It took him almost four decades but Jai Steadman is thrilled that he took the steps to find out who he truly is.
And now the 40-year-old, a highly considered basketball coach from Nebraska, is ecstatic he has been able to reconnect with his Native roots.
Steadman has worked with various collegiate and pro hoops teams for almost 20 years now. He’s currently an assistant coach with the Texas-based Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
The Vipers compete in the National Basketball Association’s Development League, more commonly known as the D-League. The Rio Grande Valley squad is an affiliate of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
Steadman was adopted by Caucasian parents shortly after he was born. This was no secret to him as he is African-American.
“My (adoptive) parents had always said I was Native American but they had no idea what tribe I was,” Steadman said.
Two years ago Steadman, who grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, decided to try and find out. He knew he had been born in Geneva, located about 80 miles from Lincoln.
But he was somewhat leery of learning about his past.
“I was scared because some of my friends had found their (biological) parents and things didn’t go well,” he said.
Steadman discovered that his mother was Ponca and was named Carol Joy. She was just 15 when she gave birth to him. He also learned Joy was involved in prostitution and was in prison when he was born. As a result she gave up her child to the state where he was promptly adopted.
Steadman also found out his biological mother had died a few years earlier. But he was still keen to reconnect with her family so he reached out to them.
As it turned out, they were also receptive to the idea.
Steadman found out that his uncle (Joy’s brother), is Fred LeRoy. LeRoy, who lives in Omaha, was an instrumental figure in restoring the Ponca status as a federal tribe in 1990, almost a quarter century after the tribe’s status had been terminated.
LeRoy was also the first chairman of the restored Ponca tribe. Though they live almost one thousand miles apart, LeRoy keeps in regular touch with Steadman, who lives in McAllen, Tx.
“I’m really proud of the guy,” Steadman said. “He made something of himself. And more than that, he likes to work with youth.”
Since learning about his past, Steadman has operated a pair of basketball clinics for Native youth. Besides offering some hoops advice, Steadman also preaches about the importance of staying in school.
“It gives them a sense of leadership,” LeRoy said. “And the way he coaches, it’s not just basketball.”
Steadman has been helping out at various camps and clinics for almost two decades. So he doesn’t necessarily think he’s doing anything above the ordinary for Native youth.
“To me it’s normal,” he said. “But what I do means a lot to the kids.”
Steadman has also connected with his past by changing his given name, from Jason to Jai. He did that a couple of years ago, before learning about his biological mother.
“Jai means victory in a Native American language,” he said. “When I saw it I said I was Native American and I said I’m just going to go ahead and change my name to Jai.”
LeRoy is rather impressed with the fact Steadman is keen to give back to the Native community. Another way Steadman will reconnect with his roots will occur in September as he plans to host a youth leadership summit in Nebraska.
“He’s a really nice guy,” LeRoy added. “His mother had a good heart. And he’s got a good heart.”
Steadman is heading into his third season as a Vipers’ assistant coach. The D-League will operate this season even if the NBA does not solve its current labor strife.
Steadman, who has signed year-to-year contracts, is content with his current position as a Vipers’ assistant.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” he said of the Houston franchise. “The Rockets have blessed me and given me an opportunity to be a part of it.”
Steadman admits he wouldn’t mind moving up to the NBA some day. But probably not as a head coach.
“I’m not saying I couldn’t do it,” he said, adding he prefers the responsibilities of an assistant coach. “I’m
kind of like the glue that holds stuff together.”
While he would welcome an NBA assistant coaching post, Steadman would also love to work as an NBA scout. But the job he covets most?
“My goal would be to be the head coach of the University of Nebraska,” he said.
Steadman previously worked for the club while he was a student at the university. He was an administrative assistant with the squad from 1992-97.
With Jai Steadman, nothing appears out of his reach.