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Danny Green, YOLO and carpe diem

The popular phrase "you only live once" is often equated to "seize the day" or carpe diem. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the play of Danny Green shows.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs get the rebound, and they're in the transition. Tim Duncan throws an overhead bounce pass to Tony Parker, who catches it in stride. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green fill the wings, and Tony surveys the floor for a gap in the defense that could lead to an easy score. He watches as Duncan sets a pick for Danny Green who ends up wide open and calling for the ball.

The Green, knees bent and ready to shoot, waits as the ball flies toward him. And in the sea of sound waves that fill the arena -- the distinctive chirp of sneakers squeaking against the wood, the shifts in the crowd's seats as they get up from their seats, the exclamations of the opposing team as they organize their defense -- Green hears only one thing:

"Light it!"

It's Duncan's voice, and Green has heard it countless times. It's engraved into his neural pathways through sheer repetition. It's the best part of his favorite song: he knows when the beat shifts, when the key changes, when the melody soars. It's the part he anxiously waits for. When it comes, his brain fires the signal, and his body moves. His ankles and knees straighten at the perfect angle and pace, the balance of his body undisturbed; his arms rise like cranes wings, mechanically adjusting the angle of release; and of course, he holds up the goose-neck, the sign of a confident Danny Green triple.

There's no result other than the ball going into the basket. As he returns to defense, he points to Tim, thanking him for the assist.

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The phrase YOLO (you only live once) has recently become prominent in our culture. Popularized by the Canadian hip-hop artist Drake in his song "The Motto" in 2011, you can hear youths shout it before taking a huge risk, with the subtext being: "I'm going to take an unnecessarily huge risk, fueled by the misapprehension that I should ignore the future, and live only for the present, man. YOLO!" It ignores the concept of a future, instead focusing on the present and ignoring the consequences of your actions, established in spontaneity, conceived in impulse, birthed in foolishness.

The phrase itself finds its origins from a Latin aphorism written by Horace in one of his odes, where he coins the expression carpe diem: seize the day. Often times, this quote is misinterpreted. People tend to attribute its meaning to the same substance as YOLO, but that's an ill-considered translation that ignores the context. Simplifying the concept of carpe diem as the first Urban Dictionary does, "To put aside all differences, all fear, all worries, and just go for it," equates it with YOLO.

The actual meaning of the phrase is revealed in the poem as a whole:

"Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what end

The gods have given me or you, Leuconoe. Don't play with Babylonian

Numerology either. How much better it is to endure whatever will be!

Whether Jupiter has allotted you many more winters or this one,

Which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the opposing rocks, is the final one --

Be wise, be truthful, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes

To a short period. While we speak, envious time will have [already] fled:

Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day."

Horace urges Leuconoe to be wise and not get too extreme -- the exact opposite of the meaning the phrase has today. Carpe diem counsels to not get too high by looking toward the future, to keep goals within a reasonable time frame; to not get too low by not worrying about how much time is left to live. But rather, he urges to stay in the middle ground and endure whatever will be. To seize the day in order to do what you can to affect the future in this day. Not to ignore the future and justify reckless behavior. He implores Leuconoe to stay in the moment, put everything possible into the present for a better future.

This is the way Danny Green seizes the day.

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At first glance, Danny Green may seem to embody YOLO rather than carpe diem. He is prone to extremes: his nickname IcyHot is derived from his streakiness as a shooter. He is constant in his inconsistency, a walking paradox. One game, he might blow you away with unrealistic shooting numbers. Another game, he might miss every shot he takes. Or he might take none at all. The Western Conference Finals have shown this: in the first two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he shot 73.33% from beyond the three-point line; in the next two games he was 37.5% from long distance. The sample suffers from its small size, but it serves as a perfect microcosm of Danny Green's game.

So how does this embody the life of staying in the middle ground?

By doing what he does best offensively: shooting. That is his middle road. That is how Danny Green seizes the day. He does not let the offensive outbursts get to his head; he does not let the shortcomings drag him into despair either.

He simply does as Gregg Popovich asks his shooters to do: keep shooting. And Popovich's exhortation may be different from another person's idea of keep shooting, especially if that other player is an NBA basketball player. The little devil dancing on his left shoulder might say, "You're on fire! Keep shooting no matter what" Popovich is not the little angel meditating on his right shoulder. He is the enforcer directly in front of your eyes, saying, "Keep shooting as long as I think it's within the boundaries of a good shot. Because I won't hesitate to sit you down if you make a boneheaded play!"

In his icy times, he does not attempt to make plays that he is not equipped for. In his hot times, he does not shoot contested shots -- well, he at least doesn't shoot too many. He stays within himself and within the moment. He does not get caught up in his good shooting or his bad as he does not know if either trend will continue. He simply keeps shooting, because that is his role. It's the way he maintains the middle path.

It's how he seizes the day.