Kwame Alexander

Basketball Rule #1 by Kwame Alexander

‘Basketball Rule #1’ is one of several rules that features in Kwame Alexander’s book The Crossover. The novel won the Newberry Award and the Coretta Scot King Award for children’s literature.  It combines prose with poetry and in this section, a reader hears from Chuck Bell, a former basketball player, and father to two sons. He gives them a list of rules they should know in regards to life and how it is “played”. 

The book, and this poem, explore themes of family relationships, life, and basketball while maintaining an uplifting and inspiring mood and tone. 

Basketball Rule #1 by Kwame Alexander


Summary of Basketball Rule #1

Basketball Rule #1’ by Kwame Alexander is a simple, yet still moving, poem that speaks on the importance of valuing and loving one’s family. 

The speaker addresses his sons, telling them that life is a “game” and that as players of that game they have certain things they need to value. The basketball they carry on the court is their heart, and the court itself is their family. They must respect both and make sure that one benefits the other. Family is the most important thing, and one must always leave their “heart” on the “court”. 


Structure of Basketball Rule #1 

Basketball Rule #1’ by Kwame Alexander is a short poem made up of eight lines contained in a single stanza of text. Alexander did not choose to make use of a consistent rhyme scheme, but there are examples of half-rhyme throughout the poem. 

Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “court,” “heart,” and “get”. These three words end lines two, three, five, seven, and eight. Then, there is another connection between “heart” and “are,” the latter ends line four. 


Poetic Techniques in Basketball Rule #1 

Alexander makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Basketball Rule #1’. These include, but are not limited to, anaphora, alliteration, enjambment, and metaphor. The latter is the most important of the group. It is an extended metaphor that fuels this poem and gives it meaning. 

A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In this case, the speaker, who is a father, says that “your family is the court” and the basketball is “your heart”. So, when the poem concludes, he is telling his children to always give their hearts, and their best efforts, in service of their family. 

Alexander also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For instance, the beginning of lines four and five, both of which start with “No matter how…” 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “good” and “get” in lines four and five. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples in the transitions between lines one and two as well as six, seven, and eight. 


Analysis of Basketball Rule #1 

Lines 1-3

In this game of life
and the ball is your heart.

In the first lines of ‘Basketball Rule #1’ the speaker, Chuck Bell, the father of characters Josh and JB, begins by using a very popular metaphor. He tells his sons that “life” is a game. In this case, he is comparing it to the very specific game of basketball, rather than a broader manipulation of events/competition. Plus, in this context, he does not see it as a bad thing. The “game” must and should be played, and can be played well. 

In order to properly speak to his sons about basketball, life, family, and what matters on a day to day basis, he creates two more metaphors. The first says that the “family is the court” and the “ball” is their “heart”. Each has the responsibility of carrying and caring for the ball while on the court. At first, this metaphor might seem unusual, but he brings it together in the second half of the poem. 


Lines 4-8

No matter how good you are,
on the court.

The next two lines of ‘Basketball Rule #1’ make use of anaphora. The words “No matter how” start lines four and five and emphasize for the sons that there are things they must keep in mind. They need to remember that they might get “good” or “down” at the game. This is an allusion to the wider ups and downs of life, the successes and failures. They are all seen through the lens of a basketball game. 

He tells his sons that good things and bad things can happen, neither gives them the excuse to mistreat their family in any way. 

Picking the metaphors back up from lines two and three, he says that you should “always leave / your heart / on the court”. These enjambed lines make for a memorable conclusion to this short poem. They also emphasize the importance of this final message in ‘Basketball Rule #1’. Above all else, players in the game of life must give their hearts to their families and do everything they can to protect and love them. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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