Remember that boy in high school that was the star of the basketball team? He still holds most of the records for the team. He scored more points than anyone else in the school’s history. He never studied much because he was an athlete. His basketball skills were going to take him places. But high school ended and there are no more games to be played. Where is that former all-star now? In his poem “Ex-Basketball Player,” John Updike examines the life of a former high school basketball star. Flick Webb was a local hero, and he loved basketball. He never studied much in school or learned a trade because he was a talented athlete. Now years later, the only job Flick can find is working at the local gas station. He used to be a star, but now he just “sells gas, checks oil, and changes flats” (19-20). The purpose of Updike’s poem is to convince the reader that athletes should also focus on getting a good education.
The poem opens with a description of Pearl Avenue, the street that runs in front of the high school. Flick Webb used to play basketball there. In the first stanza, Updike cleverly incorporates several basketball terms into the poem, as he paints a gloomy image of the street that leads to the gas station where Flick now works. The words stops, cut off, blocks, and corner all refer to the game of basketball but Updike uses the words in a different way. For example, the word block is used in reference to city blocks and corner is used to describe a street corner. Even Flick Webb’s name is a reference to the game of basketball. A flick is a quick toss of the basketball and webb is another word for the net.
The opening stanza sets the tone for the entire poem. Updike uses symbolism to portray the sad, disappointing life Flick now lives. Pearl Avenue represents Flick’s life. The street does not take a straight path but it bends and is “cut off before it has a chance to go two blocks”(3). The poem implies the street reaches a dead end. This is also true for Flick, who was also cut off before he was able to make anything of his life. He was a hero while he was playing basketball in high school, but now he has a dead end job at the gas station and he has been cut off from his dreams. He never had a chance to go very far in life because he put all of his efforts into basketball and he did not focus on his academics. Updike stresses the point of the lowly position Flick holds at the gas station by referring to Flick as Berth’s helper.
In the second stanza, Updike uses personification to compare the gas station and basketball. He describes Flick as tall man, which implies he had the physique to be a good basketball player. However in the same line he uses the phrase “idiot pumps” (7), implying Flick has the physical abilities but not the intelligence to be successful in the real world. The only players Flick competes with now days are the five “old bubble-head style” (8) gas pumps at the station. The number five is used here to represent the five...