For many athletes attending the Oklahoma City’s Jim Thorpe Native American Games last week, the event was about competing against the best of their Native peers and paying tribute to one of America’s best athletes. For the San Carlos Braves from the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, it was not only about basketball, but it was also about showing respect to one of their greatest warriors.
After a year of tournaments and two months of fund-raising, the San Carlos Braves—seven boys and two girls all under age 12—along with family members, drove up to 18 hours to arrive in Oklahoma City, according to Leo Pechuli, a parent and coach.
The second weekend of June was definitely a busy time in Oklahoma City, with the last day of Red Earth, the first day of the Jim Thorpe Games and the preparation for Game 1 of the NBA Finals happening near the same time. But the San Carlos Braves had to make an important trip 85 miles down I-44 to Fort Sill first. Why? To visit and pay respects at the Apache Prisoner of War cemetery, which is the site of Geronimo’s grave.
When Indian Country Today Media Network caught up with the San Carlos Braves, they were 3-0 in their age division and headed toward the semi-finals. Game 1 of the NBA Finals already took place, and the team had been at Thunder Alley before the game.
“That’s something the kids got to experience,” Pechuli said about being in Oklahoma City at the same time as the NBA Finals. “They may never experience this again. Where we’re from, no one knows when the Phoenix Suns, if ever, will make it to the finals. Again, this is something they got to experience. I’m just glad for them. This is my son’s team also. For him to experience this with his friends, peers and teammates, it’s priceless.”
At press time, the administration for the Jim Thorpe Games had not made a decision on whether future Jim Thorpe Games would be either annual or biannual events. When asked if he would recommend the Jim Thorpe Games to others, Pechuli said “definitely.”
The San Carlos Braves went the distance to the championship game but lost 44-33. However, if the Jim Thorpe Games become more than just a one-time event, there’s no doubt that the San Carlos Braves will return to be a strong contender.