"One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team."-- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, six-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP)
When I was 13, my AAU basketball team from Colorado Springs, CO took a trip down to Santa Fe, New Mexico to play in a tournament. We had arrived two days earlier so that we could look around the city and take in some sights. The first thing that surprised me was how many of the city’s businesses were housed in buildings made out of Adobe clay. Places like Pizza Hut and the mall were all a distinct orange-brownish color.
The other thing that really caught our attention that day was how many basketball courts we saw around town. The guy who was showing our team around the city just laughed at our amazement and said, "Everybody everywhere hoops!" He then told us how much Santa Fe had embraced basketball and how he wouldn’t be surprised if there were more areas around Indian reservations that were just as crazy about basketball as Santa Fe, which is home to a portion of the Navajo Nation.
Turns out that he was right!
Throughout history, the Mayan culture has been synonymous with things like coming up with calendar systems and building pyramids, temples, and palaces….all without metal tools(!). People think about all of the great tribes, the elaborate mural paintings that depict everything from preparing maize to religious practices, and the immense history contained within the Mayan culture that dates back to 2000 BC. However, more recently the Mayan people have come to embrace something very current…..the sport and spectacle of NBA Basketball.
Taking me back to my days as a wide eyed 13 year old finding out about Navajo Indians enjoyment of basketball, I recently came across an article that discussed the Mayan people’s love of basketball and its effects on its people and culture. It talked about a section of Mayan people that are based in a small Guatemalan town who play on amazing basketball courts that are located at the foot of a volcano! The Mayans, as a whole, have taken so much to basketball that many in the younger population are more interested in it than the ‘traditional’ sport that Latin America has loved for generations…..soccer. Murals at the local gym in another part of Mexico with a heavy Mayan presence feature past NBA superstar Michael Jordan and kids around the small town have these elaborate NBA jersey collections featuring past NBA legends such and Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson.
Looking back, I shouldn't have been surprised at seeing and experiencing the Navajo tribe's adobe courts in Santa Fe or reading about the Mayans embracing basketball. Basketball is sort of a ‘universal language’--it requires minimal equipment, you don't have to be a certain height, you can wear what you want (some Mayan women even play in their traditional skirts), and with just a tiny bit of practice anyone can learn to dribble, pass or shoot a ball.
Basketball is the sport that I love (er, obsess over), and the Navajo and Mayan people reconfirm that it really is a 'come as you are' activity that can not only bring together a community, but can also connect people across culture lines.
John Cannady, husband of a super talented wife and father of two awesome kids, is based in Northern Virginia. Growing up, he has lived in Germany, Colorado, Nebraska, North Carolina, and NYC (Brooklyn!) He LOVES sports (especially basketball...#WIZARDS and #UNC), music, and being around family. His favorite movie of all time is the Last Dragon.