In Memory of the Utah Stars

William Matthews

‘In Memory of the Utah Stars’ captures the manner in which memories can provide us with both pleasure and pain.

William Matthews

Nationality: America

William Matthews was a contemporary American poet born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He died in 1997 after publishing eleven books of poetry.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Things can change very quickly so we should cherish the good times while they last

Speaker: A mournful fan of the defunct Utah Stars

Emotions Evoked: Gratitude, Grief, Regret

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

This poem brilliantly immortalises the team while acknowledging their loss

William Matthews’ ‘In Memory of Utah Stars‘ explores the passage of time and the bittersweet nature of memory. Focusing on a defunct basketball team, the poem highlights the pace at which the things we cherish can slip away from us.

In Memory of the Utah Stars by William Matthews


In Memory of the Utah Stars‘ examines memory and regret through the example of a defunct basketball team.

Written over three stanzas, ‘In Memory of the Utah Stars‘ ponders the memory of the basketball team, the Utah Stars, which was dissolved by the league in 1975. The poem imagines the growth and progression of some of the players, from their childhood up to their adult lives as elite athletes. The poem’s final stanza evokes the narrator’s bitterness at the loss of the team and explores how every decision we make has the potential to define our lives and futures. Above all, the poem suggests that once we have made our choices, the consequences are beyond our power to influence or change.


William Matthews was born in Ohio in 1942 and went on to publish eleven collections of poetry and win several literary prizes before his death in 1997. Much of Matthews’ work is preoccupied with the themes of memory and the passage of time. The Utah Stars were a professional basketball team based in Salt Lake City that, due to payroll issues, was dissolved in 1975. Their young starlet, Moses Malone, went on to become one of the finest players in the league’s history playing for other teams.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Each of them must have terrified

his parents by being so big, obsessive

and exact so young, already gone

and leaving, like a big tipper,

that huge changeling’s body in his place.

The prince of bone spurs and bad knees.

The opening stanza focuses on the vast size of the athletes themselves, specifically when they were young. Matthews uses hyperbole to describe how their vastness much has terrified their parents, which encourages the reader to sympathize with the players as, in spite of their physical power, they were still only children who likely craved reassurance and affection. This sympathetic portrait is further reinforced when the poet metaphorically describes them as the “prince[s] of bone spurs and bad knees.” The use of the word “prince” reminds the readers of the expectations placed on these boys from a young age, just as princes are expected to take over from their royal parents. However, the reference to the physical fragility of the players’ bodies subverts the readers’ expectations by reminding them that these athletes are as susceptible to pain as the rest of us, in spite of the way in which society perceives them.

Stanza Two

The year I first saw them play

Malone was a high school freshman,

already too big for any bed,

14, a natural resource.


and Moses Malone, boy wonder at 19,

rises at 20 from the St. Louis bench,

his pet of a body grown sullen

as fast as it grew up.

The second stanza conflates the physical growth of one of the star players, Moses Malone, with the pace at which the team’s reputation was decimated. The hyperbolic claim that Moses was “too big for any bed” foreshadows the size of the challenge the team would face off the court and the fact they would fail to overcome it. Matthews’ repeated use of the direct address serves to emphasize the narrator’s accusatory and embittered tone as they search for someone to blame for the demise of their beloved team. The simile at the end of the stanza implies that the players felt the narrator’s sense of loss every bit as keenly and also reinforces the youth of the players, upon whom enormous expectation was placed.

Stanza Three

Something in you remembers every

time the ball left your fingertips

wrong and nothing the ball


works to be beautiful,

how we metabolize loss

as fast as we have to.

The final stanza uses the example of a player’s shooting in a game as a metaphor for the manner in which we all must face the consequences of our actions. The sight of the ball moving through the air reminds us of our powerlessness to intervene in events once we have set them in motion. The poem ends by juxtaposing the brutality of the universe with its beauty, suggesting one requires the presence of the other in order to exist. This could indicate that the narrator has achieved a level of acceptance that, while the pain of losing his team is acute, it helps make his memories of them all the more precious and valuable.


What happened to the Utah Stars?

The team’s owner, Bill Daniels, ran out of money after some of his businesses failed, and he ran, unsuccessfully, to be Governor of Colorado. In December of 1975, the league canceled the franchise for missed payroll payments, bringing an end to one of the most successful teams in the league’s history.

Who was Moses Malone?

Moses Malone was a basketball player who played for several teams in a twenty-year career that saw him named Most Valuable Player (MVP) on three occasions. He is broadly regarded as one of the finest players in the league’s history. The Utah Stars signed him from high school, but he played there for only one season before the team was disbanded.

What is the structure of ‘In Memory of the Utah Stars‘?

The poem is written across three stanzas in free verse. This creates a fluid, unpredictable atmosphere to reflect the fact that things can change without warning, just as the team was dissolved over the space of a few months.

What is the tone of ‘In Memory of the Utah Stars‘?

The poem’s tone is embittered and mournful, yet it retains a sense of joy as a result of the memories the team provided for the narrator. Ultimately, these memories ensure the poem is bittersweet.

Similar poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘In Memory of the Utah Stars‘ might want to explore other William Matthews poems. For example:

  • Morningside Heights, July‘ – Matthews explores the interaction of urban and natural life through a summer cityscape.
  • The Accompanist‘ – This poem celebrates the immense power of music and jazz in everyday life.

Some other poems that may be of interest include:

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Joe has a degree in English and Related Literature from the University of York and a Masters in Irish Literature from Trinity College Dublin. He is an English tutor and counts W.B Yeats, Emily Brontë and Federico Garcia Lorca among his favourite poets.
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