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The Wright Stuff Week 5: Struck down by injury, waiting for life to resume

Delon Wright sat out this entire week with an injury to the shoulder he’d had surgically repaired just over a year ago. It was not a great turn of events.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to The Wright Stuff, our weekly column following the career of Raptors point guard Delon Wright. Since we can’t influence his training or anything on the court, we’ll recommend films that reflect his past week and hopefully inspire a leap forward. It’ll be part film breakdown, part essay, and part whatever loose piece of wisdom we can shake from the experience.

ACT 1

In his first two seasons in Toronto, Delon Wright appeared in 54 games split evenly between the years, 27 games apiece. But while his absences in the first season were due to inexperience, his second was undone by injury.

On July 16th 2016, during the Raptors soon-to-be final game of the Las Vegas Summer League, Wright’s right shoulder was dislocated. It required surgery in August, followed by rehab, and then the requisite time off to recuperate. He finally returned to the Raptors on February 14th, 2017, a solid seven months later.

We haven’t really thought about Wright’s injury much since then. He was an interesting variable down the stretch for the Raptors in 2017, chipping in what he could to their doomed post-season run. With the Cory Joseph trade though, we knew Delon would have a much bigger role during the 2017-18 season. We knew life would stretch out before him filled with opportunity.

And we felt (since it’s presumably impossible to know) that Wright would only have to stay healthy to achieve success.

ACT 2

The film 10 Items Or Less, written and directed by Brad Silberling, is the definition of lightweight. It’s scale, setting, and ambition are all quite small; its budget (which I can’t even find a listing for) is presumably minuscule; even its runtime — 82 minutes — is tiny. Fittingly, the film grossed a total of $1.3 million worldwide. I own it on DVD, and have watched it a few times. I have also never not enjoyed it as an apparently effortless movie that always manages to brighten my day.

The film’s story is easy to summarize: a famous actor shows up at a grocery store in Carson, Los Angeles to research the role of “grocery store manager” for an upcoming film. He gets stranded there, befriends a put-upon cashier, and the two of them spend the rest of the day with each other — the famous actor needs help returning home, the cashier (though she won’t admit it) needs guidance in her life. The fun part, such as it is, are the two actors playing the parts, and the others they meet along the way (including small turns from Jonah Hill, Kumar Pallana, Bobby Cannavale, and Jim Parsons). Paz Vega is the cashier Scarlet, and the famous actor, never actually named in the film, is none other than Morgan Freeman, playing himself.

The joy here is in watching the two leads explain their worlds to each other. Vega’s Scarlet believes it is her lot to suffer. Her ex-husband (Cannavale) is a deadbeat, her job sucks, her life looks like an interminable string of miserable days. Worse yet, despite her obvious strong-willed competence, Scarlet does not believe in herself. She recognizes the famous actor, but is not impressed by him — even less so when she realizes he has no one to call for assistance, and no way to get home. Scarlet can’t believe how helpless he is. How can this guy have everything, and she nothing?

Freeman as Freeman, meanwhile, has the opposite problem. He is nothing but belief in himself. What he doesn’t have is a grasp on the real world. He has no cellphone, no change for a payphone, and even when he’s given some quarters, he can’t remember any numbers. (Not even his home number, which was recently changed, of course.) Freeman’s life, as we assume is the case with most celebrities, is backed by one big safety net. It protects him, but also shelters him. As a result, one of the running jokes of the film becomes watching Freeman experience everyday things for the first time. He is amazed by the low prices at Target, he revels in the skills of a local car wash crew, and of course he gets caught up in the day-to-day struggles of Scarlet, approaching them as playful acting challenges and not real life hardships.

In truth, there’s not much more to 10 Items or Less than that; and I admit my description probably reads as a bit glib. The film really is a lightweight entertainment. But what it does with that small slice of life — of a clueless actor, and a small-time cashier — is poke at two worlds simultaneously. The actor has no way to connect with actual reality (despite his desire for “research”), and the cashier needs a dose of that irrational confidence to gain control of her life’s direction.

How these two people help each other is charming and funny throughout. And the film’s conclusion feels true, despite even the contrivances and simplicity of the entire conceit. The day and their brief partnership eventually come to a close, and both Scarlet and Morgan Freeman feel better for it. It’s sweet and fulfilling, and then: that’s that, on to the next day.

ACT 3

In truth, Wright’s time away may not be as long as we feared. First, there was this brief video suggesting the injured shoulder may not be that injured.

And then the official medical update, with a Woj report confirming a return timetable of approximately one month. Delon won’t be gone for long. We can all take solace in that reality.

For Scarlet, this kind of optimism is something to which she is unaccustomed. Meanwhile, for Morgan Freeman as Morgan Freeman, there are only sunny days ahead. The worst part — the hard work, the hard times, the uncertainty therein — is already over. He has belief, talent, and a dose of weird perspective on his side. It’s something Scarlet should grab hold of when she feels life spinning beyond her control. The film’s title speaks to this: it’s a reference to the “10 items or less” aisle, but also to the objects/concepts/relationships one cannot live without, the basic things that keep a person grounded.

For Wright then, the same maxim applies. Remember the things that keep you grounded, the support structure that helps and protects (and shelters) you. And even when you’re on the shelf, sidelined by the circumstances of life or plain bad luck happenstance, recall these ten items to mind. Your health, your family, your team, your life’s work in basketball, a game that you love. Life is still there waiting for you to return.

Then watch the sunset, smile, and prepare for a new day.