Native American players have made significant contributions to the National Basketball Association (NBA) since its founding.
Native Americans have been a vital part of the development of professional basketball since the first Native American player in 1947, till today. These players not only bring their distinct abilities and skills to the court, but they also help shape each team's NBA playoffs bracket, culture, and atmosphere.
A look at cultural pride: Celebrating Native American athletes in the NBA
Native Americans have played an important role in the NBA's history, from Hall of Famers Bill Walton and Reggie Miller to current stars Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving. Many Native American players, for example, have used their platform to speak for social justice concerns in Indian country. They've also collaborated with organizations like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to foster cultural pride among Indian country's youth. Some clubs have even launched particular programs to celebrate Native American ancestry, such as the Phoenix Suns' “Native Pride Night” and the Oklahoma City Thunder's “Native Heritage Month Celebration.”
Breaking down barriers: How Native Americans are changing basketball culture
Native Americans are breaking down boundaries and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps, from professional athletes to coaches. Shoni Schimmel is one of the more prominent examples. She has now been an inspiration to many young Native American females who wish to play basketball professionally.
There have been a number of additional Native American players and coaches that have made an impact on the game.
Chris Paul, for example, is a Choctaw Nation member and one of the best point guards in NBA history. Rex Chapman, a Cherokee Nation member and current assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns, is a former NBA player.
Highlighting pioneers: Remembering historic Native American players in the NBA
Phil Jordon, a 6-foot-10 center who debuted with the New York Knicks during the 1956-1957 season, was the first Native American to play in the NBA. Jordon, whose father was of the Wailaki and Nomlaki tribes, lasted seven seasons in the league. The California native played for the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Cincinnati Royals, and St. Louis Hawks during his career, averaging 10.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Ryneldi Becenti became the first Native American to play in the WNBA when she signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Mercury in 1997. Becenti played for Arizona State for two seasons. Also, She was the first female to be inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. She averaged 7.1 assists per game.