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The Wright Stuff Week 20: Life without a plan, playing ball just to be free

Delon Wright may have an injured toe, but the Raptors are still winning. Now they’ve just got to plan ahead for the playoffs — or not.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-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

We’ll have to start with this bad luck big toe. Right now, having watched Delon Wright appear in the last two games for the Raptors, it appears to be giving him some trouble. Go figure, Wright plays one of his better games (vs. Atlanta, sure, but still — 10 points and three steals in 18 minutes? Come on.), then has to sit out down the stretch. Delon jumped into a few minutes against the Pistons last night, but was unable to continue. From a toe injury of all things!

On the bright side, the injury appears to be minor in nature. It’s likely not as serious as anything happening to Delon’s shoulder, for instance. Meanwhile, his team, the Raptors, has now won six games in a row, and Wright has pitched in here and there, as per usual. Toronto’s run continues unabated.

So now we get to the planning stage. With less than 20 games left, and everyone gunning for them, the Raptors and Delon are gearing up for a serious playoff drive. Many don’t believe in them already — and why should they? The Raptors and Wright haven’t done that much in the post-season.

But how much worrying can we do? How much worrying should we do? I feel like I’ve been living in uptight anxiety on behalf of these questions for months. I don’t know how Delon does it.

ACT 2

It was the role he was born to play. That’s what’s said of Anthony Quinn as Zorba in 1964’s Zorba the Greek, based on the classic novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. (Let’s just set aside the fact that Quinn is Mexican.) The film regards an uptight Englishman named Basil (played with stilted precision by Alan Bates) as he ventures to the shores of Crete to revive a lignite mine on land owned by his Greek father. It doesn’t go much further into detail as to Basil’s state of mind, but we gather from his collection of books, and general nervous air, that he’s hoping to make a man of himself.

So then, meeting Zorba comes as a stroke of luck. Here is this wild guy, given to flights of fancy that include singing, dancing, and playing the santuri, and all he wants to do is help Basil out. His enthusiasm proves impossible to resist, and Quinn imbues the character with enough energy to power three movies. It’s the kind of memorable performance that really does feel lived in and singular. Despite a lifetime of acclaimed work on stage and screen, it would not be the worst to remember Quinn solely as Zorba. It maybe isn’t the role he was born to play, but definitely a role only he could play.

Ostensibly Zorba the Greek is about Basil’s mission to rebuild that mine and Zorba’s idea to build a huge cabled log-flume apparatus to make them both rich. It’s a fool’s errand, one we know will fail even before they begin. The real story is invested in the idea of what it means to live, and how best to seize each breath as if it is your last. It sounds cliche — I’m resisting the use of carpe diem here — but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

For most of the film, Basil is uptight and unsure of himself. He wants to be carefree, he wants to live loudly, he wants even to be with the beguiling widow in the village (though he won’t admit that part out loud). But he is restricted by some imagined code of conduct, some inborn notion of what’s proper, a feeling deep within himself that says this is who he is.

Zorba, naturally, explodes all of that. For him, life is to be lived, come what may. You can prepare yourself, or live by certain rules, you can even worry about the nature of being good or bad. But that doesn’t change where everyone ends up — so sure, take the risk.

ACT 3

It’s said to make a plan is to hear God laugh. Given what we know of the world’s randomness, it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. Even in the smaller world of basketball, everything feels impossible to truly predict. And there are definitely those out there laughing at the Raptors — for daring to dream, or believe, or even just plan.

But there’s a lesson in there too from Zorba, one that shines through at the end of the film, as he and Basil inevitably say goodbye to each other. Zorba says, “A man needs a little madness or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.”

It’s a simple idea, containing multitudes, a thought the Raptors (and Delon) should heed. I’m thinking here of the raucous plays from last night in Detroit, the game in which the Raps clinched their fifth straight playoff spot. It’s taken years to get to this point, and when it began Delon was still in college, wondering how his NBA life would even begin.

All of the planning, by Wright, by the team, by Toronto, could be undone in an instant. The risk of embarrassing failure is huge, and growing every day. But what better way to deal with the laughter of God (and others), then to just wildly and recklessly join in.