Tales Within Tales


In the inverse spirit of the Black-comedy-as-penned-by-a-Jew (most recently typified in Neil Berman’s appearance on I Know Black People) and Jews-writing-about-Asians (um, Flower Drum Song?) we present Robert Levertis-Bell (not a Jew) and Jay Caspian Kang (not a Jew) and their feature film treatments of the Amar'e Stoudemire (not a Jew?) pilgrimage. Follow the not-Jews on twitter at @thatkidicarus (Robert) and @maxpower51 (Jay).

There is also a contest! Anyone who wishes to film a scene from either Robert or Jay’s screenplays can submit it to freedarko-at-gmail-dot-com. Don’t worry about racial or religious accuracy—we can all suspend our disbelief, at least that much. The winner will receive a free copy of both FreeDarko books:
The Macrophenomal Pro Basketball Almanac and the upcoming Undisputed Guide to Basketball History. These best of the best will also have their work featured on this very site!!!

Furthermore, you should check out Shoals and Spencer Hall on FDPTDOCNBAPC, and consider getting in touch with FD about app development.

a romantic comedy by Jay Caspian Kang.

After missing a last-second lay-up that would have won the Knicks their first NBA championship in over forty years, twenty-nine year old DAVID PERCY (Chris Webber) drinks away his sorrows at Scores. When we first meet him, it is five in the morning. At a floura-lit table near the back, the strippers are stacking their singles. His teammates are nowhere to be seen. After being told by a bouncer that closing time has long since passed, Percy, a notorious carouser and serial womanizer, takes out his cell phone, punches in a long-forgotten number and leaves a weepy, drunken message.

The next afternoon, Percy wakes up and listens to his voice mail. Along with the expected consolations from his agent, his manager, and Knicks team-owner-and-former-President-Barack Obama, there is a message from a timid woman. She says she watched the game and wonders if he is doing okay. This woman is EVE KEDEM (Marissa Tomei), Percy's girlfriend from college who he dumped on draft night. Convinced that the material world was to blame for the cessation of their love, Eve rediscovered her Hasidic Jewish roots and moved out to Long Island.

The two meet in a diner under an ugly bridge. Eve listens to Percy talk about his growing disillusionment. He says, "It used to be about the love of the game, you know, back when we were a thing. But now, it's just about me, about my need to be great. What I realized last night in that strip club is that I don't love the game anymore. I only love what the game does for me." He confesses that he envies Eve and the peace her devotion to G-d has brought. She almost-touches his head and says, "men like you always seek out comfort from old girlfriends because you want to remember that even before you became you, that there was something worth loving."

Then she looks him straight in the eyes, does that Marissa Tomei squint-thing, and says, "There was something to love, Percy. But it's been too long for me to know if that something is still there."

What follows is a montage of Percy in famous New York spots: eating corn outside Cafe Habana, drinks w/ Jay-Z at 40/40, at various nightclubs w/ NBA stars KEVIN DURANT, RAY ALLEN, DWIGHT HOWARD and YAO MING. In each shot, Percy's mood is pensive, reflective. His hand is frequently in contact with his chin, which, as we know, is C-Webb’s go-to move when he wants to look pensive. When the montage spills out, Percy is sitting with JALEN ROSE at Katz's Deli. He is looking up at the sign that points out the exact spot where Meg Ryan faked her orgasm. After a hazy moment of reverie, he bolts upright and runs out of the deli, leaving behind a confused Jalen Rose and a very large non-Kosher reuben.


Outside, he pulls out his cell phone and demands Eve come meet him back at that diner under that ugly bridge. She says yes. At the diner, the two sloppily confess their love for one another and say some stuff about remembrance. Percy blurts out a marriage proposal. Eve goes cold. She says that she can only marry someone who is Jewish. Percy says he will convert. Eve shakes her head and says that the new young Rabbi at her synagogue has strictly forbidden marriage with outsiders. To be even considered, Percy must be able to prove that he can trace his bloodline back to Moses on Mount Sinai. Percy erupts at the news and the two have a long, serious discussion about racism and religion.

