- Native Hoops: The Rise of American Indian Basketball, 1895–1970 by Wade Davies
Historian Wade Davies's recent book on the history of American Indian basketball is an illuminating social history that will help historians to reimagine the complicated origins of modern sports through Indigenous perspectives. The power of Native Hoops lies in its decidedly Indigenous point of view, paralleling Daniel Richter's Pulitzer Prize–nominated Facing East from Indian Country by reframing the history of basketball through the ideas, perspective, and experiences of American Indian peoples. Empirically rich and historically comprehensive, the book covers seventy-five years of American Indian basketball from the turn of the twentieth century to the 1970s. Yet Davies's postcolonial contextualization of the "invention" of basketball in 1891 and his approach to American Indian sports history "as a story of hope, achievement, and celebration" (6) constitute arguably the book's most important contributions.
First, Native Hoops effectively indigenizes the historical origins of basketball, providing a much-needed contextualization of the game's modern beginnings from the standpoint of the North American Indigenous experience. To date, most histories of basketball, despite a diversity of theoretical and authorial perspectives, generally accept the Western-centric contention that YMCA instructor James Naismith "invented" the sport at Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891. Davies, however, conceptualizes 1891 as a moment of contestation, starting with Native author Sherman Alexie's polemical assertion that "indigenous peoples of the Americas had at least played a form of [basketball] centuries ago" (8). He acknowledges that Naismith undoubtedly wrote down rules that became seminal to modern basketball but explains that Naismith's version probably appeared "as something both familiar and novel" to the Native students at government boarding schools (where Native youth first encountered Naismith's game) because "all the major team sports" at the schools "structurally paralleled indigenous sports to a high degree" (12) and Naismith himself was inspired specifically by the Indigenous sport of lacrosse. By studying the history of basketball in relation to Indigenous athletic traditions and Anglo-American imperial efforts at the turn of the twentieth century, Davies offers not only a blueprint for rethinking Western-centered narratives on "invented" modern sports but an example of how to rethink the notion of modern sporting "inventors" from within a rigorously historical and empirical framework. [End Page 76]
Second, Davies unabashedly asserts that Native Hoops is about how "American Indian boys and girls discovered basketball and made it a force for good in their lives" (3), resulting in a historical narrative that conceptualizes Indian agency in terms of the ways in which Native youth formed social and emotional bonds through the sport (66). Although he examines a multitude of contexts in the twentieth-century American Indian experience, from the arrival of basketball in Indian schools to the college and "all-Indian" barnstorming teams of the mid–twentieth century, the narrative incrementally substantiates the main point that the game was "woven into the social fabric gradually, year by year, so deeply in the end that it became difficult to imagine Native community life without it" (235). By the 1970s, basketball was an established community tradition (268), as well as a means of representing Indian culture in opposition to Anglo-American culture through the style of play commonly known today as "Rez ball" (126). This definition of Indian agency is limiting in that it specifically focuses on basketball and community involvement, a point Davies admits in the introduction: "Of course, not all Indian peoples have had the same historical experiences with basketball, have it played it in an identical style or equally as well, or have all agreed it has been a wholly or even largely positive influence on their communities" (6). However, by acknowledging at the beginning of the book certain limitations in his chosen framework of analysis, Native Hoops balances the need to recognize the constructed and politicized nature of historical narratives without abandoning or diluting the narrative's stated intentions of presenting basketball in terms of...