ball is what we like to call basketball. Its a major
obsession in Indian Country, and when March Madness is over, we
are still gearing up for the Native American Basketball Invitational,
held in Phoenix from July 8 10. Its precisely why air
conditioning was invented.
the nation, Indian kids are dribbling, weaving and jumping, and
pretending to be Michael Jordan. Sometimes theyre playing
on a pristine court in the local school gym; other times, theyre
making their move for hoop glory under a bright blue sky on a packed
dirt court with an ancient, rusting hoop attached to
the side of a barn, with a slowly-leaking ball that has to be pumped
matter how poor a community may be, parents scrimp and save to get
to games to cheer their kids on. Teams named the Winslow Bulldogs,
Hopi Bruins, or San Carlos Braves go head-to-head to bring home
coveted state championship trophies, traveling as many as eight
hours on a converted old bus to play teams in Window Rock, Snowflake,
Casa Grande or Flagstaff.
newspapers always devote lots of room to report the latest game
stats. Even KTNN, the Navajo Nations radio station, broadcasts
Phoenix Suns games in the Navajo language.
now, hoop junkies are preparing for Julys tribal basketball
extravaganza. The Native American Basketball Invitational, or NABI,
is the closest thing the United States has to a national high school
championship for American Indians.
school? Right it seems that scouts could never quite grok
that the next LeBron James could be lurking inside a rez high school,
so these potential hoop stars havent yet had access to college
sports. They still dont know that the excitement of trying
for three-point long shots while the crowd screams their names isnt
necessarily a winning strategy.
G. Hall was one of those young players who aspired to the pros.
But he never got the grooming, coaching, scholarships or national
attention that a top college program gives to its stars, so he never
made it. He went on to become chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and
Arikara Nation, otherwise known as the Three Affiliated Tribes.
And now, he is the honorary president of NABI, to see if he cant
help the younger generation reach hoop heaven.
was started in 2003, and its grown into the countrys
largest Native American basketball tournament. Mens and womens
teams from high schools across the continent converge on Phoenix
every year to vie for top honors. The competition has also garnered
the support of the Phoenix Suns, sports manufacturing giant Nike,
and tribes and enterprises. The finals are played on the boards
of the Suns home turf, the U.S. Airways Center.
efforts and unvarnished thrills are beginning to bear fruit. The
NCAA finally awarded NABI with a coveted certification in 2007,
and now college coaches are beginning to troll for talent. Anthony
Brown, of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe, was the tournaments
Most Valuable Player in 2003. He signed to play pro basketball in
Spain. Others are now making their way through college ball.
next hoop legend could be practicing free throws right now on a
rusty old hoop with a half-flat basketball on a dirt court. NABI
tickets are only $10; you could see it happen yourself.
Utacia Krol, an enrolled member of the Xolon (or Jolon) Salinan
Tribe of central California, is a freelance journalist based in