Crestfallen, Percy returns to his hedonistic ways. Chris Isaak’s "Wicked Game" plays in the background. The NBA season starts and he plays terribly. TV sports personalities (SKIP BAYLESS, JIM ROME, MICHAEL WILBON) all wonder if the great David Percy might still be shell-shocked from missing that lay-up. The team's leadership begins to shift over to TONY STAPLETON (Tristan Wilds). After a particularly bad game against the Celtics, Percy gets drunk at a nightclub and calls his mother. He explains what has happened with Eve.

The next morning, he wakes to the buzzing of his phone. It is his mother. She reminds him that it is important to be yourself, but that yourself is never exactly what we think it is. Sometimes, she says, yourself is what yourself was and its important to understand that that was has never left, but has simply been sitting patiently for us to notice its absence. She says she will always love Jesus, but that she has always known that Percy has only ever been able to love Eve. Devotion and faith, she says, means doing what it takes to properly love who you love.

Percy touches his chin and purses his lips, grimly.

The next morning, Percy drives out to Long Island and meets with the new young Rabbi (TAMIR GOODMAN). He demands a chance to convert. The rabbi is hesitant, but when Percy refuses to leave his office, the rabbi sees the good in him and asks, "Why do you want to do this, my son?" Percy sets his jaw and says, "Love." The Rabbi nods and sighs. He says, "I was in love once..." and tells a story about a girl he once knew. He agrees, but under one condition-- Percy must walk the straight-and-narrow. One slip-up and the education will end.


Percy moves into a humble one-room apartment above a pickle shop. Everything smells of brine. He lays down on the short couch and takes it in.

Montage 2: Percy getting fitted for a wool suit, Percy learning the Hebrew alphabet, Percy and Eve walking in Central Park hand-not-in-hand, a laughing Percy playing pick-up hoops with a group of Hasidic kids, Percy pulling down the hair around his temples, imagining the sidelocks of his future, a shot of Jim Rome saying that Percy David's shot selection has become more economical, clips of Jay Mariotti making military metaphors about Percy's refusal to play on Saturdays, Percy at the bar with his teammates with a glass of grape juice, Percy playing chess with the Rabbi, Percy at Second Avenue Deli with Eve-- this time he opens up a corned beef sandwich to reveal the absence of cheese, Percy appreciating half-sour pickles, Percy putting the “chhhhhhuuuh” in "chutzpah." Spliced in all these scenes are short clips of Percy scoring all over the league and bonding with his teammates. We see his play progress. We see the Knicks make the finals.

Game 7 of the NBA Finals is scheduled for a Saturday. His teammates who, strangely enough, have just kind of overlooked the montaged Saturdays of the season, plead with Percy to play. He does not know what to do. In the locker room, Tony Stapleton sidles up next to Percy and tells him that when he was growing up, Percy David was his hero because he played basketball like it was a religion. The respect he showed for the game, the heart he showed on the nightly—all of it was the closest thing the young Tony had to church.

Backed by the opening bars to Ghostface's "All that I Got Is You," Stapleton says, "It's hard sometimes, man, to see God in the neighborhoods where we grew up. You look and he isn't there. At least not always and so you look harder and then you see him, man, in what you've always loved. When I was coming up, man, I saw that in your game. Take us to that next level, man. Make up for the past. Write the resurrection for your career. This is Easter, man, this is our reckoning day."

Conflicted, Percy visits the Rabbi. The Rabbi says that he agrees with young Tony Stapelton—God exposes himself in all the things we love, but devotion to what we love is always honed through discipline. He reminds Percy of all the days he spent practicing free throws, all the parties he skipped, all the sweat and blood lost in the gym. If Percy is to love G-d, the Rabbi says, he must abide by his rules. But, he says, our only freedom in this world is our freedom to point our heart in whatever direction we choose. He tells Percy that because he, the Rabbi, has chosen to point his heart towards G-d, he will not be able to tolerate Percy's decision to work on a Saturday and that if he does indeed play, his Jewish education will end.

