I don’t see myself as a sports blogger. Or a “sports person” at all really.
Sports did not appeal to me at all for most of my life, and I’m definitely not what you would call the “athletic type” (let’s not go into just how painfully uncoordinated I am). But I’ve always loved watching basketball. Though when it came to playing…well let’s just that even when I liked the game, the game did not like me. Nevertheless, ever since I was a little thing I gazed at the TV in my confused yet interested state as my brother screamed at the players running across the screen. It was both befuddling and exciting to my 5 year old mind.
This week Phoenix was graced with the many talented Native athletes brought together by the annual NABI games. This annual Native American Basketball Invitational, sponsored by Ak Chin Indian Community, Nike N7, the Phoenix Suns, and many others, is a place where Native youth from all over Indian Country congregate to demonstrate their skill and love for the game. Tribes from as far as Canada, and even New Zealand, are represented, as well as teams put together in our own backyard here in AZ. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked when I heard a portion of the NABI games were being held at my very own Mesa Community College.
So despite my lack of well-rounded knowledge (you will not see the word “technical” here, or anything this is very much technical at all really), and my definite inability to play the game, I write this as an ode to those hustling warrior players who came together to bring honor to themselves, to their teams, and to their people.
It is the evening of the second day here at the 2014 NABI games hosted at Mesa Community College: 1 of 8 locations for the tournament. I had the pleasure of working the concession stand while also getting to watch the games (for free!). The last boys’ game of the day (Rockhawks vs. El Jefe) started up the night strong. By half time the Rockhawks (MT) had a 45-13 lead over El Jefe. But with 6 minutes left in the second half, El Jefe was catching up: 46-23. El Jefe stayed consistent, but still trailed behind, leaving the Rockhawks to take the game. Congratulations to the Rockhawks for their excellent sportsmanship and a game well played.
Then it was time for the girls’ games: the Running Rebels (Navajo) vs. the inter-tribal AZ Hoops. During the first half, the Running Rebels took off with a 28-11 lead. But with 14 minutes left in the second half, AZ Hoops caught up, trailing behind by 9 points and closed in at only 4 points behind with only 5 minutes remaining. But in the last two minutes, the Rebels pulled ahead by another 2 points, putting them at a total 6 point lead. And with 8.5 seconds to go, a foul on #22 of the Rebels led to a failed free-throw shot, but ultimately a 44-39 victory for the team.
Next up were the Young Guns (Mescalero Apache) playing against Fort Yuma. The game got off to a slow start at only 2-2 (Young Guns) at 13 minutes. Time out: and as the gym went quiet, a sudden wave of cell phone emergency alarms alerted service carriers that the pending dust storm had finally arrived, and that travel should be avoided until the roads were cleared: two hours later. Some faces, I can only assume from out of state, looked up from their screens with wide eyes and whispered concerns to their husbands. Maybe it was the searing heat or impending dust wall, but the concession stand was swarmed the rest of the first half. Ice cream, waters, and a sea of NDNs were all I could see. Ah, July in Phoenix.
Back to the game. With 3:45 min. left in the first half, the Guns had gained a 13-11 lead. But with 30 seconds remaining, Ft. Yuma had caught up, ending the first half at a tie of 13-13. The second half started gaining momentum as the rotation of hungry kids kept rolling in. At 15 minutes in the second half, the Guns were up (22-17). Ft. Yuma kept up closely, staying behind by only 5 pts. into the 10th minute. A free throw shot by Ft. Yuma met an intensive uproar of “enemy” shouts from Rebel fans ending in a failed shot. It seemed like the gym was on the brink of intertribal warfare. I looked up from counting change and saw that Ft. Yuma was up by 1 point: 26-27 with 2:30 min left on the clock!
A 2 point shot by the Rebels brought it back to 28-28. A time out at 1:29. Tensions were high: intense booing from Gun fans. 50 seconds later: foul and successful shot from #34 (Rebels). 5 seconds left: 30-30! A lot of hustling and tousling, and a lot of going nowhere fast. Time out at 37.1 sec. Young Guns ball: they shuffle it around to burn time. #34 shoots! And she misses at 5 seconds. Overtime.
And they’re off: running hard like a buffalo herd stampeding down the court. 21.5 seconds and #23 of Yuma is fouled once again. Yuma’s #30 is also fouled at 18.1 Shrieks and screams come thundering down from the stands, as the sky above begins to release its own vibratious booming. She misses the first shot, but (despite the deafening boos) makes the second shot! The score is 30-36 (Yuma) with 18 seconds to go.
Young Guns score a 2 pointer. Foul on Yuma’s #23 again: 1 of 2. And it’s Ft. Yuma’s game at 32-37. They endured long, came up from behind, and stole the game. Great job Ft. Yuma, and good luck moving forward.
The night ends with Lady Magic vs. KC Mob. But my view of the first half was just a mob of NDN kids craving pickles and Popsicles. First half ended with a score of 14-22 (Lady Magic).
A cute, little girl, a frequent customer, asks me if I have any “healthy options.” ‘How old is this little one?’ I wonder. At first it felt good to be womaning the stand and feeding hundreds of hungry NDN kids (all solo might I add). But earlier, after handing out the 11th soda in a row, I started thinking…
“Uh…pickles?” I suggest “They aren’t too unhealthy…” I remember the sodium. “Maybe just water?… Oh and peanuts! Yeah…just water and peanuts…” Hmmmm… I look up from my nutrition lesson to see the scoreboard. Lady Magic wins the final game of the night: 45-60.
Tonight, I got to watch some of Indian country’s best players, might have set a new pickle selling record, and saw dozens of smiling NDN kids’ shining faces. (Soo many cute NDN babies!)
I’d say it was a good day to watch basketball.