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The Fairy Tale of Andre Roberson and Russelstiltskin

Once upon a time, a player who couldn’t hit a free throw made a deal with the king to get a new contract. Here’s what happened next.

(Sean Mack)
(Sean Mack)

INT. A BEDROOM IN A HOUSE — NIGHT

Tim Hardaway Jr. is sitting on the floor in his bedroom. He’s there with Andre Roberson. The two, both of whom recently agreed to new contracts — Andre with the Thunder for $30 million for three years and Hardaway with the Knicks for $71 million for four years — are having a celebratory sleepover. The hour hand has crept into the most interesting part of the evening. Things have begun to feel mysterious and nearly mystical.

HARDAWAY: Have you ever heard the story of … [he squints his eyes, looks side to side, then lowers his voice] … Russelstiltskin?

ROBERSON: No. What is it? Is it good?

Hardaway pulls out a giant book. It’s covered in dust and cobwebs. He wipes it clean and then opens it.

HARDAWAY: My grandfather told it to me. I think you’ll like it.

Hardaway begins reading.

Beside a wood, in a country a long way off, sat a fine village; and within that village there stood a basketball court for a basketball team; and on that team was a fine, fine player. He was very good defensively and his agent was so proud of him that he one day told the king of the land, who used to come to the court to watch, that The Player could make a free throw.

Now, this king was very fond of points, and when he heard the agent’s boast of a player who could make a free throw, his greediness was raised, and he sent for The Player to be brought before him. When The Player arrived, the king led him to a chamber, and there was a great heap of balls on the floor, and he said, "All these free throws must be made before morning."

It was in vain that The Player said that it was only a silly boast of his agent, for he could do no such thing as make free throws. The chamber door was locked and he was left alone.

(Sean Mack)
(Sean Mack)

He threw himself into the shots, and it was miss after miss, and he began to bewail his terrible fate; when, all of a sudden, the door opened, and a handsome and fierce man strutted in, and said, "Good morrow to you, my good player. What are you weeping for?"

"Alas!" The Player said. "I must make these free throws, and I know not how."

"What will you give me," said The Man, "to do it for you?"

The Player thought for a moment. "My assists," he replied.

The Man took him at his word, and he picked up ball after ball, swishing each one through the net, and he whistled and he sang as he shot:

And gooseneck after gooseneck the man’s arm went merrily; the work was quickly done, and the free throws were all made.

When the king came and saw this, he was greatly astonished and pleased. But his heart grew still more greedy of gain, and he shut in The Player again with a fresh task: make even more free throws still this time.

The Player knew not what to do, and sat down once more to weep. But The Man soon opened the door, and said, "What will you give me to do your task?"

The Player thought for a moment. "My rebounds," said he. The Man agreed, and began to work at the free throws again, and he whistled and he sang as he shot:

Till, long before morning, all the shots were made again.

The king was greatly delighted to see all this glittering treasure, but still he had not enough. So he took The Player to a yet larger heap of balls, and said, "All these free throws must be made tonight, and if they are, you shall receive a new contract."

As soon as The Player was alone, The Man came in, and he said, "What will you give me to shoot your free throws for you this third time?"

The Player took a moment. "I have nothing left," he said.

"Then say you give me," said The Man, "the points that you may score when you sign your new contract."

That may never be, thought The Player. But, as he knew no other way to get his task done, he said he would do what was asked. Up the free throws went again to the old song, and The Man once more made them all.

The king came in the morning, and, finding all he wanted, was forced to keep his word. So he signed The Player to a new deal.

At the start of the new season, The Player was very glad, and forgot The Man, and he also forgot what he said to him that day in the chamber. But one day The Man came to his room, where The Player was sitting with his points, and reminded him of it. The Player grieved sorely at his misfortune, and said he would give The Man all the rebounds and assists in the kingdom if The Man would let him off, but in vain; till at last his tears softened The Man, and he said, "I will give you three days’ grace, and if during that time you tell me my name, you shall keep your points."

Now The Player lay awake all night, thinking of all the odd names that he had ever heard; and he sent messengers all over the land to find out new ones. The next day The Man came, and The Player began with "Kobe," "LeBron," "Shaquille," "Hakeem," and all the names he could remember. But to all and each of them, The Man said, "Sir, that is not my name."

The second day he began with all the comical names he could hear of, "Sleepy," "Magic," "Skip To My Lou," "Penny," and so on; but The Man still said to every one of them, "Sir, that is not my name."

The third day, one of the messengers came back, and said, "I had traveled two days without hearing of any other names. But yesterday, as I was climbing a high hill, among the trees of the forest where the fox and the hare bid each other good night, I saw a little hut. And before the hut burnt a fire. And ’round about the fire a handsome and fierce man was dancing and singing:

When The Player heard this he jumped for joy, and as soon as The Man came he sat down and called all the rest of the players to enjoy the fun. He held his points in his arms, as if he was quite ready to give them up. The Man began to chuckle at the thought of having The Player’s points, to take them home with him to his hut in the woods. And he cried out, "Now, sir, what is my name?"

"Is it Wilt?" asked The Player, smirking as he did so.
"No, sir!"
"Is it Michael?"
"No, sir!"
"Is it Detlef?"
"It is not," said The Man, "and you have run out of time. You may have one final guess."

The Player feigned worry, and The Player feigned fret, and The Man stood by, ready to collect his prize. Finally, The Player spoke.

"Can your name be … Russelstiltskin?"

"Some witch told you that! Some witch told you that!" shouted The Man, and in a rage he stomped his right foot so deep into the floor that he was forced to lay hold of it with both hands to pull it out.

(Sean Mack)
(Sean Mack)

Then he ran off, while The Player laughed and all the court jeered at The Man for having made so much trouble for nothing, and said, "We wish you a very good morning and a merry feast, Mr. Russelstiltskin! Mr. Russelstiltskin!"