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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Doc on the Break: Early 1970s

I wrote this free verse poem on May 14, 1987, 11 days after Julius Erving's 16 season professional basketball career ended when the Milwaukee Bucks eliminated his Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs; this is one of three poems about Erving that I wrote on that day. Erving played his first regular season ABA game on October 15, 1971, a little more than two weeks before I was born. He has been my favorite player for as long as I can remember and my memory goes back pretty far. He is still my favorite player and although there are few certainties in life I am certain that I will never enjoy watching another basketball player more than I enjoyed watching Dr. J.

I felt sad about the ending of an era, even though Erving told sportscaster George Micheal that fans should cheer his exit instead of shedding tears about it, and so I decided to paint a verbal picture of the Doctor at his peak, the Doctor who had young legs and a full Afro as opposed to the Doctor who had 37 year old, battle weary legs and cropped hair flecked with gray. Mark Shechner's free verse poem "Elgin Baylor"--published in the 1980 anthology Take it to the Hoop--inspired my choice of free verse poetry as a medium to describe a basketball player's greatness in short, staccato word bursts.

Doc on the Break: Early 1970s

Doc clears the boards
With (seemingly) nothing more
Than personal magnetism
And a single hand of Herculean dimensions.
He is going one way
And the ball the other
But they meet nonetheless
And Doc gallops effortlessly downcourt,
The ball thump-thumping and bump-bumping in front of him.

The big guy--it doesn't matter which one--
And a couple smaller guys are back on "D"
But Doc doesn't care.
The crowd is in a hushed frenzy, 
Tensed and waiting.
Perhaps Doc thinks back to the playgrounds.
Maybe he hears the playground chant thump-thumping in his head:
"Do it to it! Do it to it, Doc!"
Whatever, it doesn't matter,
Doc turns it on,
Blasts by the littler men--
A mere trifling concern.
Doc wants the big guy,
Who stands tensed at the basket,
Ready to jump.
Doc doesn't care.

Now he reaches the foul line
And fast break takes on a new dimension:
Doc's legs coil and then uncoil
And he stretches into the sky,
Carefree.

The big guy jumps,
Times his leap, his arm extension, everything, perfectly, flawlessly.
Doc doesn't care.

The ball is above Doc's head,
A tri-color star gleaming in the heavens.
Doc plucks the star from the sky,
Watches it twink-twinkling,
And slams it home, as the big guy's hand tumbles down helplessly.
Doc has greeted the patient
And left his unmistakable calling card.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:56 AM

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