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Saved by Emperor's New Shoes

May 30, 1996|JIM MURRAY

Modern fairy tale--updated from 1973 and with apologies to the Brothers Grimm:

Once upon a time there was this kingdom called Basketball and it was ruled by the wise old emperor, William Russell the First.

The kingdom was happy because he ruled it without appearing to. But one day, the people came to him in terror, and cried, "Save us! For there is a mighty warrior named Wilt who has come to swallow Basketball and he will take over and bring famine to the land."

And the emperor stroked his beard and said, "Tell me, when he is pricked, does he bleed? When he is sad, does he cry? When he travels, does a whistle blow? Why, then, he is nothing but a man."

And Emperor Russell went out and took the basketball away from the giant Wilt and every year pointed to the door of the kingdom and said, "Out! Go! And bother my people no more, lest I see to it thou foul out."

And Wilt retreated, and gnashed his teeth, and blamed his armies, which he said did not do his bidding sufficiently. And he fretted that the people welcomed him not but feared him. "By my troth, they root not for Goliath," he moaned. "They rejoice in my misfortune." And he waxed gloomy and unhappy, truly an unjolly grim giant.

And the kingdom prospered. A new giant appeared, Patrick the Pivot in New York, and again a wave of unease spread through the people. "There is yet another giant on our borders!" they cried. "Who will save us, now that Russell the First is gone?"

But there appeared from Houston a new savior, Hakeem the Dream, and he told them to fear not. "I will not let harm come to you," he promised. "Fear not. This giant Patrick is, forsooth, too slow. He needeth all 24 seconds to get from one end of the court to the other and his army will never be able to score 100 points. I can save you easily."

And it came to pass he was correct and all New York was able to do was huff and puff and the throne of Basketball eluded them. And Patrick retreated and licked his wounds and cursed his fate.

And the rule of the game was taken over by normal-sized men like Isiah the Infidel who did not strike fear in the empire of the hoop and the people relaxed and told themselves the realm had been saved and went about their business.

And just when it began to feel secure, behold! here was another giant at the gates. This time it was the dreaded Shack the Attack and he was as wide as he was tall and terrifying to look upon. The populace groaned.

"Now, surely, we are undone." they moaned. "We shall be swallowed whole by this Goliath. Look upon him. Where is our David? Surely, this Shack can step over buildings and ford wide rivers and he cannot be stopped by mortal man. This time the game is done. He will demolish it and all who play it."

But a wise man in the village said, "Hold! Have you forgotten Michael the Archangel? The holy Bull? The frequent flyer? He fain can walk on air. Surely, he will soar around this human skyscraper and bring him low with his heavenly dunks."

But the people rent their garments and cried out, "Where have you been, old man? Do you not know Michael has deserted us and gone to the kingdom of Baseball and we shall see him no more?"

But the wise man smiled and comforted them. "Fear not," he said. "There is abroad in the land of Baseball an evil force known as the Curveball, which will bring him low and return Michael to you. It is written, 'Thou cannot dunk a curveball,' and it is said a baseball would fain be too small for this Michael--as would a golf ball. He will be back to save you from this mighty Shack, even if they have to take his uniform down from the roof."

And thus it came to pass, Michael the Archangel returned to the realm of the round ball. Still, the populace was afraid.

"Behold! He is not armed. He hath no one in the pivot but the Australian named Longley and the Pooh Pooh Perdue and as blessed as he is, he cannot doeth it all."

And the wise man sighed and said, 'It is written they will get this tattooed, purple-haired wraith to go get him the basketball, which is fain all he shall require. Be still, your hearts! Shack will not knoweth which way he went. And the Archangel will shout down, 'Up here, dummy!' And he will fly past Shack, who will be locked in combat with Purple Hair or, on some nights, Orange Hair, who is a diversion. And, behold, the kingdom will be saved once again."

And the people listened and were content.

And Shack huffed and puffed and said, "Fee, fie, foe, fum!"

And the people smiled. They knew he could not blow the house of Basketball down. They knew Michael would save them. And they bought his shoes, and drank his pop and made him rich beyond the imaginings of any king in history.

And they didn't care. He had, after all, saved their beloved game from being Shackled.

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