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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesday Cardinal Couple -- Rez Ball Part II


- Rez Ball: Part II

( Today we bring you Part II in Gary Witherspoon's three part article on Rez Ball. If you missed Part can be found in last Wednesday's CARDINAL COUPLE. Gary has also sent a WNBA Playoffs Preview that will run Thursday.)


Part III:  Showboating or Showtime?

It has often been said that art is in the eye of the beholder, and I propose that is also true of whether a particular play or style of play is viewed as showboating or showtime. 

A couple of nights ago I was listening to an interview with the “Big O” Oscar Robertson.  The interviewer, Chris Webber, said he saw a film of one of Oscar’s high school games where his hand was above the square on the backboard on an attempted tip in, and he said he was impressed.  He said “I had thought players back in your time (late 1950s) were not as athletic as they are today.  Oscar said, “we could do all the things players do today, but we were not allowed to do them.  My high school coach said he would kick us off the team if he ever saw us do a dunk - anytime - not only in a game, but also in practice or even playing in a pickup game in the gym.  Our coach said that was showboating, and it was a corruption of the purity of the game, and made a travesty of basketball tradition and sportsmanship.”  That was the majority opinion back then.
Just last year, Marie Taylor, an ESPN reporter, said that Kim Mulkey told Brittney Griner when she came on the Baylor campus that she would be benched if she ever hurt the team’s chances of winning a game because of doing a dunk.  At this year’s WNBA All-Star game, the players on both teams set up a play so that Brittney Griner would have a chance to do a dunk, which was one of the highlights of the game.  There are more missed layups than there are missed dunks in women’s basketball.  Why is there so much prejudice against the dunk?

It is amazing how backward and short-sighted some basketball coaches have been and continue to be about their sport and profession, and how easily they forget that they are in the entertainment business.  We need to remember the history described above when we consider whetherrez ball is showboating or showtime.  Or whether rez ball and high flying poster dunks are just another culture’s style regarding how to play and enjoy the game.

There is a saying that has its foundation in the game of golf:  Different strokes for different folks.  We might extend that perspective to propose that in basketball there are different styles for different players.  Rez ball introduces non-Native Americans to a style of play built on the idea of playing the game for the joy of the creator, for the joy of the community and for the joy of the players.  Such a game can heal the sick, entertain the less fortunate, honor and celebrate all of creation.  These are actually the ancient traditions from which the modern game of basketball was developed and modified..

Magic Johnson came into the NBA in 1979 when the league was struggling.  He brought showtime to the league.  Without knowing it, his style of basketball and his approach to playing the game exemplified the ideals and essence of rez ball and put joy back into the game.  He came into the league with an effusive presence, a charming personality, and a smile that lit up the whole arena.  For him the game was fun and exciting, and that fun and excitement - that joy of playing - turned out to be contagious and captivating;  it infused the sport and the whole league with a new spirit and a new style.

It just might be that in a pattern similar to what Magic Johnson did for the NBA, Ms. Shoni Schimmel is in the process of doing for the WNBA.  Shoni runs the plays and tries to do what her coach asks her to do; but, with a little here and a little there, and a whole lot in the All-Star game, Shoni is introducing rez ball to the WNBA and to the whole world of women’s basketball.  By so doing, she is re-injecting a new level of joy into the game.  This will not corrupt the purity of the game, but take it back to its ancient origin and tradition.

It is relevant that Iroquois college lacrosse players, brothers Miles and Lyle Thompson, took the world of college lacrosse by storm in 2013-2014.  Playing for the University of Albany (New York) with a big time schedule, the Thompson brothers each scored more points (goals and assists) over the last two seasons than anyone else had scored in the history of college lacrosse.  In an unusual event, the Tewaaraton Trophy, the Heisman Trophy of Division I college lacrosse, was awarded to both Miles and Lyle Thompson.  The Thompsons, along with cousin, Ty, have led the Albany team in becoming the highest scoring team in Division I lacrosse for last two years in a row. In 2014 Albany defeated top ranked Loyola to reach the quarter finals of the NCAA tournament where they lost a heartbreaking overtime game to Norte Dame 14-13.  Albany squandered a 5 goal lead in the fourth quarter in route to the overtime loss.  Notre Dame went on to the finals.

The following is from the NY Times

The Thompsons — whose cousin, Ty, had 41 goals and 12 assists to help make Albany the highest-scoring team in Division I for two straight seasons — were born on a Mohawk Indian reservation in northern New York and relished the breakthrough because it was something very special.
“Words cannot describe how happy I am. It brought tears to my eyes,” Lyle added. “To share the award with my brother is an honor. For us, it is about bringing a positive influence and helping people, not just Native Americans, but everyone.”
Tewaaraton is the Mohawk name for their game, and the bronze trophy depicts a single Mohawk player adorned in a simple loincloth and golden eagle feather. It’s mounted on a hexagon-shaped slab of black granite, the six-sided base symbolizing the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy — the Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora tribes.

The Thompsons brought joy, innovation and flare to the game of lacrosse. They made quick and daring assists and made deceptive and creative shots from behind the back, over the shoulder, and between the legs that drove goalies crazy.  You could say they brought joy to the college game of lacrosse, or you could also say they bought showtime or rez ball to the college game of lacrosse, the Creator’s Game.

Lacrosse and the Thompsons are relevant to the rez ball and showtime discussion here because the lacrosse played by the Thompsons and the rez ball played by Shoni Schimmel derive from common cultural roots, values and emphases.  And the games they play, as well as the styles they exemplify, have their antecedents in the Indigenous sports history of the Americas.

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