Late in the afternoon this side of Morey surfaces when the conversation turns to Ping-Pong. "Oooh, we should play right now, on the way out," he says. "Would you want to?"
Forty-five minutes later Morey is leading me down to the bowels of the Toyota Center. After some searching, and with the help of a trainer, he locates a folded-up table, which he rolls into the middle of the empty Rockets locker room. Surrounded by swivel chairs, high-tops and the clothes of Houston players, we begin rallying. It quickly becomes clear that Morey is not just good but very good.
"I was once ranked in the top 100 players nationally under 21," he says. It turns out he also plays regularly in Houston with Jim Butler, the former U.S. champion, and won the NBA table tennis tournament last year. (Apparently, Bob Weiss, Rich Cho and Rick Carlisle are also quite good.) And owns his own $100 paddle. This is a theme with Morey: If you are going to do something, do it as well as you possibly can.
Morey doffs his blazer, and we start playing for real. He sends crazy spinning serves to my backhand, stomps his foot while blasting high looping forehand shots. Even so, he doesn't really turn it on until we start keeping score. Later Hinkie tells me, "If you'd started beating him, you would have really seen his competitive side come out." I nearly win our third game, but Morey finishes me off. Incidentally, the other sport in which Morey says he is "world class" at is Pop-A-Shot, for which he has considered the optimal position (crouched) and style ("maximum throughput of balls").
Afterward, sweating through his maroon V-neck, Morey leads me out to his car and apologizes as he clears two white Sonic fast food paper bags off the passenger seat, the presence of which suggest that despite all those Myoplex bars and the best of intentions, even Morey does not always win the battle between reason and desire.
As we climb in, I ask about the Rockets' future. Harden is a piece of the puzzle, Morey says, but not the endgame. Even after signing Harden to a five-year, $80 million extension, Houston is in position to have ample cap room next summer, enough to sign another foundational player. Morey's not picky about who it is. "We can't afford to be," he says.
Earlier I'd asked Alexander, the owner, about Morey's approach, and he had been cagey. How much longer would Alexander stick with the plan? "As long as it works." How long until he knew if it worked? "Two years." As for how he would know if it worked, Alexander was clear: Like Morey, he only plays this game for one reason.
That brings us back to a point worth mentioning. Back in 1995, despite his big move for Jordan, Morey didn't win that season. In fact, even though he made a number of shrewd moves over the years, Morey never won the league at all. Not all risks pay off.
Morey needs to go home to his family for dinner, but first he's going to drop me at my hotel, a mile away. As we pull out of the parking garage, Morey uses his cellphone to pull up directions on Google Maps. He types, then types again, and yet for some reason Google does not recognize the downtown Courtyard Marriott. Morey is astounded. "This never happens," he says. But it's true; technology has failed him. So Morey puts down his phone, turns out of the garage and heads north.
"O.K.," he says. "I guess we'll have to figure it out as we go."