Bonded by culture and basketball, the 16th annual Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI) is in full swing this week at Maricopa High School.

“We have the largest Native American basketball tournament in North American,” said GinaMarie Scarpa, president & CEO of the NABI Foundation. “The whole purpose of the tournament is to unite our Native American athletes.”

This summer’s NABI tournament will feature over 1,500 high school basketball players. The field will feature 128 teams, comprised of athletes representing over 300 tribes from North America, Canada and New Zealand.

“I really like it,” said Krystal Benally, a high school player from Gallup, New Mexico. “I’m meeting so many different people. It’s really cool here. It brings us all together.”

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Players come for the basketball, enjoy the camaraderie and leave with lessons that will last a lifetime.

“That’s what NABI is, it’s to inspire,” said Scarpa. “Telling these kids, you can do this. You can go to college and you can get that higher education – and you can use basketball as a tool to do that.”

AC Green, part Native American, a former Phoenix Sun and three-time NBA champion continues to be an integral part of the tournament’s leadership team.

“It’s about hope,” said Green. “It’s about change and the power of change. The Native Americans are very resilient but it’s also about using that energy in the right way and that’s really the message I try to convey.”

Green is one of several players and coaches representing the NBA to appear, coach and speak at NABI. In 2017, Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger spent a day working with players at the invitational.

“I think anyone wants to have a sense of belonging and anyone wants to have a sense of value and our presence does that,” said Green. “Being a part of NABI for 16 years is worth a small sacrifice [of my time]. I see the results. I talk to the alums and seeing what they’re doing today in this world, it means a lot. Some of these young people have [also] gone back to the reservation and they’re really making a difference from the inside.”

“We care,” said Scarpa. “One of our 2003 alumni told me when he came here [seeing NBA players] made him feel special and he was able to take that feeling and knew he could do anything. We’re trying to break that mold of [complaining about] the hand you were dealt, no – you can change that hand up.”

“It really means a lot,” said Benally of Green’s appearance. “It touches our heart and they have big hearts too for coming out and helping us here.”

And even though Green retired from the NBA before most of these players were born, they’re well aware of who he is and what he’s accomplished thanks to the modern wonders of technology.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Cedric Scott of Shawnee, Oklahoma. “I used to play him on NBA2K. So it’s cool to see him here.”

The NABI tournament continues to be the largest premier basketball tournament showcasing Native American and indigenous youth in North America and the first to become certified by the NCAA.

Championship games for the tournament will take place Saturday, July 14 at Talking Stick Resort Arena, home of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury.

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