Tom Meschery: [Golden State] Warrior Poet

By Harriet Staff

SLAM magazine (think "slam" as in "dunk," not "slam" as in "poetry") looks back on the career of all-star basketball player Tom Meschery who they call "one of the most unique players in NBA history." Besides being the first Russian in the league, his family's exile during the rise of communism also made him the first to be born in China and likely the first to have spent his childhood in a concentration camp in Japan during World War II. With his father already in the US, the family reunited and settled in San Francisco after the war. Meschery dove into basketball to prove himself a "real American." His obsession paid off and Meschery found himself a rookie on the Golden State Warriors the year Wilt Chamberlain famously scored 100 points. Within 10 years, though, he'd be writing poetry about Wilt, not playing alongside him (or beating him at poker.)

Meschery became the first pick of the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1967 expansion draft. It was in Seattle that he would begin pursuing off-court interests that would eventually become his second career. “I didn’t see myself as an academic at that point in my life,” he says. “I realized that I read more books than most of my teammates and on the team plane rides, I would read poetry and that sort of thing instead of playing poker. Actually, I would only play poker when Wilt Chamberlain was playing because he was a horrible player. It was easy money!”

A chance encounter with University of Washington poetry chair Mark Strand—who would later become the poet laureate of the United States—set Meschery on the course toward becoming a poet. “I never grew up thinking poetry was effeminate. My father was 6-3, a great bear of a man, and he would read poetry and weep. He would cry over it. From a young age I appreciated poetry,” says Meschery. “My teammates found my interest in poetry to be odd, however, I had a strong temper so they didn’t push it.”

According to former Warrior Clifford Ray, "He was a legend with the Warriors. But Tom was more than that. He was a renaissance man. We all knew that he left the game to write poetry and open a bookstore up in Northern California.”