April 14, 2018 8:42 PM   Subscribe

"Rezball" is a "transition-based" style of basketball "that forces tempo with aggressive play, quick scoring (or at least shooting) and assertive defense that looks to force turnovers through pressing or half-court traps," and has been a feature of reservation life basically since the sport was invented.

"More than a hundred years ago, full-court girls' basketball was already challenging long-held assumptions about women and sports. And the best-of-the-best, a team one Missouri reporter described as 'eleven aboriginal maidens...from the Fort Shaw Reservation" -- overcame barriers of gender, race, and class to emerge as champions."
The history of the Fort Shaw girls' team at the 1904 St Louis World's Fair:
World Champions: The 1904 Girls' Basketball Team from Fort Shaw Indian Boarding School, Montana The Magazine of Western History [pdf]

"Of all the perplexing games that the white man had brought with him—frantic races for diplomas and dollar bills and development—here was the one that the lean, quick men on the reservations could instinctively play. Here was a way to bring pride back to their hollow chests and vacant eyes, some physical means, at last, for poor and undereducated men to reattain the status they once had gained through hunting and battle."
Jonathan Takes Enemy, hope, alcoholism and basketball on the Crow Reservation:
Shadow Of A Nation, Sports Illustrated.

"The game has a rep for being super-fun to watch, too. The rules are the same as in traditional basketball, but the tempo is fast-forward at all times: Players have mind-boggling stamina and the game is a contest of transitions, presses, traps, daring steals and crafty ball-handling. On the best rezball teams, every player is capable of being a shooting threat, making acrobatic drives to the basket and taking tough charges to steal the opposing team's momentum...Rezball has become another way to help keep tribal spirit and identity alive."
A brief profile of rezball throughout the country:
'Rezballers' Hold Nothing Back On the Court, ESPN.

"You know, I'm struck by something that Shoni Schimmel said after a recent game. She said, the reservation is always going to be a part of me. I was born on the rez and come from the rez. That's all I do is play rez ball. But the reality is that her parents decided to leave the reservation, right, to move to Portland so that the girls could really succeed. It was a really hard choice for the family to make."
All Things Considered on the Schimmel sisters, two Umatilla women in the NCAA:
Two Sisters Bring Native American Pride To Women's NCAA, NPR.

"You cannot teach passion and you cannot teach heart toward the game of basketball. It comes from within you. At a young age I was instilled with a passion to love the game of basketball. I wanted it so much. I was inspired by my parents who played in Indian reservation tournaments. They had passion and heart and loved basketball.
I grew up being a gym rat and at that time I didn't have a Native American who was out there playing college ball or anything, so that was one of my motivations. When I saw Cheryl Miller playing on the Olympic team, and I saw that she was African-American, she became one of my role models. On top of all this, I thought, maybe I could be the first."
An interview with the first Native woman in the WNBA:
ICTMN Talks with Hall-of-Famer Ryneldi Becenti, Indian Country Media Network.

"It was well known that Old Bull struggled with addiction, an all-too-common story of reservation life. There were certainly college opportunities to be had, but education was second to the game. At its best, rezball is a wonder to behold, but it rarely offers a way out."
A tribute to Elvis Old Bull, the "Magic Johnson of Montana Rezball":
The Legend of Elvis Old Bull, VICE Sports.

"There isn't a bank or a movie theatre in Pine Ridge, but there are basketball courts."
A 24 minute documentary on the rivalry between the two high schools on the Pine Ridge Reservation:
7 Generations, VICE World of Sports.

"'Indian ball,' as it became known, was characterized by full-court-press defense and high-scoring, improvisational fast breaks. The game is predicated on speed and cooperation. 'It’s not very individualized,' says Don Wetzel Jr., a Blackfeet Nation descendant who manages the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. 'You’re not taught to be like that. To make your people happy is one of the greatest things you can ever do.'"
A story on basketball, suicide, college plans, and hunting bison:
What the Arlee Warriors Were Playing For, NYTimes.

Want to dig deeper?
Chiefs, a 2002 documentary on the Wind River Indian high school .
Full-Court Quest: The Girls from Fort Shaw Indian School, Basketball Champions of the World.

Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn
posted by Grandysaur (17 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
So, the Arizona high school girls basketball finals were held in Phoenix a couple of months ago, and I believe four Navajo schools made it. I never saw the attendance figures but they were anticipating up to 16,000 in the arena. 16,000. For high school girls basketball in Arizona. Navajo families were showing up in force for the games. Really awesome.