Percy returns to the apartment above the pickle shop and lies back down on the couch. He calls Eve. She tells him about the moment when she first fell in love with him—it was their sophomore year at Tech U. Her boyfriend-at-the-time had dragged her to see a game. In front of the adoring crowd, Percy dropped 45 points against Duke and even though ESPN was there and the cameras were on and the game was close throughout, he played the entire game with a C-Webb smile on his face. She had never seen a man so blessed-- who else, but basketball players, bring so much joy to people through a beautiful act? How could that ever be called work?

A look of great, epiphanic relief falls over Percy's face. He calls Tony Stapelton and tells him he'll be playing in Game 7. He then calls his COACH (Chad Coleman) and tells him that he will not be collecting a check for the game.

The Garden is packed for Game 7. Percy, smiling the entire time, drops 50 on the Lakers, but he is matched by an equally spry and thinly disguised Kobe Bryant-type named SEAN FLASH (Sean Combs). With time running out, the Knicks find themselves down by 2. The Coach draws up a play for Percy. In the huddle, Tony Stapleton says, "we got one shot, we got one chance here, let's go one time!" He turns to Percy and says, "One love, one love." Percy shakes his head, smiles, and holds up three fingers. He says, "Three loves."

The ball is inbounded, Percy, in super-slow motion, catches it, fakes twice, steps behind the three point line and drains a three. The Garden erupts.

His teammates mob him. He holds up three fingers as he is carried off the court.

EPILOGUE: As the credits roll, under the watchful eye of the Rabbi, Eve and Percy stomp on the glass and everyone yells Mazel Tov!

Then, the horah.

Feature Film Treatment
Robert Levertis-Bell



The film opens on a basketball game in progress, the St. Louis Canucks at the New York Knights. MARK JACKSON, STAN VAN GUNDY, and MIKE BREEN are announcing. It's in the fourth quarter with only a minute to go. The Canucks are up 97-72. DON NELSON is standing the Canucks sideline, he's yelling at the court, hammering with roll of paper. One might think he was overdoing the pantomime as a manner of contradicting reports that this was, indeed, his final game as an NBF coach. MESHUGGAH SMITH (Mehcad Brooks) is playing for the Canucks, the camera follows him as the announcers wrap up the game:

BREEN: The clock is winding down in this final regular season game for these two middle-of-the-pack teams. Neither will make the playoffs and the game is completely meaningless…

VAN GUNDY (interrupting): But what about Meshugga Smith?! Nobody told him this game was meaningless.

JACKSON: 55 points?! Are you kidding me? Mama there goes that man!

BREEN: Yes, a phenomenal night, but still a disappointing season by Meshuggah Smith—whose off-court issues are very well-known. And, even despite this great performance here in New York, you have to wonder if Meshuggah will find a team this summer in free agency.

VAN GUNDY: Absolutely, a player of his calib...

Zap. We pull out from a television inside a luxury box in the same arena. Inside, the Russian oligarch SERGEI BAZAROV (Vladimir Cuk) and PAUL MCCARTNEY (Ricky Gervais) are sitting with the Knights' current majority owner DANIEL GREEN (Paul Lieberstein) and his financial advisor DIPESH CHATTERJEE (Aasif Mandvi). The foreigners have offered Green a staggering $2 Billion to purchase the New York Knights, one of the most storied franchises in professional basketball history, in order to relocate the team to London. They wish to create, in the British Knights, the Old Country’s sole representative in the National Basketball Federation, and a singular magnet for European talent from Ljubljana to Buenos Aires. Green and Chatterjee are very receptive to the offer as they have recently lost their shirts building an as yet unoccupied office park with money embezzled from the Knights.

