would be like for, say, Michael Caine or Bob le Flambeur to get involved. (He also slanders Ricky Jay and the mid-period writing of David Mamet in a footnote, which, uh, yikes.)

For the Raptors, this is also instructive. The memories of last year are, if not fading, then changing into something else. The roster of the team is already considerably different, which modifies how we feel about the Raptors in the present and steals, perhaps, some of the lustre of what happened this past June. I for one know it will feel weird to suddenly go back to being one of those teams that doesn’t win the championship — even though I’ve spent 23 out of 24 years watching that exact outcome. Time has a way of playing with memory like that.

My point here is, let’s try to keep some perspective here. While I don’t necessarily agree with Serrano’s heist crew conclusions, it’s cool that he cherishes the movies that he does, no matter what some schlub (like me!) thinks. This point also works in reverse, for the Raptors and the Toronto fanbase. Come the official start of the 2019-20 season, or some point in, I don’t know, 2027 or whenever, there will likely be people telling you that the Raptors don’t matter anymore, or that the meaning of their title has somehow lessened in time. Don’t let them steal thoes good vibes away.

Remember Where You Came From

Serrano’s strengths as a writer shine through when he’s cracking jokes and when he’s reflecting on something meaningful to him. Now, we could argue this entire book is meaingful to him, what with his name on the cover and all, but I’m talking about really really meaningful. (Or at least more meaningful than figuring out which movies would be better with the Rock in them.)

In Movies (And Other Things), Serrano often takes the opportunity to reflect on movies that remind him of who he is and where he came from. A movie like Selena, which meant a great deal to the Mexican (and Mexican-American) community at the time of its release — and presumably still does — is one such movie. Or something like A Bronx Tale, which tells a gangster story far from Serrano’s own experience, but since Robert De Niro’s character plays a bus driver like his own father, it speaks to him. Then there’s a chapter on Friday which is a really funny movie that hit Serrano in just the right way, making jokes he clearly appreciates to this day.

The Raptors are celebrating their 25th anniversary as a team this year, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The team just won the 2019 NBA championship, which means everyone in Toronto can chill a little bit. And it also means we can remember all the ups and downs we’ve had as fans of the team — the good years, the bad years, the ridiculous stuff that’s happened along the way. For most of the Raptors’ existence, the franchise has been fighting to make itself visible, to carve out an identity in Canada and beyond. Now its finally reached some measure of peace. And this is before considering what it’s meant for players like Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol to ascend that championship mountaintop. That’s big time stuff.

(Yes, I realize being a fan of the Raptors or a professional athlete is not the same as being Mexican-American, or being a bus driver, or being an enjoyer of Friday, but I think you get my extrapolation here.)

We’ve all been shaped by the journey to get to this golden moment, so let’s cherish it with the team and with the city in this coming season — and all seasons. And of course, let’s keep trying to learn and be better too.