Poem Sampler

Basketball Poems

Poetry about great players, unusual teams, and flashy moves.

by The Editors
Basketball Poems
Photo By: PabloBM

These poems and articles showcase small-town MVPs, one-on-one games, good-natured underdogs, and the poetic elegance of the swish.


For the Love of the Game

Old Men Playing Basketball” by B.H. Fairchild

Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.

One on One in Basketball” by Ray Fleming

                                   It had nothing to do
with physiology or mysticism: only basketball.

Makin’ Jump Shots” by Michael S. Harper

“traveling” someone calls—
and he laughs, stepping
to a silent beat, gliding

Fast Break” by Edward Hirsch

with a wild, headlong motion
for the game he loved like a country


The Glory Days

Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike

                                                    Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.

On a Recent Collegiate Basketball Scandal” by William Belvin

I, too, once dribbled that old bubble, happiness,
And found in time the scramble and the rules

Urban Renewal XVIII.” by Major Jackson

Back then I learned to avoid what I feared
and to place my third-string hopes on a game-winning
basketball shot, sure it would slow them to a stop

The Unsung Song of Harry Duffy” by G.E. Murray

But mostly, at 3 a.m., in the local playground, Harry
You played solitary ball

Fall River” by David Rivard

A drunk called him “Tiger”
and asked about the year he’d made all-state guard—
point man, ball-hawk, pacer.


Underdogs & Unlikely Players

Catch” by Samiya Bashir

if this is a game then we have made it, unknowing,
to the final four. unlikely underdogs. spectators turned
to suspect sport. anti-athletes. out of shape beyond reason.

Courtesy” by David Ferry

The earnest voice of the kid, girlish and manly,
And the voice of the young man, carefully playing the game

Loony Bin Basketball” by Mary Karr

The psych techs in Cloroxed white
were giant angels who set us running drills, at which
we sucked.

Sandlot Basketball” by William Matthews

And the flecked body, holder of postures and grudges, rattles uneasily.



On Robert Hass’s ‘Dragonflies Mating’” by Dan Chiasson

When the remembered basketball passes through the remembered net (slyly recalling the tradition of comparing poetic lines to nets, from Wyatt’s lines “since in a net I wish to hold the wind” to Lowell’s poem “Fishnet”), we practically hear, in the actual white space between the sections, the swish.

First Loves” by Major Jackson

The poem enacts the motion of a basketball game, but even more, it becomes a larger metaphor for art and linguistic & rhetorical motion in a poem.

The Great Scorer: How poetry shaped a legendary coach’s career” by John Wooden

At UCLA, where I was head coach of men’s varsity basketball for twenty-seven years, poetry was one of my favorite teaching tools.



Inside Game: John Updike answers questions about his poem “Ex-Basketball Player

One of the dominant impressions of my growing-up in Pennsylvania—where I saw a lot of basketball games, thanks to my father’s being a high-school teacher and a ticket taker at home games—was the glory of home-town athletic stars, and their often anti-climactic post-graduation careers.

Strangers in the Nest: A poet and a sportswriter go on a macrophenomenal tour of everyday irrelevance” by Anselm Berrigan and Bethlehem Shoals

Baseball is more resonant, personal. It does a better job of attaching itself to people’s lives, whereas basketball is primarily about a love of the game.

Originally Published: February 13, 2013


On March 24, 2013 at 11:12pm Rich Wood wrote:
Lovely, in the midst of March craziness, to read these poetic evocations
of the game I love and still pretend to play well in late middle age.
Basketball and poetry live in the gray area between reality and illusion.
Thanks for this. row

On March 29, 2013 at 10:14am Dianne wrote:
How could we read basketball poems without mention of Jack
Ridl's amazing book, "Losing Season," CavanKerry Press
2009. Check it out!!

On April 7, 2013 at 1:24pm william smith wrote:
Dream Time Before a Broken Ankle

Always wanting gardens of something to bloom my way.
Women, words, milk gravy on my morning plate,
kids kissing me like lollipops. True love of me,
the whole shebang of my every living moment.
So I was driving to gym last week, starlings,
sitting grave watch in the the bare assed maples,
thinking to myself, how life's one bad ass bitch
of a fast ride.My favorite roller coaster always going down. So I started dreaming i had game that day.
Had the rocket in my baggy shorts, electrolytes buzzing,
muscles limber, fingertips tingling, I started dreaming
I had the rock fever, the Kentucky true religion,
the big rim disease. I started believing I had game
a breath away from fifty. Knowing any crowd I was squeezed in,from NYC to Incognito down at Shawnees gangster park, and all those swaggered kids, all those big fat blunts, that there weren't a dozen or more farm boys, big shots,gang bangers, brain bats, or pretty boys who could shut me down,. Not even in their dreams, cause I got game,got me a piece of the Orange, momentary fame, got the white boy finger roll to a liberated science.I'm half in the zone, like a Zen koan, you can't figure me out.Cause I'm in your face, Dog. Arch so pretty its like bursting through the Carolina Pines and over the hot sand time,
diving in the cool blue ocean. The rock.....it's mine.

My puppet, my gypsy ball, spinning this way and that,
fast forward like an asteroid hurtling through space.
It's between the legs time, cross over time, breaking
you down on the pitted asphalt. Appalachian dreams
in the dirt behind the barn, a big blue wildcat with rabies time. The doctors of dunk, my man Peyton, my brother, Ware,I got mad hops today, feigning left, spinning right, hooking over your 48 inch vertical... nothing touching my star.So quick, it'll make you cry, make you laugh at the orange round joy of being had in your own crib, in your own town, ghost on the black court, give me a pass, give me the ball.I'll bring back hallelujah's I'll be your nightmare all night long.

w. loran smith (Billy Lee Hall

On April 10, 2013 at 10:02am Bob the Builder wrote:
hi my name is Bob the builder and i love building stuff like poems and i am really impressed on how you guys wrote your poems based on basketball <3

On April 4, 2014 at 4:19pm Mark Stengel wrote:
And don't forget Sherman Alexie's "Defending Walt


Poetryfoundation.org welcomes comments that foster dialogue and cultivate an open community on the site. Comments on articles must be approved by the site moderators before they appear on the site. By submitting a comment, you give the Poetry Foundation the right to publish it. Please note: We require comments to include a name and e-mail address. Read more about our privacy policy.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.