I was staying a week on the Navajo Nation when I was a teenager. I played a lot of basketball then, so of course when we had some downtime we’d go out to shoot some baskets. Some of the local kids showed up and asked us if we wanted to run it. 5-on-5, full court. We said sure, let’s go. It’s a good thing I was in really good shape back then, because damn I had never run up and down a basketball court that much, and haven’t since. I also don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun playing basketball as I did that day.
posted by azpenguin at 9:48 PM on April 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

In 1986, I was part of a youth group that went on a trip to the Navajo and Hopi reservations. At the Navajo highschool we visited, we were paired up with a buddy kid from the school, and got to attend classes with them for a day, and play basketball with them. They really smoked us, it was amazing.
posted by cats are weird at 9:59 PM on April 14, 2018

this is rad, thanks for posting.
posted by wibari at 10:21 PM on April 14, 2018

i'm not a big hoops guy, but my lifelong impression as a Hoosier is that basketball, of all our modern sports, has the greatest resemblance to the pre-Contact sacred game that contemporary scholarship refers to as the Ballgame. That sport also bears comparison to lacrosse and futbol, of course. So I'm a bit, I dunno, squinty about that SI pullquote. I could be totally, uh, offbase.
posted by mwhybark at 10:40 PM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I read the NYT story on the Arlee Warriors last week and was hungry for more; thanks for sharing this.
posted by stellaluna at 10:51 PM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by Grandysaur at 11:04 PM on April 14, 2018

i'm not a big hoops guy, but my lifelong impression as a Hoosier is that basketball, of all our modern sports, has the greatest resemblance to the pre-Contact sacred game that contemporary scholarship refers to as the Ballgame.

Puzzled by this? Montana is not in Mesoamerica?

I wonder how the rez-ball style interacts with the huge shift in pro ball to the 3-point game. On the one hand, the stamina is probably good for the fast-break-3-pointer-fast-break-3-pointer approach. On the other, what sounds like razzle-dazzle in the paint is deemphasized.
posted by praemunire at 12:04 AM on April 15, 2018

There's always going to be room for razzle dazzle because it's often up to the defenders to choose if there is going to be a quick open three available. There is the degenerate case of the Grinnell system though.
posted by fleacircus at 1:59 AM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just watched the Vice documentary, very moving - thank you for posting this.
posted by parki at 5:12 AM on April 15, 2018

The mesoamerican ballgame is a little off-base, but there are North American examples (which are related to lacrosse). In Cherokee and related traditions:

Stickball resembles the modern European game of lacrosse, using ball sticks which are made by hand from hickory. A small ball, made of deer hair and hide, is tossed into the air by the medicine man. The male players use a pair of the sticks, and female players use their bare hands.

In earlier times, only the men with the greatest athletic ability played the game. The game was oftentimes played to settle disputes, and the conjurer for each team often became as important to the team as the players themselves. Seven points are scored when the ball strikes a wooden fish or ball on the top of a pole approximately 28 feet in height, and two points are awarded when the ball strikes the pole.

posted by snuffleupagus at 7:10 AM on April 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Troy State used this type of play style back in the 90's, most notably when they beat DeVry 258-141.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2018

My basis for extending the theoretical, uh, playfield, of the Ballgame is the presence of mound-building cultures as far north as the Ohio. I have therefore presumed that trade and cultural networks were present between precontact cultures across the entire continent, and that native sporting and gaming cultural traditions both exceed the historical presence of my ancestors and inform their own, much younger, traditions.
posted by mwhybark at 7:36 PM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Troy State used this type of play style back in the 90's, most notably when they beat DeVry 258-141.

I'm also reminded of Paul Westhead's Loyola Marymount teams of the late 80s -- most notably the tragic 1989-90 campaign that saw the Lions reach the Elite Eight despite the shocking death of Hank Gathers.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:13 AM on April 16, 2018

the presence of mound-building cultures as far north as the Ohio...native sporting and gaming cultural traditions both exceed the historical presence of my ancestors and inform their own, much younger, traditions

Yes! Not to further derail from the awesomeness of rezball, but the record shows the mound-building people of Cahokia had "chunkey." I just thought it was neat that some of the (relatively) recent and locally rooted traditions have features close to basketball (like the pole and the scoring of easier/harder shots) -- and I guess hockey too, with the stick and puck variant.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:58 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Okay, I'm trying to understand this as someone who doesn't know a lot about basketball to begin with... in video game parlance, is rezball basically a different meta?
posted by inconstant at 9:48 AM on April 16, 2018

I think it's like if you go to a different arcade to play Street Fighter, and EVERYONE plays ONLY a certain subset of characters. Sure, people played them sometimes at your usual arcade, but here it's just those three. It's the only matchups people want to see, and it's pretty good yeah.
posted by fleacircus at 2:42 PM on April 16, 2018

Great post! I have long been a fan. For a stretch of year i was able to attend Alaska’s high school March Madness basketball championship, where Native teams from bush villages have a long and distinguished history of kicking the asses of taller and more resourced teams from the Anchorage area (Go Tikigaq!).
posted by spitbull at 6:34 PM on April 17, 2018

« Older We're sorry about the Internet...   |   Wonderful film from other places, times Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments