Basketball Poems

Poetry about great players, unusual teams, and flashy moves.
photograph of basketball players at sunset.

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
  • Yusef Komunyakaa

                 We’d corkscrew
    Up & dunk balls that exploded
    The skullcap of hope & good

  • B. H. Fairchild

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

  • Ray Fleming

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

  • Michael S. Harper

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

The Glory Days
  • John Updike

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

  • William Belvin

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

  • 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

  • G. E. Murray

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

  • 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
  • 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.

  • David Ferry

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

  • Mary Karr

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

  • William Matthews

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Editors

    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.

  • Anselm Berrigan interviewed by Bethlehem Shoals (Anselm Berrigan & 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.