Up Next

Get Lifted

The Jr. NBA partners with the Native American Basketball Invitational for 15th annual tournament

More than 80 high schoolers practiced fundamentals and life skills during the three-day camp

For 15 years, the Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI) Tournament has united basketball fans as well as current and former athletes for an exciting yet competitive week of basketball fun in Maricopa, Arizona. This year, the Jr. NBA has partnered with NABI to include more than 80 Native American ninth-graders for a three-day basketball camp that aims to teach the high schoolers basketball techniques and how to apply sports and daily techniques toward life skills.

From July 10-12, about 40 boys and 40 girls from tribes across North America and New Zealand participated in positional skill development, shooting and skills competitions, and 5-on-5 games taught by league staff members, players and coaches, according to the press release. Special guests included Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger, former NBA small forward Cedric Ceballos, women’s basketball Hall of Famer Ann Meyers Drysdale, pro basketballer Damen Bell-Holter and former Los Angeles Lakers forward A.C. Green, who is part Native American.

Besides learning skills on the court, the rising freshmen received the opportunity to add to personal growth through health, leadership and communication seminars.

“It’s always been pretty exciting being able to transfer knowledge, transfer wealth, and that being the wealth of knowledge of the game of basketball and life lessons,” Green said. “Me being part Native American, 3 percent on my mom’s side, I’ve been working just as long with them and doing various projects to try to get kids on reservations to be able to think a little bigger and, at the same time, bring something of quality to them. I love it from the standpoint of the Jr. NBA. Coupled with the idea of partnering and going into the Native American world, that was just something that took it to another level.”

The idea for the Jr. NBA camp, in part, came from a brainstorming session between a team consisting of Joerger and Kim Bohuny, NBA senior vice president, international basketball operations. With the success of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program, which hosts basketball camps around the globe, Joerger was determined to get more involved at home.

“We were doing a great job around the world and we talked about how we could get involved within our borders,” Joerger said. “It’s important to have an ongoing presence and having a sustained program. We’re hoping that it grows, and Kim and her fantastic group of people she works with are committed to that. And that’s important for different social reasons. This is a commitment that we’re making as a league, and we’re going to be here.”

The group decided NABI would be perfect. With its mission to “create, encourage and support Native American youth now and through their journey as they discover who they are, what they want to be and how they can impact future generations,” the NABI Tournament remains the largest premier basketball tournament to exhibit the talents of Native American and indigenous youths in North America. The tournament is also the first to become certified by the NCAA.

Although basketball is one way to teach the kids discipline and developmental techniques, Green and Joerger both hope participants leave motivated, encouraged and hopeful.

“Our country is inclusive, but maybe they haven’t always felt this way individually or as a group,” Joerger said. “They are in it and seeing the kids and the pride that they have in wearing a jersey that says ‘NBA,’ the smiles [on their faces] and coming back every day just fired up. To me, that’s what’s really cool.”

“There is hope, they do have a future and they do matter,” Green added. “Throughout all the activities that we can really instill and really talk to them about and show them, at the end of the day, we really want that message more than anything else that people care about them, that they do have hope and that they are valued persons and, to those in certain situations, they’re bigger than their circumstances.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.