John Updike, the author, was in his early 20's when he wrote this poem. He had been a basketball player himself and several of his later characters are also high school basketball stars. This seems to be an example of Updike writing about what he knows best---something English teacher often try to teach their students. In addition, the sport of basketball is one which is easily seen by spectators. The players and spectators are physically very close to each other and, unlike football, the players can actually hear shouts of encouragement and adulation for individual members of the crowd. so the irony of not being able to hear any screams of encouragement from people, increases the sense of sadness we feel for Flick, who is stuck pumping gas for a living.