'Canyon Dreams:' High School Basketball On The Navajo Nation

'Canyon Dreams:' High School Basketball On The Navajo Nation

3:33pm Dec 05, 2019
Raul Mendoza, varsity basketball coach at Chinle High School, with his team during a timeout in a game against Tuba City. The Wildcats went on to lose the game.
Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

You know the intensity of the NBA. A million coaches in the stands and on the court, high-pressure nail-biters, Stephen A. Smith pontificating about sleep.

On the Navajo Nation, rez ball has all of that (well, we can’t confirm the commentary on sleep) and more.

Here’s how New York Times sports columnist Michael Powell describes the style of basketball they play:

This is rez ball, a Roadrunner, beep-beep blur of legs and arms and sneakers. The former N.B.A. coach Mike D’Antoni’s claim to fame is that his Phoenix Suns tried to shoot within seven seconds after getting the ball. Navajos, who adore long-distance running and run-and-gun hoops, would view that as a slowdown offense.

Thousands of fans follow their high school teams around the reservation to watch. And Powell spent months with Chinle High School’s team in northern Arizona as they worked toward a state championship.

Chinle’s coach is Raul Mendoza, who has traveled around the Navajo Nation coaching basketball for decades. And former sports journalist Sunnie Clahchischiligi covered rez ball for years as a part of her work for The Navajo Times.

We talk with Clahchischiligi, Powell and Mendoza about the connection and competition behind rez ball.

Produced by Kathryn Fink.


Michael Powell, Sports of The Times columnist, The New York Times; author, “Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation”; @powellnyt

Raul Mendoza, Boys’ basketball coach, Chinle High School

Sunnie Clahchischiligi, English professor, University of New Mexico; former sportswriter, The Navajo Times; @clahchischiligi

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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