John Updike's Ex-Basketball Player

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John Updike’s “Ex-Basketball Player”: Legend or Laughingstock?
John Updike grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, just across the river from the city of Reading (Cole). Last month, the Reading High School boys’ basketball team won their first-ever state championship. Students and residents alike all came together to root for their Red Knights and the team pulled off the biggest win of their lives. This gritty city celebrated something positive for a change, and the players took their place in the school’s history. In John Updike’s poem, “Ex-Basketball Player,” the darker part of a similar story is told. In this poem, the speaker is a big admirer of former high school basketball star Flick Webb. However, by the end, the reader and the speaker
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From the description of the old ESSO gas pumps in the second stanza, we can assume the time is around the 1950’s or 1960’s. The speaker first offers an abbreviated tour of the town where the former basketball hero, Flick Webb, lives and works. “Pearl Avenue runs past the high school lot” (1), much like a standout player might run past other, merely average, players. The road bends, like a forward weaving through the crowded basketball court. When the road and the second line of the poem are “cut off” abruptly (2), the reader takes a breath and later realizes this is symbolic of Flick’s lost opportunities in Updike’s poem. The ultimate destination, Berth’s Garage, faces west, a direction that Updike may have used to symbolize the setting sun, a metaphor for growing older. At this point, the reader is introduced to Flick…show more content…
This is the first hint of the speaker’s disappointment. When Flick “dribbles an inner tube,” rather than a basketball, it becomes a “gag” which makes the reader feel sorry for him, since he is poking fun at himself (21). Most people are familiar with the defensive tactic of making fun of themselves, before someone else beats them to it. This is Flick’s motive. However, the speaker says, “most of us remember anyway [emphasis added]” (22). This alludes to the fact that the entire town has memories of Flick as a high-school basketball star, and most likely view his current situation with pity. The word “anyway” shows that Flick’s attempts at humor, and deflecting attention from his current position, do little to distract townspeople from recollections of Flick at his teenage prime. His hands are both “fine and nervous” (23) on a lug wrench; “fine” suggests they once had the magic touch, and “nervous” signifies Flick is not comfortable in his current job, at least not in the way he was on the basketball court.
The final stanza takes us to Mae’s Luncheonette. Here is where Flick “hangs around” (25), so this is where he spends his leisure time. If Flick had a family, he would probably be home with them instead of at Mae’s. Flick’s appearance is described by the color “grease gray” (26), which is as sad and depressing a color as one can imagine. He is “kind of coiled” (26), which
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