They are especially skittish as Knights employee, MINDY ROSEN (Bar Refaeli), has started to ask questions about missing funds and Green and Chatterjee are eager to cover up their crime. However, they inform Bazarov and McCartney that, though they wish to sell, the team is far too beloved by the people of New York — especially the black and Jewish fans — and by the league’s commissioner to ever allow such an important team to leave the city. Bazarov replies that he has already witnessed, over the years, that Green has a knack for mismanagement and squandering the good will of Knights fans. He and McCartney can wait a year. McCartney asks Dipesh and Green: “Do you think you can turn the city and the commissioner against the team enough to allow the sale in a single year?” “Yes,” they reply in unison.


Meshuggah in street clothes visiting his MOTHER (Khandi Alexander, with a green wig) at the hospital. She is dying of breast cancer and is lying on the bed while Meshuggah and his fiancé ASHA (Kat Stacks) argue over the remote. She wants to watch the playoffs, he wants to watch Life is Beautiful. They switch back and forth between the NBF Finals and the film and they don’t notice at first that his mother is calling him to her side. They finally hear her summons just as the television switches for the last time to the NBA Finals. He rushes to her bed.

“I have to tell you something, Meshuggah…” “What is it mom?” “It’s about who you are, who we are, something I’ve never told you before and that you’ve never guessed…” “OK?” “Something that will change everything about the way you live from now on…” “Mama, what is it?” He leans in and listens. His eyes widen. “You’re Jewish!”

His mother flatlines… “Beeeeeeep.” His mom expires and when he looks up, he sees his arch nemesis PRINCE HALL (Carlos Boozer) score the championship winning shot over RON ARTEST in order to lead the San Diego Wolverines to the championship. Hall’s teammates mob him. Green and Chatterjee in their office brainstorming what they can do to alienate their fans and the commissioner so they can sell the team. They could field successively worse basketball teams. Tried it and the fans still show up. They could engineer an embarrassing sex scandal that affects both players and management. Tried it and the fans still show up. Something will come up, surely, Green announces and turns on his television, on which is Meshugga at a press conference on ESPN, wearing a yarmulke. He’s announcing that his mother told him that he’s a Jew on her deathbed and that he would from now on be living a Jewish life. “I think I got it,” Dipesh announces.


Green forces his GM, FRANK FRANCIS (Idris Elba, with an American accent) to sign Meshuggah Smith to a max one year contract. Posey is beside himself — Meshuggah is a notoriously bad teammate, won’t fit the offense, and is a known “headcase” — “remember that time he was arrested for using a Colt .45 on the Whack-a-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese?” — and is in the midst of a bunch of bad press for the bizarre claim that he’s Jewish. “Sign him or resign,” Green says. “Fine.”

Believing Meshuggah to be a member of one of the problematic Black Hebrew sects, who believe that blacks are "the real Jews," the plan is to encourage Meshuggah incite New York’s racial hostilities by making a public show of his “Jewish” identity while alienating the city’s “real” Jews. In the beginning, the whole thing works, Meshuggah makes a host of disastrous public comments, including one on the eve of his visit to the Western Wall. Asha is very skeptical of the whole enterprise and leaves him. The season starts and soon the team is attracting heat from the JDL and from an anti-Semitic black group headed by FAROUK SHAHAD (Wyatt Cenac) as Meshuggah very publicly “learns to be Jewish,” under Green’s tutorship.

On ESPN, with JIM ROME, Meshuggah announces that he’s been “learning Hebrew… making bagels…. doing standup comedy… and learning to balance his checkbook,” all things Green has told him to say. After this, the Post and Daily News let him have it. The Knights Arena has hordes of protesters outside but hardly anyone inside. Meshuggah, for his part is distraught over the whole thing but Green reminds him of the noble truths of Judaism: “life is suffering and that suffering comes from attachment — you have to let go, Meshuggah and walk your own path, who cares what the fans say, shake them Nazis off. Shalom!” Meshuggah gives another interview to ESPN, this time very stridently denouncing any and all critics as haters including the girl who he thought loved him, but left him because she was jealous of his faith.

