Native Hoops

The Rise of American Indian Basketball, 1895-1970

Wade Davies

A prominent Navajo educator once told historian Peter Iverson that “the five major sports on the Navajo Nation are basketball, basketball, basketball, basketball, and rodeo.” The Native American passion for basketball extends far beyond the Navajo, whether on reservations or in cities, among the young and the old. Why basketball—a relatively new sport—should hold such a place in Native culture is the question Wade Davies takes up in Native Hoops.

Indian basketball was born of hard times and hard places, its evolution traceable back to the boarding schools—or “Indian schools”—of the early twentieth century. Davies describes the ways in which the sport, plied as a tool of social control and cultural integration, was adopted and transformed by Native students for their own purposes, ultimately becoming the “Rez ball” that embodies Native American experience, identity, and community. Native Hoops travels the continent, from Alaska to North Carolina, tying the rise of basketball—and Native sports history—to sweeping educational, economic, social, and demographic trends through the course of the twentieth century. Along the way, the book highlights the toils and triumphs of well-known athletes, like Jim Thorpe and the 1904 Fort Shaw girl’s team, even as it brings to light the remarkable accomplishments of those whom history has, until now, left behind.

“Beautifully written and deeply researched, Native Hoops shines a bright light on the Native American passion for basketball, capturing not only the accomplishments of generations of players on the court but also the special meanings that ‘hoop dreams’ held for reservation communities across time and space.”

—David Wallace Adams, author of Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875–1928 and Three Roads to Magdalena: Coming of Age in a Southwest Borderland, 1890–1990

“From boarding schools to barnstorming, college ball to community bonding, Wade Davies’ comprehensive account puts Native hoops and the power of sports at the center of American Indian—and American—history.”

—Philip J. Deloria, author of Indians in Unexpected Places and professor of Native American and Indigenous studies, Harvard University

The first comprehensive history of American Indian basketball, Native Hoops tells a story of hope, achievement, and celebration—a story that reveals the redemptive power of sport and the transcendent spirit of Native culture.

About the Author

Wade Davies is professor of Native American studies at the University of Montana, Missoula. His books include Healing Ways: Navajo Health Care in the Twentieth Century; We Are Still Here: American Indians since 1890, with Peter Iverson; and American Indian Sovereignty and Law: An Annotated Bibliography, with Richmond L. Clow.