NOT FOND OF FONDA

Ken Hoffman relives his costly celebrity gambling fail

Photo via: Peter Fonda/Facebook

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Actor Peter Fonda, co-writer and star of the groundbreaking counterculture film Easy Rider, died last week. He was 79.

Here's my Peter Fonda story and the night I took the worst gambling "bad beat" of my life.

In 1998, Fonda was nominated for a movie called Ulee's Gold. I never saw this movie, I still have no idea what it's about, but I kept hearing about Fonda racking up important acting awards:

Golden Globes: "Best Performance by and Actor in a Motion Picture."

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics: "Best Actor."

National Society of Film Critics: "Best Actor."New York Film Critics: "Best Actor."

Society of Texas Film Critics: "Best Actor."

On and on, Fonda was sweeping every acting award in sight for Ulee's Gold.

Fond of Fonda in Vegas

Around that time, I checked the Las Vegas odds for the upcoming Academy Awards. Internet gambling was starting to hit big and I happened to have an account with an Irish bookmaking site.

The nominees for Best Actor were: Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting, Jack Nicholson for As Good as it Gets, Dustin Hoffman for Wag the Dog, Robert Duvall for The Apostle, and Peter Fonda for Ulee's Gold.

I thought for sure that Fonda would be the overwhelming favorite to win the Oscar. After all, he was sweeping all the acting awards in the runup to the Academy Awards. But whoa, Fonda was only the third choice among the Vegas oddsmakers at 8-1.

Easy Rider; easy money

Are you kidding? This is the lock of the millennium. I was going to load up on Peter Fonda to win Best Actor. Easy money. A printing press. A key to Fort Knox.

But first … I'm in the media and I used to sit two desks over from Joe Leydon at the old Houston Post. Joe absolutely lived and breathed movies. These days he teaches film studies at UH and HCC and reviews movies for Variety. I trusted his knowledge of the industry. I called Joe and asked him, "Who's going to win Best Actor at the Oscars?" Like every other film critic in America, he was all over Peter Fonda's performance in Ulee's Gold. I double asked him, "Are you sure?"

Continue on CultureMap to learn how Peter Fonda inspired a Beatles song and more.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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