A Sherman Alexie Original Hoops Poem

March, 10, 2008
3/10/08
3:14
PM ET

The other day writer Sherman Alexie emailed me a funny little anecdote about playing pickup basketball with former NBA player James Bailey. Thinking about it got him writing, and now he has an original poem on the topic that I am delighted to share:

Face
Let me sing an honor song for James Bailey,
A pro hoopster who is mostly forgotten,
But for me will always be contemporary.
Nearly seven feet tall, clad in white cotton

And new hightops, he once rose and blocked my shot
Off the court and down the pavement walkway,
Bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, and rolling on a hot
August day until it splashed into Green Lake,

Maybe seventy-five yards away from the court.
That spectacular play shut down the game.
After that humiliation, who can keep score?
One guy asked me, "What's your name? What's your name?"

Because he wanted to get all the details
"Correct." Two other brothers just ran away
And never returned. I supposed I failed
In some basketball sense, by thinking my lame

Spin move running jumper could ever succeed
Against a player like Bailey. But I had game
In those days. Skinny and mean, I could compete
On any court. Or so I thought. How strange

To know, now that I'm old and broken, how young
And foolish I used to be. James Bailey
Was only a decent pro, but I was a runt
In his presence. I'm still a serf, puny

And contrite: "Mr. Bailey, I'm so sorry
I tried to sneak that garbage into your house.
But, damn, that block of yours was so pretty,
Epic, and canonized by the adoring crowd,

That my embarrassment felt like a blessing,
Like a parable teaching me this lesson:
When we hoopsters look into our interiors,
We learn we can be gorgeous and inferior."

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