Celebrating Native Americans in NBA history
November is National American Indian Heritage Month. We take a look at NBA players and coaches who have descended from Native American tribes and families.
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Are there any Native American NBA Players?
There certainly has been some Native American basketball players when you look back through the history of the NBA. While the list is very short, and many are not household names, there are some that you will certainly recognize. According to research and reports, there are five players who have expressed Native American ancestry while playing in the NBA.
Famous Native American NBA Players
The most famous Native American player to feature in the NBA was Phil Jordon. He played seven seasons in the NBA between 1956 and 1963, and was the very first known Native American basketball player to play in the league.
Celebrating 5 Native American Basketball Players Throughout the History of the NBA
Phil Jordon | Power Forward/Center
Born: September 12, 1933 - Lakeport, California
Years Active: 1956-1963
Teams: New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Cincinnati Royals, St. Louis Hawks
Phil Jordon was a 6ft10in big man from Lakeport, California. He played seven NBA seasons, including two stints with the New York Knicks. On the day Wilt Chamberlain famously scored 100 points against the Knicks, Phil Jordon was missing with the flu. He was a part of the team at the time but didn’t feature in the game, and many believe him having the flu played a major role in Chamberlain reaching the 100-point milestone.
Jordon was of Wailaki and Nomlaki Native American descent. He is recognised in NBA history as the first player of Native American descent to play in the NBA. He averaged 10.9 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game during his playing career.
Jordan sadly passed away at the age of 31 following a rafting accident in Washington.
Bison Dele | Center
Born: April 6, 1969 - Fresno, California
Years Active: 1991-1999
Teams: Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons
Bison Dele was selected by the Orlando Magic with the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 1991 NBA Draft. He was of Cherokee descent.
He went on to have a long career in the NBA, and won a championship with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1997. That season was the only year he spent in Chicago, contributing in just seven games, but he was a part of the winning team.
Dele’s best years came while playing for the Detroit Pistons. He spent two seasons in Detroit, posting a career high 16.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, and featuring in 78 games in the 1998 season. In his second year, he averaged 10.5 points per game and 5.6 points per game, before abruptly retiring at the age of 30.
It is widely understood that Bison Dele didn’t love the game of basketball, and had earned enough money to live the private life he wanted to after the game. He was still playing at a high level, and retired in his prime.
Upon retirement Dele traveled a lot, earning his pilot’s license and spending a lot of time in the Mediterranean and Australia. He went on to learn to sail and purchased a catamaran, which led to his disappearance in 2002.
Cherokee Parks | Center/Power Forward
Born: October 11, 1972 - Huntington Beach, California
Years Active: 1995-2003
Teams: Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Vancouver Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors
Cherokee Parks was named after his great-grandmother, who was a member of the Cherokee tribe. Parks literally carries the name of his Native American descent.
Parks played college basketball at Duke, winning the 1992 National title in his freshman year. He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and played in the NBA for nine seasons. He posted career highs of 7.1 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game in 1997. He retired in 2003, but came out of retirement in 2011 to play in France for three seasons.
Cherokee also featured in both the U19 and U21 FIBA U21 World Championships, winning Gold both times. He is currently a team liaison for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Ron Baker | Shooting Guard/Point Guard
Born: March 30, 1993 - Hays, Kansas
Years Active: 2017-2019
Teams: New York Knicks, Washington Wizards
Ron Baker grew up in a very small farming town in Kansas, with a love for basketball from a very young age. He was a star in high school, helping his team to a high school championship, before going on to walk on at Wichita State.
He progressed to the pros as an undrafted free agent, landing with the New York Knicks in the 2016 Summer League. Baker worked extremely hard and made his way onto the Knicks active roster. He would feature in 91 games for the Knicks between 2016 and 2018 before being waived in late December.
Baker signed with the Washington Wizards, playing in four games, but was released shortly afterwards. After a short spell in Moscow playing in the Euro League, Baker retired from basketball. He had needed shoulder surgery and undergone hip surgery and ultimately decided to focus on a career in business.
Ron Baker is very aware of his heritage, and attributed his success and competitiveness to the culture of his tribe. He is an active member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribe, and his appearance in the NBA has encouraged other members of his tribe to chase their goals too.
MarJon Beauchamp | Small Forward
Born: October 12, 2000 - Yakima, Washington
Years Active: 2022-Present
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks
The story behind MarJon Beauchamp is an amazing one. The NBA world fell in love with Beauchamp after his tear-filled reaction to hearing his name called in the 2022 NBA Draft. MarJon was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 24th pick in the first round, and let out floods of tears as his moment finally came.
A humble young talent, Beauchamp speaks fondly of his father and the support he received from his family in pursuing his dreams of playing in the NBA, despite them not having much while he was growing up. He comes from a small town in Yakima, Washington, and didn’t come into the NBA with the same opportunities as many others.
MarJon has embraced his Native American heritage, coming from indigenous descent from the South Californian Luiseno Nation. He has commented on how believing in himself was difficult because he never had a role model he could attach himself to in the NBA. There were no Native Americans he could look up to, and so has taken it upon himself to be just that for the youth of Milwaukee.
Beauchamp has shown his support for the First Nations Studies program, which concentrates on supporting and uplifting young students of Native American backgrounds in local public schools around Milwaukee.
MarJon Beauchamp is off to a great start in the NBA, learning and growing behind two-time MVP and NBA Champion Giannis Antetokounmpo.