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.
There are a lot of factors to consider here, but it’s difficult to deny reality: Delon Wright returned this past week, playing in three games (all Raps wins), and the bench looked better, more complete, than it had while he sat out. Jakob Poeltl’s points, rebounds, and shot attempts are up, Pascal Siakam looks more amped than usual, and Norman Powell is letting the game come to him once again. It’s all nice to see.
Now, the Raptors went 9-3 with Wright on the shelf, with a total combined point differential in the losses of 16 points, so it’s not like the team had fallen apart in his absence. On top of that, Wright’s return means the Raptors are back up to having 11 usable players (12 once Lucas Nogueira returns), which remains something of a conundrum for Toronto. (It’s a good conundrum, but still.)
But let’s set that all aside for now. Wright is back, he’s still doing his thing, and it feels good to see the bench mob of the Raptors coming together once more.
Is Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai the first of its kind? It came out in 1954, and while there were certainly action and adventure films around back then (from Japan and elsewhere), ones that featured heroes on a quest to do right, the attendant struggle to overcome dastardly villains, and the romance discovered along the way, Seven Samurai feels like the type’s grandest realization. It may not have been first, but it is definitely the biggest at the time, and the best.
The elements of the story are just that: elemental. A group of lowly farmers, fearing an attack from bandits, decides to recruit some samurai to defend their village. They find one, the kind-faced Kambei (Kurosawa mainstay Takashi Shimura), who recruits the rest — four more legit warriors, a young apprentice, and an angry but aspiring fool (played with manic fury by the other Kurosawa mainstay Toshiro Mifune). Each has a role to play — archer, swordsman, even morale-booster — as they integrate themselves into the farmers’ lives while preparing for the battle to come. Despite a run-time of over three hours, it’s a tense time throughout.
The first half of the film regards the samurai’s preparations. Some of them joke with the townsfolk. Others labour to train the villagers. There’s a sense of humour here; it’s weary, but present. These samurai are not the mighty warriors they once were. They’re older, and plumper, and generally more worn out. They’re self-identified ronin, working for whoever can pay. But they still have a sense of honour, and they still value the camaraderie that comes with forming a team. Even in the face of great odds, they can cling to that grain of self-knowledge.
And so, the men strategize. They assess the town’s geography, and determine what kind of manpower they’re working with. They find weapon stores, and plan the eventual routes of attack and defense. The first half of the film ends with a stirring speech from Kambei, one that summarizes the heart of the film quite well. The every man for himself idea won’t work. It becomes clear they’ll have to band together — samurai, villager, young and old — to defeat the coming enemy.
Then the second half arrives (after an intermission), and it’s a straight shot of adrenaline, sequence after sequence of emotional highs and lows filled with swords, bows, horses, and the clashes of scores of people. There are even a few muskets. The samurai experience a few losses, as does the village; no man makes it out of the confrontation unchanged.
Ultimately (and inevitably), the team of samurai become something greater than they were before, finding a purpose and strength in their unity. But the lesson they learn is tempered by the post-battle reality: their eventual victory was for others, not quite for themselves.
Wright’s role on the Raptors is modest. He’s expected to shake up the backcourt, force turnovers, direct the offense, catch people on their heels. It’s unlikely he’ll get to enjoy the glory of being the biggest star on the team — even as his labour helps to put the Raptors (and the fanbase) on its arc towards success.
That’s where the warriors find themselves at the end of Seven Samurai. They’ve saved the day, and now the sun is shining on the farmer’s fields. But just as quickly as they were summoned, they are forgotten. Kambei’s final words are heavy with that acknowledgement. He knows now it’s on to the next thing, the next battle, the next stage in life.
But like the samurai, Wright can take solace in the joys of teamwork. He can enjoy the work for the sake of the doing of it. He can go through the process — of play, of rehab, of whatever else comes — on his way through the years of his career. Even if the odds are long (perhaps especially if the odds are long).
In the lead up to the battle, Kambei plans to move a handful of the villagers from their long-held homes to bolster the town’s defense. He knows that risking the entire village for the sake of a few houses is not wise. The whole town must throw in together lest they all be destroyed together. Everyone has a part to play, even the small, even the meek, even those who were never great warriors. Kambei instils in everyone a sense of duty, of purpose.
For Delon, in a part big or small, that effort matters too. The unity of the Raptors makes them stronger than they are as individuals. And while he’s not the first player to be in this situation, nor will he get the biggest slice of the credit in the outcome, Wright will be able to say he was there, contributing to something bigger than himself.