The ball turns in the darkening air.

My brother has been taking some classes at UNC, so I called him on Tuesday to congratulate him. I knew he would be deeply excited about his team winning the National Championship. Can you sense my sarcasm? Because I’m laying it on pretty thick. It turns out that my instinct was correct: when I spoke to him that afternoon, he had only recently learned of UNC’s victory. All those strides we made last year . . . I see them slipping away like sand through my fingers. Apparently he only cares about college basketball when it has to do with Davidson. For my sake, he pretended that he had gone to Franklin Street and jumped over burning couches. Which I deeply appreciate. I love being humored. And he loves humoring me. It’s what makes our relationship work.

We watched the game on Monday night, and I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t quite that. We had Scott on Alisa’s video chat, and he was amused that I was worried even with a double-digit lead. I have seen Carolina blow too many leads to be comfortable with them leaving any tiny crack for another team to break through. But all is well that ends well. We even made Alisa stay up for her very first One Shining Moment. As the last seconds of the game wound down, I, of course, called my mom to squeal about the victory. I had a momentary panic that I might have woken her up, but I should have known better. We do not sleep when a National Championship is on the line! We stay up and then deeply regret it the next day! When I called Mom on Tuesday afternoon, we talked about how it wasn’t the sort of game you can do a big discussion of later – no ebbs and flows like you often see in a championship game. Carolina put Michigan State away right from the start. The end. Not that I’m complaining.

When Carolina won the championship in 1993, I was in 8th grade. One thing I know about middle schoolers is that they are intense, and one of my 8th grade intensities was focused on basketball. It was so amazing to 8th grade me that my team won, and I saw a little bit of that on Tuesday with our students as well. I have been teaching bias by talking about college basketball, so the students knew that I would be excited, and many of them came up to me to talk about the game. I will give those students the extra credit they deserve.

Last year I posted a poem about women who love basketball. I have not found a lot of basketball poems that I enjoy, but this one makes me think about the Carolina players of yore, especially those from some of the previous championship teams: Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Eric Montross, George Lynch. I love the poetry of basketball itself, the arch of the ball as it slides through the air, the perfectly-timed pass, the squeak of shoes on the hardwood. Here is a poem that conveys the way I feel about all of those things. I like to imagine that Ty and Tyler and Danny and Wayne will, in future years, play pickup games just like this.

“Old Men Playing Basketball,” by B. H. Fairchild

The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves,

rise toward the ball, falter, and fall away.
On the boards their hands and fingertips
tremble in tense little prayers of reach
and balance. Then, the grind of bone

and socket, the caught breath, the sigh,
the grunt of the body laboring to give
birth to itself. In their toiling and grand
sweeps, I wonder, do they still make love

to their wives, kissing the undersides
of their wrists, dancing the old soft-shoe
of desire? And on the long walk home
from the VFW, do they still sing

to the drunken moon? Stands full, clock
moving, the one in army fatigues
and houseshoes says to himself, pick and roll,
and the phrase sounds musical as ever,

radio crooning songs of love after the game,
the girl leaning back in the Chevy’s front seat
as her raven hair flames in the shuddering
light of the outdoor movie, and now he drives,

gliding toward the net. A glass wand
of autumn light breaks over the backboard.
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.

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One Comment

  1. i wanted to post something fun, beautiful and eloquent about the game, but i couldn’t figure out how i wanted to say it. i’m glad i didn’t. i just needed to read yours. i thoroughly enjoyed this post as a farewell tribute to such a fabulous season and team!

    Posted 4/9/2009 at | Permalink

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