Tuesday, January 28, 2020

To an Athlete Dying Young

A.E. Housman wrote this poem in the 1890's, and it has been one of the most famous poems in English ever since.  I've been struggling to think of something to say about Kobe Bryant, but I kept thinking of this:

To an Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel uup
The still-defended challenge cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.


  1. That poem is great, and I don't believe I had ever read it.

    I know that "Ball Don't Lie" is mostly directly associated with Rasheed Wallace and specific situations where players who flop miss free throws on bad foul calls. However, it seems to me that phrase has taken on a broader definition to indicate that a basketball player's true merits (usually in terms of diligence, toughness, etc.) come to be revealed through the game itself. (It feels to me to be a very closely related notion to football's "You Are What Your Record Says You Are.") And sometimes it feels as though the most fervent "Ball Don't Lie" believers sense that a person's whole character even is most accurately revealed by the game. It's a terrific phrase, and, when the textbook writers on Mars some day write the chapter on the United States in late 20th/early 21st century, they could do worse than including "Ball Don't Lie" in what they write.

    Anyway, I don't belong to Ball Don't Lie Church, but I've been around it a lot. And that church is mourning Kobe Bryant's death, and, so, I mourn with them.

  2. I'm a pretty big "Ball Don't Lie" guy. And I was surprised at how troubled I was by what happened to Kobe. He broke up the Lakers team of the early 2000's, which was one of my favorite NBA teams ever, and because of that I didn't pay much attention to him (or the NBA) until he and Coach K took the Americans to the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. So I missed a huge chunk of Kobe's career. But I really liked the Laker team he had with Shaq, and I loved that 2008 Olympic Team. That gold medal game with Spain would be in my top five basketball games of all time, and Kobe was amazing in that game.