Leading up to the start of the 2014-15 season, we'll be asking 20 questions about the team. Some of them more serious than others. All of them hopefully interesting or at least enough to spark a meaningful discussion. After hours of brainstorming, we came up with a perfect name for these articles, we're calling them 20Q's.
A lot of preparation in professional basketball is based on watching film. Coaches are expected to study game tape and lead players through educational sessions as part of their functional career growth. For an NBA player to really want it he must spend countless hours shooting, working out and, yes, studying footage.
But one does not live on basketball film alone.
I believe the world of film, in all its rich variety, can offer up more to a team than simply a replay of the Xs and Os of basketball. As Roger Ebert once said, film is "a machine that generates empathy." Therefore, delving into cinema could help a player understand himself, his teammates, his coaches and his opponents even better, right? Right.
So, let's put on our cinematic Phil Jackson hats and assign the Raptors some real film watching homework. With less than a month to go before the season starts there are still lessons to be learned, and time enough for them to all become basketball auteurs.
(Please forgive the, um, cheesy trailer; they've come a long way since 1955.)
Allow me the indulgence of starting in France in 1955. Rififi is a classic film noir involving a bunch of mean looking French men, a plan to steal some loot, and the sad touches of humanity that unravel the whole operation. But let's not focus on the inevitable depressing aftermath and stick instead with the heist itself. Like a well-run basketball organization, the gang executes a flawless robbery, one that involves misdirection, meticulous movement, careful applications of violence, and interestingly enough, a commitment to silence. Sure, one of the gang members mucks it up for everyone else (a gift of jewellery to the wrong woman is involved; been there, amirite?), but in that first hour: perfection.
The lesson to be learned? Execute the game plan!
OK, that first example was a bit grim. Basketball is supposed to be fun! To that end, here's the great thing about 1993's Groundhog Day: it works as a paean to the virtues of living correctly and it is really, really funny. It also bears mentioning that the life of Bill Murray's Phil, forever living the same day over and over again, has to feel a little something like the life of a pro basketball player. They wake up day after day to do the same thing over and over again, too. The hope is that a team can eventually do everything right and reach for the prize at the end (an NBA Championship and/or Andie MacDowell).
The lesson to be learned? Practice makes perfect!
Yi Yi: A One and a Two
What is a basketball team if not a family? On Media Day, no less than Amir Johnson could be heard talking about the "family atmosphere" the Raptors had managed to cultivate. In Edward Yang's seminal 2000 film Yi Yi: A One and a Two, we are witness to the lives of a Taiwanese family as they experience the highs and lows of everyday existence - marriage, coming-of-age, young romance, death, and so on. Sure, the Raptors probably don't have to put themselves through quite as potent an emotional ringer just to get through an 82 game schedule, but that sense of togetherness? Invaluable.
The lesson to be learned? Stick by your teammates!
The Wild Bunch
Now if you just watched the above clip I think you'll agree, that right there is a dynamite opening scene. Sam Peckinpah's 1969 film The Wild Bunch is as advertised: a take-no-shit Western about a band of outlaws driven by revenge and a thirst for gold. Hey, that sounds like a certain Raptors team that was left for dead at the end of Game 7 last season. The famous closing scene of The Wild Bunch involves (spoiler for a 45 year old movie) a machine gun, bloodshed, and a failed final mission. It's messy, but we can all agree: those guys just wouldn't quit.
The lesson to be learned? Always play hard!
The Third Man
(Try to look past the trailer again. It's amazing anyone went to movies back then.)
I'm supposed to present a whole basketball-related scenario here, one that incorporates The Third Man's 1949-era hero Holly Martins and his quixotic mission into post-war Vienna to discover what really happened to his shady friend Harry Lime. But then I thought about how Holly travels from place to place, visiting various characters with questionable motivations who seek to oppose his every move. I remembered all of the grasping after unseen money in ways that are sometimes made to feel like a life and death struggle. And I recalled that in the end, even after Holly finds the answers he seeks, he's left back at the beginning with a whole new set of questions.
The lesson to be learned? Nothing. Obviously there is no analogy here to playing in the NBA.
Mostly I picked The Third Man because it's my favourite movie, and I hope the Raptors enjoy watching it.
Anyone else have some good film suggestions?