After hearing this, Asha returns to confront Meshuggah. She tells him that she’s done some background checks and Green isn’t even himself Jewish — turns out that there are people with that name that aren’t Jewish — and he’s been getting a fake Jewish education all along. Meshuggah is distraught but it only makes his faith stronger, and he’s glad to have Asha back. He feels guilty for falling victim to the ruse but he can now focus on basketball.


The Knights begin to win games and the whole plan begins to backfire. Meshuggah’s conversion continues, in good faith now with Asha (a Catholic who clutches rosary beads during close ball games) and his new buddies JASON SCHWARTZMAN and OMRI CASSPI at his side. The Knights make the playoffs and Meshuggah-fever sweeps New York City. Fans leave the picket lines to enter the arena. When they return, the fans sport celebratory clip-on payos and hats and chant for the team in Yiddish. Black-Jewish relations (cf. Jeffrey Melnick) are at an all-time high in New York. Reconciliation montage: There’s a sign on the door of Sylvia’s that says “now 100% kosher!” The Post and Daily News are back on their side.


Meanwhile, the old and potential ownership groups get desperate and start trying, and failing, to astroturf a race war, even going so far as to anonymously funnel money and guns to Farouk Shahad, who stays in front of the arena with rifles and a megaphone denouncing Meshuggah as an affront to the black race. But when the Knights make the Finals, Shahad switches his tune “Meshuggah Smith should be at THE FRONT of the black race. Mazel Tov, my brother!” Frank, the GM, asks Mindy, the Knights employee, whether she’s sure she did the right thing; she says yes and they kiss. “I support you always,” Frank says to Mindy. “I support you always,” Asha says to Meshuggah.

The Finals come and Meshuggah ends up with a perfectly balanced stat sheet—“Just like his checkbook!” Jeff Van Gundy jokes. When he scores the series winning shot, over Prince Hall, the arena erupts into a round of “Hava Nagila.” As everyone is celebrating, the FBI show up to Green’s luxury box and haul off Dipesh and Green in cuffs. Paul McCartney looks at Bazarov, who’s looking down, and says “Oy Vey!”

Final scene: Meshuggah and Asha get married in a Jewish ceremony at Rucker Park. Those in attendance include Tamir Goodman, Larry Brown, and Jordan Farmar.

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At 8/06/2010 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8/08/2010 1:12 AM, Blogger Tom Deal said...

As a terrible terrible reform jew with a love for the aesthetics of the religion,

I found the second screenplay to be scattered and awful, and also very shallowly jewish. Perhaps that was the point. The first on the other hand was inspiring, and certainly a movie I would watch/count among my favorites. JCK actually understands the faith. Maybe not the failure, but the faith, oh yes.

At 8/10/2010 2:38 PM, Blogger Quantavius Sturdivant said...

in the first wouldn't the spelling Tony as "Toney" be more appropo? These are both great though. Shades of Roth's Great American Novel in the second treatment.

At 8/11/2010 3:26 AM, Blogger Tom Deal said...

unless that's some sort of diss on roth, i don't give that shit the time of day. sorry bro.

At 8/11/2010 12:39 PM, Blogger levertis said...

Thanks, Quantavius Sturdivant! The Roth comparison is well-taken, especially to the extent that Roth satirizes the metonymic relationship between sport and nation.
Tom, I'm taking "very shallowly jewish" as a compliment. Part of the point that I was trying to make here relates to the odd distinction between the common pursuit of Judaism as a sort of spiritual alterity while what Shoals called "Jewishness" (i.e. the non-spiritual, cultural signifiers of being Jewish in the West) becomes more and more a sort of core social positioning. Moreover, I believe the distinction between these two poles lies in a certain disassociation from history and community. Add the wrinkles of what Jeffrey Melnick calls"black-Jewish relations," the cultural status of "black Hebrews" here and in Israel, "whiteness," and the unique ways in which New York City and basketball imbricate on all of these issues, and you have the basis for the satire at the heart of Meshuggah. I'm not writing this to defend the writing from being awful, per se, or myself from being shallowly Jewish. As you suggest, "perhaps that was the point."

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